Business owners make a lot of mistakes, especially first-timers–I’m one, and I know I have. But some entrepreneurs’ entire businesses are based on helping others start their own. And since those experts interact with hundreds and even thousands of first-time entrepreneurs each week, they have a wider view than most of the types of errors new business owners keep making as we head toward 2017. These are a few of the most common they’ve seen over and over again in the past year.
Regina Anaejionu is an “infopreneur” whose online courses, books, and workshops help people get started with their own freelancing, self-publishing, and coaching businesses. With more than 10,000 students enrolled in her courses, Anaejionu knows a thing or two about what those newbies typically get wrong.
“No business person grows a successful company completely on their own,” she says. “Collaborators, motivated early adopters who spread the word, and influencers can all help a first-time business owner reach a willing audience, but knowing how and when to connect with these people seems to be something entrepreneurs find difficult,” Anaejionu explains.
“It’s like we all read the same terrible book on how to approach someone you don’t know when you want something from them. The answer is not cold-pitching them and offering nothing of value in return.”
The solution. “Practice connecting with people before you want or need anything from them,” Anaejionu advises. “Begin to find potential collaborators and influencers in your industry or audience and buy their products, share their content, engage in conversations, ask questions, and establish some good, old-fashioned human connections.”
“Super successful and surprising business stories obviously receive more press and attention than stories of startups and companies that grow slowly, or companies that fail, or businesses that are successful but haven’t seemed newsworthy yet,” Anaejionu adds. “This can cause many first-time business owners to create unrealistic expectations of their experience, their income, [and] the process of getting a business off the ground.”
The solution. “Try to join in-person or online communities with more business owners in a similar stage. Listen to the stories, frustrations, triumphs, and ideas of others, and try to learn from them as you go,” Anaejionu recommends. Then, “clearly define what success is to you, so that the way you measure your happiness is not dependent upon the latest startup funding story, income report, or fancy entrepreneur interview you read.”
Lewis Howes is the New York Times best-selling author of The School of Greatness as well as a lifestyle entrepreneur, business coach, and speaker. His popular podcast, which shares his book’s title, has been downloaded more than 25 million times since it launched in 2013.
According to Howes, emotional intelligence is sorely underappreciated by many new entrepreneurs. “The more I learn about how to manage and understand my emotions,” he says, “it helps me understand other people. This is massive for relationships, hiring, and much more.”
The solution. It’s all about whom you interact with and how. “I’ve been able to find solid people to bring on my team and invest in their development, which has paid off big time,” says Howes. “This is also a big part of how I’ve been able to develop so many relationships with influencers and highly successful people,” he adds.
“Most people don’t understand the value of investing in your brand and your own development,” Howes finds. “When you’re starting out, it seems like you need to cut corners and keep things cheap, but I’ve never regretted investing in myself, my skills, or my brand, no matter how tight things were.”
The solution. It’s okay to skimp on inessentials as long as you don’t cut corners where it really counts. “Paying for really high-quality photos, graphics, design, etc. is really important as soon as you can afford it,” Howes advises. “The internet has made visual design really important for businesses.” The same is true for crafting “a strong, authentic voice for your brand,” he says. “Take copywriting courses, hire really good photographers, and invest in quality design to make your brand look amazing.”
Brandon Gaille hosts one of the most downloaded marketing podcasts in the world, The Blog Millionaire, where he teaches the same growth-marketing hacks that helped him build his blog audience to over 2 million monthly visitors.
“Each year I receive thousands of emails from people that read my blog,” says Gaille, “and most of them are from first-time business owners. The common theme in these emails is a reluctance to figure out how to do something on their own. They either want a magic bullet or someone else to do it for them.” As he sees it, that’s not so much a mark of laziness as an impatience with personal development–but it’s a huge liability. “If you have this mind-set, then you are doomed for failure.”
The solution. “Successful business owners are constantly learning new ways to make their businesses grow and operate at a higher level,” Gaille notices. “They are reading industry blogs, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, and taking courses.” By now, these resources are plentiful and often pretty cheap–but they do take time to explore. Carving off some time to keep learning may seem like an impossible luxury for many newbie business owners, but it couldn’t be more crucial.
“Whether you have a local brick-and-mortar business or an online store, every first-time business owner needs to know how to leverage email marketing,” Gaille recommends. But few know how to do that properly–and many don’t even try.
The solution. What can you offer to give away in exchange for someone’s email address? Answer that question, and you’re well on your way, says Gaille. “A simple coupon will usually do the trick”–don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. “Then you can email them a new coupon before every holiday of the year,” for instance. “Start by keeping it simple and giving them what they want on a consistent basis.”
Jenn Scalia helps entrepreneurs face their biggest fears and fine-tune the ways they share their messages with the world. She’s a single mom who went from rock bottom to creating a seven-figure business within three years, and self-promotion was key to her success.
It’s nearly 2017, but many new entrepreneurs still “think it’s sleazy to promote themselves and their businesses,” Scalia believes. “The takeover of social media in business” is now complete–and has been for some time–she says, meaning that “self-promotion is a necessary evil.”
The solution. “People need to know who you are,” Scalia points out–and that’s been true for time immemorial. “They need to know what you offer and you need to ask them to buy . . . If you’re uncomfortable with self-promotion, ask yourself what’s in it for the potential customer or client,” she suggests. It’s not just about talking yourself up. “Come from a place of service, and you will start to see your promotions as an avenue to help people who need what you have.”
“Most new entrepreneurs don’t have the proper mind-set around money, worth, and the value they bring,” says Scalia, but many aren’t aware of that in the first place. So it bleeds into their decision making: “They undercharge, feel bad asking for the sale, and end up broke,” Scalia says.
The solution. “Having clarity around what you bring to your customers and clients will allow you to charge what you’re worth and make more money,” says Scalia. Starting from the bottom can be daunting, but if you feel like you need to build up your experience first before charging competitive rates, you may never get there.
After all, you can’t be “new” to entrepreneurship forever–and getting your footing starts with tackling these common errors right away.
Christina Nicholson is a former TV reporter and anchor who now owns and operates a full-service public relations firm, Media Maven. She is getting ready to launch “Master Your PR,” an online course that teaches small business owners and marketers how to handle public relations on their own.