So you want to start a business. You have an idea. Lets say you want to be a carpenter. You print some brochures, some business cards, and take out an ad in the Yellow Pages. You pay $600 for a website and a domain name that tells everyone about your amazing credentials and experience. You distribute your fliers at a local grocery store. And then you wait. And wait. And wait?
Nothing happens. But, that's what everyone does, isn't it? Print out some brochures, tell everyone how great you are, and wait for the money to roll in.
Stop right there. You have just made the top 10 mistakes entrepreneurs make.
Mistake # 1: First, being a "carpenter" is too general. There are a million carpenters in the world, but the only successful ones have something to concentrate on. Wood carving, house renovation, specialized pieces. Like the old saying goes, "Jack of all trades, master of none."
Mistake # 2: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. An idea is not a business plan, or a marketing plan, or even just a goal. It is simply an idea. Although the planning process may seem long and tedious now, it will benefit you more than you could imagine in the future. For example, when you are seeking funding, when you are joining an association of professionals, when your goals change, when your business changes, or if you take on a partner or investor. Your plan should guide you, but not constrain you. If something in your plan doesn't fit just right, change it. Your business plan will never have a final draft.
Mistake # 3: Brochures and business cards are GARBAGE to start-up businesses! You will spend far more producing them than they will produce for you. Ignoring the high cost of printing these materials, and the costs associated in designing them if you aren't proficient yourself, most start-up businesses change too quickly for these materials to be effective for more than a short period, sometimes as little as days. If it costs $1000 to print these the first time, and $1000 to design them the first time, imagine how much you will pay if your brochures beat statistics and last 2 months. If alterations to design cost $500, it costs $1500 every time your business changes. If your business changes every 2 months, you can expect to spend at least $9000 that year on brochures and business cards. Yes, that is NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS in lost revenue, over something that is less effective than grafitti. Don't waste your time, or your money, on brochures and business cards until you can keep your typical sales presentation the same for at least 6 months. Otherwise, these things aren't worth the trouble.
Mistake # 4: Okay, the Yellow Pages. Lets take a look in the Yellow Pages and see how many other trillions of carpenters there are. Which ones stand out? Definitely not the tiny ad in the corner. Probably not the one-liner. And as a start-up, that is all you would be able to afford. For the one or two clients per year this would bring you, it is better to wait until your marketing budget can afford to buy large, extravagant and eye-catching ads.
Mistake # 5: $600 for a website and domain name? A website and domain name before a marketing plan? This scenario is already causing headaches for those of you "in the know". Best idea, design your own website for free if you can. Second best, get a friend or relative to design it for free. Third best, pay a minimal fee for the complicated stuff and the rest can be done by yourself and a relative. Only if no one in the world can help you, do you want to hire a professional to do the whole thing for you. And when you do, try and get it on 30 or 60 days post. That way, their new website will be generating money for you before you pay. If you do pay upfront, and can't get around it, ask if they do free updates. You are guaranteed to change a thing or two, probably at least once a week as you test out your new site. If you pay $600, it had better be a good website ? because your entire marketing budget just paid for it.
Mistake # 6: Wow! A carpenter who went to John B. Doe Carpentry Academy! Is that what your customers say? Most likely, they won't even think that. Most customers think "Wow! Look at his work. It is just what I need." And that is what you want your customers to think. Don't promote yourself, promote your solutions. Everyone who comes to your website has a problem they need solved. If you figure out that problem, and can tell them how to solve it using your website, you have just hit a marketing gold-mine.
Mistake # 7: What is a carpenter doing at a grocery store? And why is he handing out fliers anyway? If you do hand out fliers, do it where it counts. A carpenter should hand out fliers at a lumber yard or furniture store. Even a department store that sells nails would be a better location for a carpenter when handing out fliers. Think about it.
Mistake # 8: This is probably the biggest mistake. You stopped marketing. Even if you do exactly the opposite of everything you have read so far, if you keep doing it you are bound to get at least minimal results. If you stop when you run out of new ideas, you probably won't get much. The key to marketing is repetition. Make sure people think of your name when they have a problem. If they have only seen your name once, but your competitor just sent them a third flier, your competitor will get their business. We've all heard that it takes more than once for a customer to buy, and it has never been more true. With the information available to your customers today, you want your name to be in front of them as much as possible.
Mistake # 9: When nothing happened, you didn't try again. Nothing says failure like someone who quits. Motivate yourself! Get up in the morning and say "I'm going to get hits to my website." Or "I'm going to get a client this week!" If you build it, but nobody knows its there, nobody is going to come. You have to try, make mistakes, learn, and try again. If you try, make a mistake, and give up, you will never be the success you know you can be.
Mistake # 10: You assumed that what everyone else does will work for you. WRONG! What everyone else does took them a long time to figure out, and they have been tweaking it all that time to make it work right for them. If you copy part, but not all, of what they do, you will never get the same results. People strive for individuality, and business should too. If you copy your competitor in every aspect, your prospects might as well flip a coin. Do you want 50% of the business you could be getting? No, you want it all!
The bottom line is to stay motivated. Starting a business is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do. The uncertainty, the lack of a support structure, the complete and total disregard of your typical safety zone. It is all part of starting a business. But the rewards are far greater than the sacrifices. And in the end, when you are financially secure, and independent from the corporate world, it will be more gratifying than you co
uld have ever dreamed.
Cherilyn R. Lester is an entrepreneur in her own right, and the proprietor of Novus Life & Career Coaching. Novus specializes in coaching entrepreneurs, helping them to grow their business without everything else taking a back seat in the process. You can visit her at http://novuslife.cjb.net or call 206-20-COACH to schedule a complimentary session and see just what Novus can do for you.