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Start-up Advice

6 Costly Mistakes People Make When Starting a Business

Here are six pitfalls to look out for, along with expert advice on how to avoid them.

Lorie A. Parch

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Like every start-up entrepreneur, Rodney Nelson needed a great website. Woolly Pocket, the company he was building with his brother, Miguel, aimed to sell its cleverly designed, eco-friendly wall planters online. But there were problems.

“Our first site didn’t follow the standard design protocol of a good website,” remembers business management consultant, Nelson. “It was difficult to navigate; customers had to scroll all the way to the bottom of the homepage and then to the next page to find ‘buy it now.'”

The brothers moved on to another developer, but their second e-commerce site didn’t work well either, and they found it hard to get the tech team to respond quickly. “The initial rate was affordable, but we had to redo it maybe six months later,” Nelson says.

“The second time it cost double; we were happier with it, but we weren’t ecstatic. Then we went to another company about a year later. We did three websites in one year. In the end, we’d done four websites in one and a half years before we got one that worked.”

It might not be your website that ends up costing you dearly, but something will – it’s the Murphy’s Law of start-ups. There are a seemingly endless number of ways to spend money, and it’s impossible to be wise about all of them. But a few common costly mistakes can sink a bootstrapped business.

Related: 9 Answers You Need About Yourself Before Starting Your Own Business

Here are six pitfalls to look out for, along with expert advice on how to avoid them.

Expensive mistake 1: The wrong team

Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, says choosing the wrong team is the single costliest error entrepreneurs make, resulting in not only lost income and time but depleted morale.

“Choosing who to hire and work with in a start-up is like playing sports at school; you can pick your friends and play for them, but if you want to be good and continue to be on the field, you have to carefully pick your team,” he explains.

It’s crucial to choose people with varying skill sets. However, Aulet says, “much like a great sports team, they must also share some common values and the ability to trust each other in tough situations. That’s why past experience working with your co-founders and early employees in stressful times is much more important than being friends.”

Expensive mistake 2: Bad pricing

sarah-shaw-entreprenette

“My single biggest mistake with my first business – a handbag company – was in pricing,” says Sarah Shaw, CEO of consulting firm, Entreprenette.

Hers is a common misstep for product manufacturers.

“I didn’t understand that with any kind of clothing or accessories, you have to calculate the square footage of fabric, including the wasted fabric,” Shaw explains. Without an accurate understanding of her costs, she couldn’t price her products correctly.

“I thought you sort of doubled everything, but that’s not correct,” she says. “It’s a 2.5-times mark-up from cost to wholesale, which covers marketing, the showroom fee, all your expenses.”

By the end of her first two years in business, Shaw had put in more than $100,000 of her own money. Thanks to perseverance and media buzz (celebrities loved her bags), she ended up with $1 million in annual revenue and attracted investors, but she couldn’t recover from the downturn after 9/11 and closed the business in 2002.

Related: 5 Books To Read Before Starting Your Business

Expensive mistake 3: Waiting for perfect when good will do

When you’ve got a killer idea, it’s natural to want to introduce it to the world in a fully formed state. But it doesn’t take a chartered accountant to figure out that the longer you take to launch, the longer you go without money coming in.

“This is a common mistake, especially for tech people,” says Drew Williams, co-author of Feed the Startup Beast. “Many want to build an app and won’t let it go until it’s perfect, but then you take too long and spend too much.” Specifically, this error will likely leave you with no “runway” – the cash you’ll need to sustain you as you’re trying to get your product off the ground once it’s ready, but before you have customers.

“You need to come up with the simplest, basic version of your product that gets the idea across and try to find someone you can sell it to,” Williams says.

“Find one or two clients who are willing to do a pilot where you build, test and iterate it. Inevitably, your product will be different than what you expect, and then you build it. If you get a real, live client, you create a better product in a very cost-effective way.”

Expensive mistake 4: Not understanding technology

mary-juetten

Mary Juetten was no Luddite when she launched Traklight, a software company that helps individuals and businesses identify and protect intellectual property, but she didn’t know everything. “I understood how to lay out what our software would do… but I didn’t know anything about coding software or web development,” says chartered accountant, Juetten.

She relied on a co-founder with that expertise, but when that relationship ended, she floundered.

“This is where I made my biggest mistake: I looked for the best deal, and I didn’t educate myself about different programming languages or bring someone else into the mix.”

The team she hired to create Traklight’s software told her that it “couldn’t” be built in one programming language and “had” to be built in another. “If someone designing my website came up to me and said, ‘You should use this colour instead of that colour,’ I’d be asking 17 questions about why,” Juetten says. “But I never asked why about this, because it was technology.”

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs On What They Wish They’d Known Before Starting Their Businesses

The four-month window for software development turned into eight months, then nine more. “With technology, it’s all about time to market,” she says. “So entrepreneurs who are not technical should educate themselves.”

Eventually Juetten took a “tech speak for entrepreneurs” class. She suggests other start-up founders who need more expertise find similar instruction at Codecademy or General Assembly.

Expensive mistake 5: Skimping on lawyers

Tobin Booth, CEO of Blue Oak Energy, an engineering and construction firm for solar photovoltaic power systems regrets  skimping on legal fees in his company’s infancy.

“If I could do some of the early stuff over, it would have been to pay a few thousand to have a lawyer write up a proper contract,” he says. “I didn’t have the right attorney who really understood my business.”

A few early customers simply didn’t pay up, so Booth tried to move matters to a collections agency. “I found out that there were some clauses [in the contract] that didn’t allow me to collect on legal fees,” says Booth.

Shaw, meanwhile, unknowingly signed a contract that gave her handbag company the trademark to her name, so when investors came in, her name belonged to them. “I can’t use my own name in business again,” she says. “I wish I had hired an lawyer to watch out for me.”

Expensive mistake 6: Being cheap about marketing

“People think, everyone else has to market their product or service, but I don’t because this is so good,” says author Williams. The related myth is that you can rely on social media to build virality and attract customers for free.

“Social media is not free,” he says. “To do it properly takes unbelievable amounts of time, and it’ll typically take six months to a year before you’ve got even slight momentum – it’s not fast.”

If you’re not sure how much money to budget for marketing, Williams suggests aiming for 10% to 20% of your targeted gross revenue. “As you become a more established business, that drops to 5% to 10% of gross revenue, and for the largest businesses it’s typically 5% or a bit less,” he says.

After launching Traklight, Juetten found that her website wasn’t indexed properly for search engines. “No one was finding us,” she recalls. So she decided to invest in an inbound marketing program. “That initial payment is scary for a small company, but we don’t have to pay developers to make changes to our site, and they do e-mail marketing and CRM,” she explains. So far it’s working: In April 2013 the Traklight site recorded just 100 visits per month; by the end of the year it was getting 2,800.

How much does Juetten estimate she lost early on between the missteps in software development and inbound marketing? “As far as money thrown away – actual cheques written for useless things – that would be in the tens of thousands,” she admits. “As far as lost time [and] products not developed on time, it’s in the hundreds of thousands. We would be much further ahead now.”

In the end, the best way to avoid costly mistakes is obvious: Save and spend wisely. “Keep spending really, really tight,” Williams advises. “Leverage everything you can and give yourself as long a runway as possible. You’re going to need it.”

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Start-up Advice

Start-ups Need More Than Money To Succeed – They Need Smart Money

Start-ups need investors who bring not only cash to the table, but also their networks and business acumen.

Max Lyadvinsky

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Ask any start-up what the single most important element to success is and – more often than not – the answer will be money. Financing always ranks as a high priority for the small fish trying to make it happen in the big pond of business – but often discussed with less fanfare is where this cash comes from and what will come with it. These are actually the most important details to a start-up.

That is not to say that money is not important. In fact, the second most common reason for start-up failure is lack of funding, according to CB Insights. Although, perhaps ironically enough, the top reason for start-up failure is lack of market need – a problem which could have been identified and avoided by investors who bring money with direction and money with experience.

Start-ups don’t just need money, they need smart money.

Start-ups need investors who bring not only cash to the table, but also their networks and business acumen. Essentially, they bring experience and direction to outfits that are usually inexperienced or directionless. So, let’s talk smart money and the start-up.

What is smart money?

“Smart money” refers to investors who are simply more intuitive and aware of market movements and business health. The Financial Times describes “smart money” as “sophisticated investors who tend to pick the right moment to buy or sell assets because they can identify trends and opportunities before others do.” These investors calculate based on history and profit and invest accordingly. Where they go, other investors follow.

These business heavyweights are invaluable to a startup because they put more than simply their money where their mouth is; they also invest their expertise. A start-up could have all the money in the world but it will fail more without the proper business direction and market placement.

Smart money works best for start-ups when nascent businesses pair with investors who provide a holistic approach to business. They can help in hiring the best talent, attracting interest from the most relevant stakeholders, securing a continuous presence in the press, avoiding pitfalls and, ultimately, fulfilling ambitions.

There are more than a few ways that money can be termed as smart. Perhaps the cash infusion also comes with experts in thought leadership and strategy, or executional capacity, or the ability to increase sales and raise funds. Whatever the method, smart money brings something more to the table than dollars. This becomes abundantly clear when conducting post-mortems of the startups which have failed.

Related: Government Funding And Grants For Small Businesses

Why do start-ups fail?

Start-ups fail all the time – and it is important to understand why. As mentioned above, the top reason start-ups fail is simply the lack of market need. Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need is the most common issue start-ups cite for their downfall. The next most common reason for start-up failure, as likely predicted, is money. Smart or not, money does need to flow into any start-up to make it possible. Meanwhile, the third most common reason for startup collapse was team composition. More to the point: Start-ups need to comprise a diverse team with different skill sets.

These top three reasons for start-up failure could be solved with the right management approach from the top down. Each of these reasons can be addressed with smart money. The right business and management structure will allow the right hires to be made and course to be charted. Smart investors can identify the right people for your team and help you to hire staff who will take the business to the next level.

While start-ups think money is the key, it is not the end-all and be-all for their potential success. They need skills and networks. Business and innovation expert Rosemarie Truman explained this misunderstanding best: “A common mistake entrepreneurs make in their struggle to find funding is focusing too much on getting the money under specific terms and not paying enough attention to who is providing the funds.”

Show me the (smart) money

Savvy entrepreneurs recognise their businesses need more than cash to be successful – especially those at the top. Alibaba chief executive officer Jack Ma, who ranks as one of the richest people in the world, described the need for smart hires and smart staff as thus: “At first, I knew nothing about technology. I knew nothing about management. But, the thing is, you don’t have to know a lot of things. You have to find the people who are smarter than you are.”

Smart business owners want to work with investors who provide not just money but also their expertise, time and access to networks – and this is especially important for businesses looking to scale. The proof is in the research: Take for example a paper by Morten Sorensen, professor of finance at Copenhagen Business School, about venture capital and its impact on an overall business. Sorensen found that companies funded by more experienced venture capital funds were more likely to go public, and also that more experienced venture capital funds invest in better companies, leading to better long-term business health.

So, the question then becomes: Where does one access smart money? The answer will depend on whom is asked, but startups that have survived and later grown into viable businesses are a good place to start. The founders of collaborative blogging platform Niume, Daniel Gennaoui and Francesco Facca, have this advice for start-ups who are on the hunt for smart money:

“First, you need a strong founding team with complementary skills that can actually deliver on their promises. Second, you need a working minimum viable product (MVP), showing that there is traction and interest for the product and people willing to use and pay for it,” the founders said. “The actual amount they invest is far less important than the value they bring to your company.”

It is also worth noting that crowdfunding can be considered a form of smart money, as it brings an ecosystem of partners who will help to scale and countless brand ambassadors who have invested their hard-earned cash.

Related: The DTI Funding Guide You’ve Been Looking For: The What And How

It’s simply more than capital

Gaining start-up finance is not only venture capital or crowdfunding – it should also provide an ecosystem of business management and be viewed as such. It’s simply wrong to think funding is only funding. Start-ups can have all the money in the world but will fail more often than not without the proper business direction and market placement. Those who want to make a lasting impression in their given field need the guidance and support smart money brings.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

7 Lessons For The New Entrepreneur To Take Into 2019

You already have what it takes to make this year successful, but keep these points in mind.

Dr John Demartini

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Human behaviourist, Dr John Demartini upacks some important lessons that new entrepreneurs would be wise to take into the new year.

1. Find a need to fill that will also fulfill you as well

First and foremost, the most important thing an entrepreneur needs to do is to find out what exactly it is that businesses or people need, and make sure that this matches what is absolutely most meaningful and inspiring to you.

This need or value that you are going to fill must also be important to you and on your list of highest values so that you have a relentless drive to go and serve this need. In other words, it is important to make sure that you are doing something that’s meaningful and inspiring to you and serves a great number of people.

Related: Awaken Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

2. Clearly define all the functions required to build your business

Those functions are based on exactly what is systems and structures are required to fulfill your customer’s needs or values and to profit.

You must imagine every single step required to serve the customer. This helps build an infrastructure step by step.

3. Meet the need and generate the income

I think a great number of entrepreneurs set up fantasies that they have to depend on money to get their business started. Many have this grandiose idea that they’re going to do this, and then they need a certain amount of capital to get it going, instead of going in and actually meeting a need and generating income and then infusing capital into a proven model.

If you do it that way, then you don’t have to give away portions of your business and accumulate possibly unnecessary debt.  Ask how you can be paid up front to fulfill each essential step instead of how you can borrow to fulfill them. Sure selling in advance is often wiser than borrowing and gambling on what customer might want.

Those who decide to wait for capital before they start their business often feel they can’t get it started without outside capital. Then, a year later they’re still trying to get the capital together to get their business started. It’s often wise to actually make sure you have something that really meets a need and be willing to work from the grassroots up and prove yourself and then infuse capital based on what’s already produced and proven and build it that way.

Related: 7 Character Traits Every Entrepreneur Can Cultivate

4. Manage money wisely

Save a portion of the money earned, and take another portion and return it back into the business to grow it. It’s important to have a liquid cushion – it’s unwise spending all your money or putting all of it back into the business and then having no cushion to fall back on.

Make sure that a portion of the money is put into liquid cash. The greatest companies have a great reserve of cash. Liquid cash is important. Many entrepreneurs are gambling instead of investing and looking for a quick return instead of being patient.

5. Have adequate liquidity to prevent opportunity take overs

Watch out for opportunists – when you are running a successful business. There will be opportunists who come along and offer to purchase the business for much less than it may be worth.  That is another reason to have adequate liquid capital on hand, because without it, you can become vulnerable to others coming in and taking over the business. Leverage buyouts can occur.

Remember, cash is king. Cash grabs opportunities. So be sure to save and invest.

6. Keep focused

If you are not making money, then you must not be serving people. So make sure you are truly meeting your customer’s needs and serving them. Don’t take your focus off your mission. Don’t forget what got you to a point of success.

Related: Make A New Start In 2019

7. Be true to yourself

Don’t try to be somebody that you are not. Don’t envy and imitate other companies, you may end up not being authentic and true to what your values are. It is wiser to recognise where and when you already own the traits of those you admire according to your own highest values.  You already have what it takes.

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Start-up Advice

Outdoor Versus Indoor: How Different Conditions Will Impact Your Budding Marijuana Business

When starting out you should know the difference between indoor and outdoor production and why it matters to your future cannabis business.

Nicole Crampton

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If you’re looking to start growing and cultivating a strategy in the hopes that weed will be legalised, you’ll need to do some experimentation. Growing marijuana is a science and will require more than just a splash of water every other day like normal house plants.

Firstly, you’ll need to determine if you can grow your “crop” outside or if you’ll need to set-up a space inside. Here is what you need to know about growing cannabis inside versus outside:

Optimised versus natural

Deciding which option will work better for you depends on your unique circumstances. If you have access to an outdoor area you can use the natural resources of the sun and wind. If, on the other hand, you prefer to grow your crop inside you’ll need to cater for the natural elements you’ve lost, but you can also optimise the environment to give you exactly what you’re looking for.

When growing indoors you can control:

  • Temperature
  • Light source
  • CO2 production
  • Humidity.

This will create a stable habitat for your weed plant to grow in, without having to risk any outdoor elements. Keep in mind, no bulb is going to be able to produce the same spectrum of light as the Sun, which will leave you will smaller yields and less vigorous plants.

You’ll also find it challenging to simulate the natural environment. For example: wasps, ants and ladybugs are natural helpers against mites, you won’t be able to mimic this ecosystem indoors, and if your plants become infested with mites it can be difficult to control. To avoid using pesticides and insecticides some cultivators could find the trade-off of growing outdoors appealing.

Outdoor growers will need a suitable climate for cannabis production such as:

  • Good sun exposure
  • Hot days, warm nights
  • Low humidity.

cannabis-production-pros-and-cons

Related: 6 Fundamental Steps To Consider Before Venturing Into The South African Cannabis Industry

Can you afford to grow indoors versus outdoors?

planting-marijuanaWhether you’re growing indoor or outdoor there will be significant initial costs, however, the difference will come in when it comes to long term costs.

An indoor climate control system can be quite capital intensive compared to outdoor where the majority of the costs are in the initial start-up.

The expected labour costs for indoor and outdoor are also quite different. There is always work that needs to be done to create an optimal environment with indoor marijuana growing. With a smaller yield, like in indoor growing, pruning, trellising, watering, feeding and harvesting are more demanding and continuous.

When growing cannabis outdoors, you’ll work on one crop throughout the seasons. A farm with a large output typically can sustain four full-time workers until harvest, when more employees will be needed.

You can recoup the high cost of indoor weed farming through:

  • Breeding projects
  • Year-round harvests
  • Potent products
  • Higher selling points.

Indoor marijuana farming also allows you to cultivate strains that wouldn’t thrive outdoors.

Pro tip: Keep in mind, with the rising cost of energy and an increasing demand for more product within the current marketplace, outdoor farming could produce quality product at a more reasonable price.

indoors-versus-outdoors-pros-and-cons

Related: 12 Cannabis Products You Can Legally Start Selling Right Now

Will outdoor or indoor offer you better quality?

Being able to optimise your environment and accelerate breeding has allowed indoor cannabis to hold the title of top of the line product and generate beautiful strains with powerful flavour profiles. With indoor marijuana growth you can increase the CO2 level increasing bud growth and producing higher THC levels, which are difficult to obtain outdoors.

Indoor buds also remain in pristine condition as they aren’t exposed to the elements. Having an indoor operation enables you to harvest crops at peak conditions and curing the product in a controlled climate.

On the other hand, many users prefer the sun-grown organic marijuana. Although the actual plants tend to be more damaged, so the product isn’t as pristine. However, once you’ve gained enough experience you should be able to produce products of the same high quality as indoor growers.

outdoor-quality-pros-and-cons

Related: 10 Cannabis Business Opportunities That Can Grow Your Wealth

The best of both options

There has been a growing trend of commercial greenhouse marijuana farming. This seems to capture the best of both methods. It produces high quality cannabis, while using natural elements and optimised environments simultaneously.

Both styles of farming offer positives and negatives, and as a consumer or a future producer, you’ll need to continually educate yourself on the current trends. Continue to evolve your process, try something new and keep your mind open to possibilities.

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