I like to see myself as an honest person–and I am–but I have to admit that I’ve lied to myself many times as a business owner. Startup founders can’t always help it. As long as we remain convinced of our ideas, we’re forced to push forward, no matter what’s going on in our lives or whatever doubters might say. But it was only by realizing that some of those unconscious beliefs of mine were actually hurting my business that I was able to plot a clear path forward and see it succeed.
Here are some of the biggest lies new business owners tell themselves, why they’re misguided, and how to get past them.
When I’m excited about an idea, I figure everyone will share my enthusiasm. And that may well be true, especially among the handful of people on your founding team. But the more your business grows, the more you need to manage other people, projects, and priorities. There came a time in my own experience when I realized I wasn’t the best manager on the planet. I discovered that some of my team members thrived more under my leadership style than others–and for those who chafed a bit, it wasn’t entirely their fault.
Ultimately, you’ll never be the perfect manager to all the different types of people who work for you, but it’s your job to be the best you can for everyone. And that takes consistent hard work. You should strive to improve your leadership skills the same way you’d study up on any new skill you’re trying to learn–by reading about management and leadership approaches and talking with other, more experienced leaders about what’s worked for them, what hasn’t, and why.
Once your startup gathers some momentum, you might glance back in the rearview mirror and determine your recent success is because there are no competitors in sight–that you’ve staked out a brand new space in the market. But as it sometimes turns out, the competition is in your blind spot and ready to pass you.
Don’t ever assume your competition is too far behind and can never catch up, no matter how fast you’re moving. It could be someone you never saw coming. These days, I seldom reassure myself, “I’ve got this,” but instead assume the competition is right there with me, and we’re locked in a dead heat. Stay focused. You’re always in a race against somebody.
On a couple projects I’ve worked on, I’ve tried to convince people to buy my product instead of focusing on their own wants and needs as customers. When my company ran into snags on customer acquisition, it was actually me who wasn’t getting it. Once I spend more time studying my target audience and existing customers to understand them better, then altering my solutions accordingly, I find they respond and come in droves. Really listening to your customers and figuring out exactly what they need–even if that isn’t something you counted on–is mission-critical for every successful startup.
An entrepreneur can work around the clock day in and day out and still not get any better at what they’re doing. The last few years, I’ve been keeping my focus on learning everything I can–from theory to real-world application–so that I can make smarter, more efficient decisions and better serve customers. Sometimes practice doesn’t make perfect, and deliberate self-education is what it takes to do better.
Hard work and determination can certainly enhance your efforts, but the focus and training it takes to seriously develop your skills and understand why you’ve made certain mistakes can be better teachers than experience itself.
Early on, I told myself I could do it all. I decided I would handle all aspects of building out my startup in order to save as much money as possible. I thought it couldn’t really be that difficult. I was wrong. Having help makes it a lot easier to juggle all the challenges new and growing companies face. There’s something to be said for overseeing the nitty-gritty in the early stages. But even if you’re good at a wide variety of things, there’s no way a personal, hands-on approach to all the duties in the company can possibly scale. So think ahead, and develop a reliable support system early on.
Funding matters, but it isn’t the reason for every uphill battle your startup has to wage, nor is more money always the solution. The challenge is often less about needing more money than it is about finding ways to make the money you do have go further. You can’t just keep throwing money at a startup to make it grow. Instead, you have to prune and fertilize it.
More money usually leads to more pressure to create a higher return for investors, and more pressure to deliver success on all fronts. When I learned to live on what I had and found creative ways to make that money work for me, I was actually able to improve my startup’s profitability.
Startup founders sometimes tell themselves they’ll bow out once they reach a certain goal, as a way of rationalizing the long hours it takes to get a company going from scratch. I wanted to have some type of benchmark to work toward in order to keep me going. Entrepreneurs might think this way, but we seldom actually work this way. Now, I tell myself that with every success, it’s not about slowing down or stopping, but about asking, “What’s next?” That helps put each new rough patch and hard slog into better perspective.
Be more honest with yourself about what it takes to start a new business. You’ll face more than one major challenge, and you need to maintain the presence of mind to tackle them without squelching your enthusiasm or sapping your optimism. We need to work smarter, not harder, and let ourselves have a life outside of our business ventures.
Ultimately, it’s more important to know that what we do is meaningful and builds something valuable to others than it is just to keep straining to make more and more money. After all, entrepreneurs are going to keep innovating and pursuing their ideas no matter what–it’s in our nature–and doing that will be easier if we’re more honest and clearheaded about our goals and what it really takes to reach them.
John Rampton is the founder of Palo Alto, California-based Due, a free online invoicing company specializing in helping businesses bill their clients easily online. He is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. Follow John on Twitter at @johnrampton.