Doing business is hard nowadays. Competition is always lurking and constantly spying on your modes and methods, dedicated employees are hard to find, and modern industries change faster than status updates by teenagers on Facebook. Success seems elusive – but is it really?
I dare say, none of those things are really the cause of your business failing. It’s you. Your mistakes. Your doing. Your startup’s success depends on you hitting the right balance between involvement and indifference towards the actual business. It’s a lot like relationships. You don’t want to get too involved, but not calling weeks on end will have you listening to Frank Sinatra’s “Only the Lonely” by yourself, with only a glass of bourbon to keep you company. That’s no good.
Balance is the key to your business’ success. To achieve balance in business, here are the 7 deadly sins of entrepreneurs you need to stay away from.
Recommended Reading: What It Takes To Call Yourself A Real Entrepreneur
1. Entrepreneurs Are Not Insects
No they aren’t. Robert A. Heinlein said it best in his Time Enough for Love:
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog… pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Insects make for lousy entrepreneurs. Take ants for example. An ant does its job without questioning authority (the queen), thinking outside the box or pioneering anything. It’s true that some ants might make great body-builders, carrying multiple times their weight, but you couldn’t find a less entrepreneurial-inclined species out there. That’s because all ants specialize in doing a particular task for the colony. It is the way nature built them.
Don’t be an ant.
If Heinlein is right, and a human being should be able to do all those things, an entrepreneur should be able to go beyond that: do market projections, data entry, create workflow sheets, macromanage and work in Photoshop among other things. There’s no other way.
An entrepreneur is a Jack of all trades.
Many successful entrepreneurs understand that specialized knowledge is useless in today’s business environment. They keep their balance by not totally diving into a particular field, but having a mountain-peak vision of all the ingredients.
2 Over-Enthusiasm Is For Suckers
An unbalanced entrepreneur can easily be swept away by the allure of a new startup. Big mistake. Again, much like relationships, everything seems perfect when you’re just starting out. The business problems and imperfections are still unfamiliar to you. You think you can juggle between your current job/business and the new endeavour – you’re suffering from over-enthusiasm.
Starting multiple startups at the same time is a sure way to strike out and leave the playground ashamed. Don’t do it. The only way to succeed with a business is to give it your all. Like I said before, you’ll need to be a Jack of all trades inside your business.
Do you really think you’ll be able to embody that for multiple startups? What you really want is to expand into a new business only when your current business is solid, not a startup anymore, and has already passed its third birthday. So start small, take it one startup at a time, focus on it and give it time to grow.
3. Worshiping The Wrong Idol: Passion
So many quotes, sayings, aphorisms, books and articles laid out on the pedestal of this deceitful idol: Passion. The P-word is a must for any motivator or entrepreneur, but the reality is far more… tangible.
Smart entrepreneurs don’t just blindly catcg the golden goose named passion. It’s sad to admit, but the world is harsh and industries are profitable (or not), regardless of our own personal preferences. Trends and business opportunities exist outside the realm of our passions. It’s true that you can make anything work and you can succeed in any business. That’s not in question here.
The question is this: Is it really worth it following your passion when you could be creating a far more successful business in a perhaps more rapidly growing industry?
Just Don’t Be Blinded By Passion
I know what you’re going to say: “If Steve Jobs did it, why can’t I?”. And no, in no way am I saying that he was better than you. I’m just saying there are many more mad poor geniuses than mad rich ones.
Nevertheless, the world doesn’t need to be changed only by passion, but can also be impacted by rational decisions made by powerful entrepreneurs. As Benjamin Franklin put it:
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”
I also agree with Joshua that you need to cultivate passion for the startup which you’ve rationally chosen to pursue. And that choice must be made after surveying the current most fertile business grounds. Be smart when choosing your industry and your success chances will be greater.
4. Attachment Leads To Suffering
No matter which way you cut it, your business is made up of people: employees, partners, clients. If you want it to succeed, you need to be realistic about the relationships you have with these people.
An entrepreneur needs to be a leader. Leaders use people, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Each person serves a goal inside the organization. If that person fails, you need to replace him or her. That person has been used and can’t be used anymore. You need to be able to fire people, end contracts with long time clients and even litigate against partners. Hey, I never said business isn’t a contact sport.
It’s about letting employees go, hiring new ones, having a razor sharp eye for an employee’s qualities and weaknesses, and not letting attachment cloud your judgement.
Cut The Bonds
Rookie entrepreneurs create bonds with employees. They create personal relationships with clients. They share intimate stories and go out partying together – I couldn’t think of a faster way to kill your business.
People follow strength and they need someone to look up to. You need to portray that, or you’ll lose your grip on the firm. You’re the Alpha Entrepreneur. Don’t make the mistake of bonding too much with your workers or partners. That’s not to say you won’t occasionally show up with ice creams to the office. You should do that, but only 3 times per year. That’s enough.
Like always, balance is key.
5 Only God Can Micromanage
You can’t be in two places simultaneously and you can’t know everything. I know it’s hard to hear, but your success depends on people. You need to select thoroughbred employees who don’t need micromanagement. The mistake of micromanaging often times comes as a result of not applying the above advice regarding attachment towards your workforce.
If you fail to kick someone to the curb, you’ll probably end up micromanaging him or her for hours and plummeting your business into oblivion. As much as entrepreneurs obsess about the saying “If you want something done right, do it yourself”, the reality is, most successful entrepreneurs act as overseer, or “Queens” (like in an ant colony). They manage specialized professionals.
Instead Of Micromanaging…
To prevent excessive micromanagement from happening, you need to:
- Provide training to your employees
- Trust the Universe
- Better yet, learn to trust employees
- Delegate tasks
- Find a way to engage your employees
…or you could always hire a micromanager and let him manage your workforce, while you yourself manage that micromanager. Can you manage that?
6 “All Your Bases Are Belong To Us”
I’m not such a big fan of Zero Wing, but you have to hand it to them. They did come up with one of the coolest Engrish memes on the Internet. Happily, it applies to gaming as well as entrepreneurship. Here’s why.
Creating multiple bases without adequate supply lines for your troops, adequate placement strategies and an independent escape route for each base will have them “belong to us”. You’ll lose your bases and inevitably the war. It is the same when you over-expand and grow your business too fat. Going from 0 to $100,000 is a totally different experience than going from $100,000 to $1,000,000.
Going over 1 million towards 10 million dollars is yet again a radically different ball game.
Sadly, not all entrepreneurs know this. They rush to expand, loan money to open up a new office in a different town as soon as they gain some traction with their startup. It usually backfires.
You see the same thing with big tech companies who actually lose money from their IPOs (like was the case with big names back in ’11).
But IPOs are too much of a nasty business. Let’s talk about the same principle when applied to growing to various cities. The saying “one bad apple in the bunch is not a good thing” applies perfectly here. Just one misstep with one of your subsidiaries and a delayed action in closing it, and it can hurt your business irreparably.
Check Your Pace
Growing your business to different cities is an art. Don’t rush it. Take things slow, exactly like you would in a relationship. Three dates is a minimum before any sort of action. Likewise, survey the terrain before opening up shop there. Here are the three “dates” you’ll need to go on:
1. Start from the start
Just because you’re doing good back home doesn’t mean you should spend profits on a luxury office space in a new town, hire 4-5 employees from the get-go and invest heavily into marketing. Even across relatively close cities, people are different. Start small, exactly like you did in your home town and let it grow naturally.
2. Clone yourself
Right, until the technology goes mainstream, the alternative is to get a hungry, preferably younger version of yourself and give him or her a nice salary. That person will build your business for you. Let him or her work from home – like I said, start small.
Only if you see any sort of sales should you invest into more people and more space. In the end you’ll need (but not want) your cloned version to own a minority stake in the business, for motivation. I know. Cloning is hard.
3. Less travel, more subscriptions
You really don’t need to travel to check up on your business. Today you have Skype, Dropbox, Whatsapp, Facebook, Linkedin, TeamViewer, Mikogo and even hidden options for Remote Admin.
Some of them require subscriptions, but they’ll be cheaper than gas. Even if your business is a good ol’ brick-n-mortar one, you can still install cameras, have employees check in with their smartphones and have a cheap Virtual Assistant check the video footage and workflow. Be smart.
7 Following Other People’s Advice
Want to be an entrepreneur? Don’t follow anyone’s advice. I know that is a bit of a damaging meta-statement, considering that I myself am sharing advice through this, but at least I’ll be honest about my dishonesty: don’t follow my advice (to the letter).
Test, tweak, adapt and for God sake, follow your gut. This world is so full of circumstances and variables, not even the most literate, knowledgeable, well-mannered and well-intended entrepreneur can give you a sure roadmap to your personal success.
You need to harvest your own thoughts and develop your own voice. This is similar to the fifth element: void or aether, in the metaphysical world, that magical last defining step towards mastery.
Simply Put, Be Your Own Master
There’s no amount of reading and no amount of mentoring to replace experience. Words don’t teach. Experience does. People will always be really glad to comment, give advice, warn, yell, laugh. Let them. The way of the entrepreneur is similar to that of a warrior. Be silent. Do your thing. Consider opinions, but don’t take them to heart.
Make your own choices and even if you fail, at least you’ll have the benefit of analyzing your own thought process and not someone else’s. You’ll have evolved.
Put your opinion first, and others will follow in your vision.