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 

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