10.5 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Starting A Business

July 8, 2009 6:32 am1 commentViews: 98

The following list is derived from my experience. Based on my actions and results I retired from corporate America at the age of 28. Filed bankruptcy at 30. I’ve been involved in several successful businesses and many unsuccessful ones too.

#1 – Never let your expenses exceed your sales. Yeah, I know that’s easy to say, because you say “Jeez, that makes perfect sense, if my expenses never exceed my sales then quite honestly I’m always going to have positive revenue. I’m always going to be in the profit. Wow. That’s fundamentally smart. But c’mon Bert, it doesn’t work that way in the world. Why? When we start out we don’t have any sales yet, and so our expenses have to exceed our sales on day one.” And you’re correct. That’s true, so I want you to have a concept, a goal or even a burning desire. That you will make those days the fewest number of days absolutely possible that your expenses are exceeding your sales.

#2 – Failing to collect the money or the receivables. Question – Should you really be extending credit to people? I don’t care what business your in retail, wholesale, hospitality, legal, or whatever. Selling is what you about not carrying receivables. Don’t extend credit, get paid now! Look fewer customers that have paid you 100% are way better than having more customers when some of them didn’t pay you at all. More cash, less stress – you don’t have to be real smart to do the math.

# 3 – Failing to take care of your employees. People have say that the customer is number 1 – right? Maybe not. Well who is taking care of your customers? Your employees handle quality and service and delivery? Well if you haven’t taken care of your employees, they’re probably not going to take care of your customers very well. It’s just that simple. It’s goes without saying that if you do take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.

#4- Failing to take care of your customers. Real simple the easiest customer to get are existing customers. There is usually more profit in repeat customers than in new customers. A happy customer is a good customer a good customer refers more customers. Take care of your customers and they will take care of you.

#5 – Underestimating your competition. We can, no matter what business we’re in, we think of our competitor as dim-witted, we think of our competitor as incompetent. Remember this -our battle isn’t against them. It’s for the customer, not against our competitor. We don’t win by doing damage to the competitor. We’re not in a battle with him really. We’re in a battle for someone else. So quit thinking about the competitor and start thinking about your competitor’s customers.

#6 Inadequate capital – Now I’ve started business with no money because I had to but then you quickly come to realize that you do need money to operate. You do need capital to grow the company and get to the next level. And here are 2 rules you should remember about capital. And, just in case your not clear, capital is the money we need to fund the organization, to buy the inventory, to hire employees, to do all those things that we’re going to need to do. Well here’s are 2 rules you need to appreciate. Is that your expenses are going to be hirer than you anticipated and your revenue is going to be slower than you anticipated. Those two statements are true in 99.99% of every single business that has ever started. Well that’s what happens. It happens almost all the time. Because we are optimistic, if we weren’t optimist we wouldn’t have started a business. We over-projected what our revenues are. What I’m telling you as a practical, experienced businessman lower that number. Now if you beat, if you excel… wonderful! Find a place to spend it. But if you have shrunk it down, conservative in your projection then you might be safe.

#7 Underestimate the length of time to break even. The break even is a magic moment in the making of a business and if you don’t understand let me try to explain the concept to you. Break even is that magic point when you quit putting money into a company and the company is finally sufficient enough that it starts to pay for itself or is finally starts to pay you for having been there first.

# 8 Focusing on profits instead of on cash flow. Business people, when they first start out, they focus on profits instead of on cash flow. And I know this is going to sound like sacrilege to some people saying well,” aren’t we supposed to be all about profits? absolutely, and yes! And we want to get there as fast as we possibly can! But before we get there we have to make sure something else happens first, and that is that we always have positive cash flow. We always have enough money to pay the rent. We always have enough money to pay out employees. We always have enough money to buy more supplies, to do more marketing, that’s really crucial. That’s called cash flow. Profits will follow the cash flow I guarantee it. Now there’s a different in being profitable and having positive cash flow, you can be unprofitable where you’re actually losing a little bit of money but still have positive cash flow. I’m telling you when your first starting a business, if you have to pick between the two, now if you could have both of them, great go get both of them and that would be wonderful, but I also will tell you from experience getting both of them when your first starting out is really going to be complicated. You’re going to have to make a decision between the two. Pick cash flow when you’re first starting your business.

#9 Over estimating size of your market. Entrepreneurs are optimists and we tend to have this attitude that everyone is going to want to buy what we have – that just doesn’t sell. Get over it. Just come to understand that it’s not going to happen. So what you need to be able to do is think about Bottom Up Marketing. It isn’t how many potential, how many people are out there, it’s about what you can you really do. Bottom Up Marketing looks at your capacity. So if you’ve got 1 employee, 3 employees, 7 employees, that’s all you can handle. It doesn’t matter how many people might want your widget. You can’t handle it! So think coolly about the real size of your market and don’t ever estimate it because you can’t handle it right now. You only need enough market to handle the capacity you presently have, and if you can do that efficiently you will be profitable, and if your profitable you’ll be successful and if your successful you can grow the company again, and again, and again. Do a little research on “Bottom Up Marketing” and you have a better understanding of the concept

#10 No Advertising/Marketing plan. So how are you going to drive your sales through advertising or through sales people. You need to develop your marketing plan, you need to have enough capital to drive sales. I’ve seen to many times were entrepreneurs will invest all this money in equipment or to get the doors open only to discover they have no way to adequately drive sales.

#10.5 – Exit strategy. At one point, P.T. Barnum noticed that people were lingering too long at his exhibits. He posted signs indicating ” “This Way to the Egress”. Not knowing that “Egress” was another word for “Exit”, people followed the signs to what they assumed was a fascinating exhibit…and ended up outside. So what am I talking about? We should start a business that we can create and build something that we can sell, transfer, dispose of, or hand off to someone else. That should be a goal maybe the first goal as you begin to vision your successful business.

Remember . . . You Were Created to Succeed!

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1 Comment

  • Hello Bert great stuff. You remind me of the The most interesting Man in the world (the Dos Equis guy commercials)

    Even if he forgets to put postage on his mail, it gets there.