Before you consider starting your own business, be aware of the three most common mistakes to avoid
By Max Berry
When Doug Malone tried to start his first home renovation business in Boston, Massachusetts, several years back he quickly discovered that the market was already so saturated with general contractors that he had trouble attracting customers. “I just assumed that because I had a lot of experience working in home renovation and that it was something so many people were interested in, I wouldn’t have any problems.” After barely scraping by for two years, Malone relocated to another town further outside Boston with fewer contractors and tailored his business to specialize in remodeling kitchens. His new business flourished. “If I’d done my homework the first time, I’d have known that there was too much competition where I’d been living, and that I needed more focus,” Malone says.
Mistake No. 1: Little or No Research
Malone’s problem illustrates a common mistake new entrepreneurs frequently make when trying to start their businesses: failure to properly research their idea. All too often, fledgling business owners are so impressed with the brainstorm they had for their business that they neglect to ask fundamental questions regarding both their business concept and the marketplace where they plan to locate. Will my products/services appeal to enough people? Are there any similar businesses operating in the area? Are the local economic and cultural demographics likely to support the sort of business I’m contemplating? Has anyone tried to start such a business there before?
Learning about the type of business you are planning to start is critical, says Martin Lehman, counselor at the New York Chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which offers advice to small business owners. “Have you ever worked in the field? If you plan to open a store, for instance, have you ever worked in retail? Before you open your own apparel store, you should probably take a job at another clothing store to see how a store like that is run,” Lehman advises. Getting hands-on experience is critical for making realistic judgments about the viability of your idea and how much getting it running will cost. “Write up a business plan,” Lehman says, “and be as specific as possible.”
Mistake No. 2: Not Asking for Help
Gathering enough information to adequately plan for your new business may require more than just looking through phonebooks, business directories, chamber of commerce reports, and studying the neighborhood. You may have to consult experienced business people who can help you navigate the often complicated and hazardous challenges of your company’s earliest days. Unfortunately, that’s another mistake new small business owners often make—failing to seek help when they need it. Many entrepreneurs are willing to consult family and friends, most of whom have no experience building a business, but are reluctant to approach a professional organization or consultant who has experience truly relevant to the entrepreneur’s needs. Organizations like the Small Business Administration (sba.gov), or SCORE (score.org) offer considerable resources and counseling to would-be small business owners and can help you research and develop your business plan, as well as providing useful advice once you have the business up and running. Also check with your local chamber of commerce for any small business advocacy organizations in your area.
Mistake No. 3: Being Unrealistic About Time and Money
Perhaps the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is underestimating the time and cost involved in launching a new business. Even though technology has made it possible for small businesses to accomplish more for less money, building a business still requires an ongoing financial investment. Moreover, it requires time—a lot of it. Many would-be entrepreneurs try to start their businesses while still holding down a full time job, and when they see the costs and time demands escalate, they throw in the towel rather than endanger their savings or career. Computer industry observer and author Paul Graham lists this as one common problem in his book 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups. Graham argues that many entrepreneurs secretly lack confidence in their new business effort and balk at the idea of spending too much time or money on it. “Most startups fail because they don’t make something people want, and the reason most don’t is that they don't try hard enough,” Graham says. “The biggest mistake you can make is to not try hard enough.”
Max Berry is an Associate Editor/Writer for Business 24/7 Magazine.
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