I’m not perfect. I wasn’t born knowing how to run a successful business. That’s something I learned over time from trial and error, and from making a lot of mistakes.
Now, when I see and talk to small business owners who are trying to build their own million-dollar ventures, I see a lot of those same mistakes I made come up again and again.
While it’s true that you’ve got to make mistakes in order to learn from them, I think I can help save you some trouble here.
Here are 5 common mistakes small business owners make and WHY you should avoid them at all costs:
1. Don’t Invest In Your Business
I see a lot of business owners get stuck in this rut of trying to do EVERYTHING themselves. Their work days are FULL of their business. They’re one-(wo)man teams – CEOs, project managers, copywriters, tech support, and customer service all rolled into one single person, who’s still only got 24 hours in a day.
They’d love to expand their businesses, to improve their schedules, and to feel more at ease. But the fact of the matter is that there’s only JUST enough money coming in to make ends meet, and pausing to evaluate seems not only impossible, but irresponsible.
I’ve been here myself and I’m willing to bet you have, too.
I’ve been a bootstrapped business owner, working completely on my own, the head honcho of a Team of One. The thought of spending a single dollar more than necessary seemed like business suicide.
But the reality of the situation can’t be avoided for long — there’s really only so much that you can achieve alone. And if your business goals are to be BIGGER than you currently are, but you’re already stretched too thin… well, I got news for you: it’s time to do some smart investing in your business.
SMART investing means spending money on something that will actually help you grow your business. This means NOT buying quick-fix solutions and NOT spending the money on a training program that you can’t be bothered to complete. (Think you’re all out of time and THAT’S the problem? Think again.)
No, SMART investing means considering where you can spend to help your business run more efficiently so that you can focus on bigger and better tasks. It means investing in tools that help your business grow, then actually taking the time to make sure those tools are put to good use. And occasionally, it means paying the extra hundred (or even thousand!) dollars to pay for a real solution over the cheap $10 DIY option that’ll have you cursing long after work hours for the next several months.
Maybe, in your case, it’s spending the money on a monthly service that helps you with your taxes. Maybe it’s a training program. Maybe it’s bringing on a new team member, buying a new piece of technology, or expanding into a new office space.
It’s easy to see it in retrospect — after all, now that I know the outcome, I’m kicking myself for all the time I lost hemming and hawing over pennies — but terrifying in the moment. But the sooner you start investing (wisely) in your business, the sooner you’ll become the business you want to be.
2. Feel Bad About Promoting Your Business
When I tell people about how many times a day I tweet or post on Facebook links back to my products or my blog posts, they’re often appalled. It’s not unusual for them to twist their faces in disbelief, then tell me that they’re just “not super sales-y” people.
And yeah, there are definitely people out there who are overdoing it… but there are FAR more people who insist that self-promotion isn’t their “thing.” Guess what? If you want to get ahead, you should consider making it your “thing”!
I’m not talking about puffing up your chest and constantly telling stories about the legend that is YOU until everybody around you wants to run away. Not cool.
What I’m talking about here is self-promotion. Promoting your business means helping to spread your ideas and your expertise. Self-promotion doesn’t cut other people down, but rather it makes other people feel good. It adds value to the people you’re communicating with, and it’s done with integrity. And you don’t even have to be a “super sales-y” person to do it.
Look at it this way: let’s say you’re having a sale on a new product. If you only tweeted about it twice, what do you think the chances are that everybody who follows you actually SAW you talk about it? I hate to break it to you, but chances are that most people who follow you never saw you mention your sale a single time. Up your chances of getting your message out there by varying the times of day you post and the wording you use to share your message.
I’ve recently started following the 80/20 rule of self-promotion. I wrote all about it in Self-Promotion: You’re Doing It Wrong (and it’s costing you money).
3. Ignore Your Sales Metrics
When you’re busy running the day-to-day of your business, seeing sales continually tick in or watching your online following flourish is typically enough to quell that nagging thought in your mind that tells you that you probably should be more aware of your business results.
You’re perfectly fine humming along with what you’re doing, ignoring the data and the your actual financial numbers because — look! — there are people who retweeted your last tweet and you made a bunch of sales last month. How many? I donno! But it was enough to pay the bills, as it is most months, so you must be doing something right . . . right?
Even the most oblivious business owners eventually notice when sales drop off or their blog traffic comes to a grinding halt. But how many business owners are running the day-to-day with blinders on, not noticing at ALL that their business is actually stagnant?
Looking forward is always the right attitude, but without any context of the health of your business month over month, how do you know you’re moving forward instead of just jogging in place? So many business owners — myself included — have spent way too much time in that zombie-like trance you get into when you’re just focused on keeping the ball rolling.
In this state of mind, the only thing that might snap you out of it is seeing sales suddenly STOP or watching your blog traffic take a huge dip. And wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to see something like that coming in advance?
For the busy biz owner, without a little nudge from some good old fashioned tracking, you might not get shaken into action until you feel that stomach-dropping jolt that comes when you watch your bank balance take a “sudden” nosedive.
Collecting, tracking, and analyzing data might sound like a big scary task at first, but let’s get real. Is building a few spreadsheets and running some Google Analytics REALLY scarier that having NO idea whether or not you’re meeting your business goals?
This year was the year I chose to be more data-focused in my business. And while I’m not a naturally data-inclined person, I’ve been amazed by how many complex questions can easily be answered by a quick search through KISSmetrics.
If you’re new to tracking and metrics, how about starting with some baby steps? Check out our Google Analytics Cheat Sheets to get you up and running with some basic metrics in 20 minutes or less.
4. Don’t Split Test Anything
When you’re a small, bootstrapped business, you might assume that you’re just not big enough to think about marketing strategies.
WRONG. The truth is, small businesses stand to gain SO much from optimization and streamlining their marketing campaigns. Regardless of the size of your business, doubling or even tripling your sales just by changing a few variables on a sales page has a HUGE impact. And even moreso for the small boutique business than the fancy-pants global corporation.
Split testing (aka A/B Testing) is one tool that small business can utilize without having to have a big ol’ marketing department backing them up. Using tools likeVisual Website Optimizer or Optimizely, it’s quick and easy to set up a test, even if you’re short on time, money, and brainiac coding skills. Visual Website Optimizer is our FAVORITE tool here at LKR any time we have an inkling that a widely-accepted “rule” about online marketing might just be one we’d prefer to break.
Testing out the basics like opt-in box placement or sales page copy is the quickest and easiest way to find out what your audience actually responds to for certain, rather than just in theory.
But one of the BEST places for small bootstrapped businesses to begin optimizing your sales funnel is by split testing various elements of your email marketing campaign, particularly if your website traffic isn’t quite high enough to generate a super-dependable result on one of your site’s pages. Email marketing tools likeAweber and Mailchimp have built-in functionality to help you set up split testing.
Test various options within your emails (subject lines, the name in your from fields, various types of copy that lead to your sales page) and work on really getting as many people to click through to your landing page as possible.
Check out our Super-Beginner’s Guide to A/B Testing to figure out how else to apply this strategy to your business.
5. Wait For Everything To Be Perfect
All too often, I see business owners cautious about releasing their goods and services into the world because they’re not “ready.” And because “ready” isn’t a real destination, avoiding action until you get there means you’ll never act.
When I give business owners BIG action-y advice like pitching themselves to a podcast or making connections with their industry’s leaders via social media, the single most common reply is something along the lines of “AHHHH! Are you nuts?! I’m nowhere near ready!”
Hey, I get that fear. I understand that feeling of being imperfect in a world where everybody seems a hundred steps ahead of you. But there are times when I just want to reach through my computer screen, put my hands squarely on someone’s shoulders, look them dead in the eye and ask: “IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?”
At the start of my business, I had no idea which of my ideas would be well-received, which ones would be reincarnated into bigger and better ideas, and which ones were really just meant to bite the dust. I could have hidden away my ideas and projects until they were “perfect,” but there came a point where enough was enough, and having NOTHING to offer potential clients was costing me more than releasing an offering that I worried wasn’t 100% perfect.
So, I moved forward with the plans that I thought would be the most useful to small business owners. There were plenty of times that I’d be partway down one path, only to find out that my customers were looking for something else. So, I did some research and I adapted.
And guess what? That program you’re obsessively tweaking before you can sell? That blog you’ve got to find the perfect font for before you can send traffic to? They can BOTH be fixed, improved, and optimized AFTER they launch.
Continually stabbing forward, testing an imperfect product, staying tuned in, and adjusting course as needed is a much better plan than staying in one place forever polishing your never-quite-ready-to-ship product.
Are you ready to stop making these common mistakes that just about EVERY business owner has battled? Tell us in the comments what action steps you’ll take TODAY to break out of this pattern.