Big mistakes small businesses should avoid


I often tell people that I got my MBA the hard way, through starting and losing a few businesses. Believe me, it was also more expensive than any Ivy League MBA!

When speaking to other entrepreneurs, I realised that the mistakes I made were far from unique, but heck, I wish I’d had the benefit of someone else’s wisdom borne of experience.

If you are a start up or in the ideas phase, check yourself against this list of ‘don’ts’ I’ve heard over the years, to give your business and yourself a head start in the marathon.

Don’t do something you love

I love reading… of course, I can make a bookshop work!

Experience? Trade contacts? Knowledge of the market?

We are told to follow our dreams and do something we love, but that’s not always feasible. It’s far better to do something that you are good at, and that other people are prepared to pay for. Play to your strengths and make sure that you have expertise or at the very least that someone on your team has it. (It’s equally important not to do something you hate!)

Don’t skip the business plan

“Chance favours the prepared mind. The more you practice, the luckier you become.” – Richard Branson

Taking the time and effort to do your homework in terms of researching your product, supply chain, market, distribution channels, financing and profit margins may seem tedious and an exercise in guesswork, but guess what, it’s better to find out how much you don’t know before you start the business.

Don’t partner with the wrong people

Saverin and Zuckerberg, Clark & Rockefeller, Murdoch and Li… they were all partnerships that foundered because of a lack of trust and different visions.

People are at the heart of any business. Developing healthy relationships with your partners built on trust and open communication is essential. Family and friends can be great in business, they can also blur the lines or become toxic.

Don’t assume that people have the same values, ideology, emotional intelligence, work ethic etc.

Don’t think small

“Make no small plans for they have no power to stir the soul.” – Niccolo Machiavelli

Too many people aim to be ‘just a…’ if you do not aspire to be more than just another baker, stylist, designer or builder, then it’s likely that’s all you will achieve and even that is doubtful in a highly competitive market.

Instead of asking yourself what can I do with the little resources I have; rather ask, what do I need to realise my goals and how can I get it?

Don’t be stubborn

“Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

—Napoleon Hill

While tenacity is a great characteristic, stubbornness is its ugly sister. It takes a strong person to admit that their idea isn’t working. Too often we hold onto a business or an idea to the point that we suffer financially and emotionally far more than if we faced the truth early. If failure is on the cards, fail fast. Limit the damage, learn the lessons, and start again.

Don’t try to do it all

Under capitalisation and a fear of delegation play into the common belief of entrepreneurs that they must do it all. In the early stages, this may be so, but the sooner we can bring in a support team, the better. If we spend our days working in the business focusing on the ever-growing ‘to do’ list, it means there is no time or energy left to focus on the business. Trying to do it all simply results in a failure to look up, strategise and adapt…

Don’t ignore the competition

Many a small business has failed because a larger business opened down the street or because they failed to keep up with technology changes.

The 4th industrial revolution and the pandemic have completely changed the way customers shop, meaning we have to change the way we do business - frequently. A grocery packing warehouse in the UK has robots packing across an area the size of 7 football fields!

Don’t forget the numbers

Accurate record-keeping, detailed budgeting and account reconciliation is often the stuff of nightmares and put off until suddenly there’s not enough cash in the till. The numbers tell a story and we are wise to listen to it!

Don’t get complacent

Providing an excellent, personalised and pleasurable service experience is the one area in which small businesses can usually distinguish themselves… and yet, so many don’t. Concentrate on making your customers feel good and a lot of the other stuff will take care of itself.

Mistakes are a fact of life but take the time to make smaller ones in your business!

“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.”― Tony Robbins


By Janet Askew

Was this article helpful?
20 out of 21 found this helpful
Return to top