Starting up a brand-new business is hard. Trust me – I’ve been there, done it and sadly, made a few mistakes.
I first started in online marketing after buying and selling a few web-based businesses as a hobby. I quickly realised that improving the natural traffic a website makes a monthly basis makes the property more valuable – sometimes 10 times than what I originally purchased it for.
I then joined a digital marketing forum called Digital Point where I learned the basics of SEO and realised I had a passion for online marketing.
After taking on several freelancing jobs, I set up my own agency.
Now ten years later, my agency has provided search marketing services for large international companies and premier league football teams, and is now partners with one of the UK’s largest news agencies.
Like many other start-ups, I ran into bumps in the road; some of which were completely my own doing. A lack of knowledge on how to run a successful business combined with the constant wanting to find quick shortcuts set me up for many mistakes, including:
1) Trying to offer everything the client needed, even if it wasn’t in our service offering
When Custard first opened for business, we specialised in online marketing that focused on providing clients with SEO value. However, it wasn’t uncommon for us to receive an enquiry from a company that wanted us to provide them with reputation management; a task that required typical SEO tasks to be completed but also many other elements I wasn’t as confident with.
As a new business owner, you’ll jump at the sight of a possible lead. After all, you’ve just set up a brand-new company and you want to get your teeth stuck into work and start making money, right?
Sadly, offering services outside of our usual offering caused many problems, including:
- Not being portrayed as the ‘specialist’ in our original industry field.
- Spending your time focussed on something for a potential one-off client, not allowing you to prove to prospective customers that you have real, hands-on experience in the industry.
- A lack of organisation as we figured out how to manage the product as we go.
- More time spent learning something that you will not offer in future.
Yes, there’s no harm in branching out and expanding your horizons but your business is an expansion of your skills, so you should only be offering what you’re specialised in – especially as you try to make a name for yourself.
2) Relying on one source of new business
When I started my business, I didn’t expect everything to come straight to me. I used my knowledge of SEO to help boost search rankings, and relied on recommendations from contacts I’d made in the industry referring potential clients to me.
I should’ve realised the importance of marketing my business as well as myself.
Relying solely on inbound leads limits the exposure that your new start-up gets. It doesn’t reach the people within the ‘decision’ stage of the buying process, and you may not have enough enquiries to cover the outgoing costs that your new business has. You need to expose your brand to as many relevant people as you can, which will give you the opportunity to be seen by companies that are looking for the services that you provide!
3) Expecting other people to do my job
Once Custard had a few clients, I found that I was stuck for time and I needed to hire a team to help.
One of the biggest mistakes I made throughout this new recruitment process was that I was trying to take a backseat and employ top-level members of staff to essentially run the business for me. Then, things started to slip as no strict decisions were being made, which then let to the company having no direction and a lack of growth.
For any new business, I’d recommend taking on junior-level staff or recent graduates. They are knowledgeable enough to be of benefit and their salaries aren’t as demanding. They’ll also grow with your business and you can teach them the style of your business’ activities without previously being too heavily influenced by another company.
Of course, sometimes you need the very best. You’ll need to look at how much revenue that person can potentially bring into your business and weight it up against the cost of keeping them on board.
4) Not being all over the numbers
Finance is undoubtedly one of the most important things you should be considering when you start a new business. You want to know what’s working, what isn’t, and if your business will survive in the long-term. After all, what’s the point in investing so much time and money into a business that isn’t profitable?
Quite soon into my new business venture, I got complacent in recording accurate monthly profit and loss figures. This then lead to me being unclear on where my business was making money – or if it was at all.
I fell into the trap of not knowing what my breakeven point was, which meant that I couldn’t accurately predict the future of the business. Cash flow was then affected through not knowing our finances and I didn’t know which of my services or clients were the most profitable; which in hindsight, would have allowed me to concentrate on these areas to better the company’s finances and overall stance.
That’s when I ploughed hours into accurately totalling my monthly expenditure. It took weeks to get everything confirmed but ultimately it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I found that the company was making more profit than I initially realised and gave me more determination to continue what I’d started!
5) Moving into my own office
When working in a creative environment, it is extremely important for all employees to have open communication. It means that they can quickly resolve issues as they rise, and plan workloads to ensure that deadlines are being met.
When I didn’t work in the main office, staff morale was low and people didn’t have much determination to work because I wasn’t there. This, combined with the fact that we were missing important deadlines because I wasn’t there to enforce and explain them, made for a crucial mistake that I made during this stage of business.
I decided to sacrifice my own personal space to move into the office. I’m a people-person and I’m good at motivating people, which helped to strengthen our relationships and give them more confidence in their work. The company then had a massive turnaround and we were being complemented on how easy we were to work with – all thanks to better communication with my staff.
As you can see, there are several mistakes that I made when starting my business, which after a lot of hard work, has turned into a fantastic online marketing offering over the past eight years.
What types of mistake did you run into after starting your business? Which mistake did you learn the most from?
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