creative haberdashery

Business mistakes I hope never to make again (and how to avoid them)


I can’t believe I forgot about pants!

The biggest business mistake I ever made involved a 12-foot video wall and a collection of animated short films that included one about an old boy men’s club populated by dancing penises. It played in a children’s store. Behind the cash wrap. For two solid weeks. (You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.)

When a shocked customer finally noticed, I was caught–almost literally–with my pants down.

What this now legendary blunder taught me was to have a sense of humor about business mistakes. It also taught me to be painfully detailed when awarding jobs to vendors, even when said details seem insanely obvious. As in, “Please do not send man part animations to a children’s store.”

If you’re starting a business, you’re going to rack up a list of mistakes you wish you’d avoided as well. (Although hopefully none so embarrassing.)  Want to sidestep some of the most common new business mistakes? Here, culled from 20-plus years of small business experience, from hundreds of clients and from personal chagrin, are my top five best practices for new business owners.

1. Know your brand story

You know your idea/product/service is great. You know the world should flock to your door. The benefits should be obvious, right? Wrong. The mistake I see over and over again is the failure to clearly define an offering and a unique, ownable difference from the competition.

2. Think about marketing – before you think you need it

Word of mouth is great. In fact, that’s how I built my business. But eventually, you’re going to run out of people mouths. People move on to other jobs, bringing new folks in who have their own preferred vendors. So even though you’re swamped right now, ignore marketing at your own risk.

3. Put on your big girl/boy pants

Someone’s going to have to break it to you, so I’ll just pull the bandage off in one quick stroke: You. Don’t. Know. Everything. Yes, this sucks. But in a world that’s becoming more highly specialized with every day, knowing what you don’t know is a real benefit. Think carefully about what you’re decided to “handle yourself.” How much time will it take you and could your time be better spent elsewhere?

4. Plan your first year (at least)

If you don’t need to attract venture capital or get a loan, you may not need a full-blown business plan. But you do need a plan. Get out a blank piece of paper and decide on your mission, vision, earnings expectations and publicity strategy. If it’s for your eyes only, it doesn’t have to be too formal. In fact, the very first expectation on my business plan is, and always has been, “have fun.”

5. Do first things first

Starting and maintaining a business will spawn a never-ending to do list. Every morning, take a look at the list and pick one business-essential task that absolutely must be completed that day. Then, do it, first thing, before email and phone calls sidetrack your day.

Starting a new business is not something you can do by reading about the experiences of others: you’ve got to get out there and live it. So get to work baby entrepreneur. Just try to avoid the dancing man parts.


Want more now? Check out these related posts:

The Top Mistakes Small Businesses Make – and How to Avoid Them

7 Biggest Mistakes of Small Business Startups

6 Common Mistakes People Make When Starting a Business 

Similar posts

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

cindi acker-hein

cindi acker-hein

writer + creative partner
I love my work: teaming up with awesome creatives. Word nerdery. Problem solving. Simplifying. Intelligenting. Learning. Seeking FTA, SOH, PR.Read more...


  • joan-riversCan we talk about websites and creativity?
    Can we talk? The legendary Joan Rivers was famous for that catchphrase, as she worked her way onto red carpets and late night talk shows with her gift of gab. Joan, of course, made her name during [...]

why you’ll love working with me

-Art directors love the conceptual teamwork

-Solopreneurs love how quickly I catch their excitement

-Big companies love how I bring consensus to cranky

-Agencies of all sizes love how seamlessly I join their teams

And I love working with anyone who begins a conversation with, "What if . . ."


  Phone: 1.614.436.4599


"Can come in, literally at the drop of a hat and start working. Immediate contributions and high productivity."


"The combination of creative and logical instincts make Cindi a rare commodity."


"Thanks for stretching us to try new ideas."


"Cindi has a very effective way of choosing one of her 99 hats, getting deep into the features and benefits of your business from a customer point-of-view, and emerging with targeted concepts that really ring true."

Cross-industry experience

"Cindi is amazing! She is intuitive, highly creative, professional, easy to work with, fast, and is able to organize and clearly define highly complex projects. Her vast range of experience allows her to handle any type of project."


"We’ve partnered with Cindi on many projects over the years because we know she’ll see new angles and then deliver intelligent, well-crafted concepts."


"Cindi is one of few people who has been able to capture the essence of my work. She listens intently, does her homework, turns an incredibly well-heeled phrase...all with a delightful personality and calm demeanor."


"Cindi is a great thinker. She can analyze situations and information and come up with innovative solutions to problems."

Energy & Enthusiasm

"Working with Cindi was an absolute pleasure. Her work ethic, creativity and personality blend together to culminate into fantastic work."

Creative Partner

"“Cindi is the best creative partner an art director can have. She's not just an excellent writer, she's a big idea creative director who understands consumer behavior and hitting a target dead center.”"


"Cindi has a wonderfully creative way of meshing visual imagery with verbal language for the average person to understand.”"

Big Ideas

"Cindi is a valuable creative partner. She's not just talented writer, she thinks about the whole idea and consistently focuses on the customer's point-of-view."

Try Class 1 for free!


The very first class and the one you'll thank for setting you on the road to easier and greater content


"Cindi's expertise in copy writing - from CRM to Industrial to Retail has been invaluable in helping me shape brand voice"