Not surprisingly, running your own business is fun and exciting. It can also be challenging, petrifying and exhausting. Things can go wrong and will go wrong. So what should you do during these trying times?


It is said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the small business world, that saying is especially true. While mistakes happen, you have a far better chance of surviving them if you can try to anticipate challenges and avoid them. From my perspective, here are the top four mistakes small business owners make (and how to avoid them):


1. Not sharpening your saw/doing your homework: In the book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, there is a particularly impactful fable titled, “Sharpening the Saw” which states:


“Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.


‘What are you doing?’ you ask.

‘Can't you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’

‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim. How long have you been at it?’

‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I'm beat! This is hard work.’

‘Well, why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?’ you inquire. ‘I'm sure it would go a lot faster.’

‘I don't have time to sharpen the saw,’ the man says emphatically. 'I'm too busy sawing!’”


Entrepreneurs have a lot of traits in common, not all of them good. One of the lesser ones is having a bit too much self-confidence and doing things your own way. A better way is to take a step back and sharpen your saw. Learn something new. Do your homework.



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Having the wisdom to lean a little less on that sense of self-trust and a little more on being precise, thoughtful, and humble will take you far. You need more than a great idea to be successful, and you definitely need more than a good idea to take you all the way. If you are exacting, intentional, well-informed, do your homework, and are willing to learn and change, then you should have no problem avoiding this common small business error.


2.  Running out of gas/not taking time off: As I’m sure you know, when running your own small business, the stakes are higher, the hours are longer, and the stress much more palpable than when you were an employee.


Give yourself a break.


I think one of the most important elements that people overlook when fostering a successful small business is that it will be emotionally taxing, mentally exhausting, and physically draining. How do you avoid that? By taking time off, turning off the phone, not responding to emails every night, and remembering to be a good boss – to yourself.


3. Not marketing/advertising enough: This is a drum I beat a lot because it’s true. The only way to get new people to learn about your business is by marketing and advertising. The only way to replenish the customers who leave (for whatever reason – they move, find someone cheaper) is through your marketing efforts.


4. Not swallowing your pride/asking for the help you need: It’s natural for you to feel protective and possessive of your small business. However, that said, you need to avoid the entrepreneurial tendency to control everything and not let your pride and sense of ownership get in the way of getting the help you need.


The fact is, you will not be able to maintain a successful small business for long all by yourself. You need to engage with a team. Listen to your employees, freelancers, customers, investors, partners, and family members.


No, things will not always go quite according to plan, but that’s OK. The trick is to avoid the easy mistakes.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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