If you’re dissatisfied with your progress, here are 5 mistakes that could be tanking your entrepreneurial pursuits.
Let’s talk sabotage: Years ago, one of my earlier startups aligned itself with a celebrity who turned out to be a fraudster, thief, and eventually a fugitive. When he went on the run, he disappeared with our cash, and if we’d launched his product, he could have sabotaged our reputation, too. A few years after that, we hired a marketing team who drained our bank account, while tanking our marketing conversions and sending our sales to a screeching halt. Most recently, a multi-billion-dollar MLM sent me an angry letter, threatening they’d sabotage my entire business with a costly lawsuit if I didn’t retract a piece of (fact- and opinion-based) content.
In those three instances, the threat of sabotage came from an external source:
- A fraudulent partnership
- A misaligned, underqualified hire
- A piece of content that ruffled the wrong feathers
Nonetheless, in all my years working with and hearing from thousands of entrepreneurs, I’ve rarely ever seen one sabotaged by an external source. I have, however, witnessed countless entrepreneurs who’ve involuntarily committed fatal errors that took their own companies down or came close.
In fact, if I consider the fact that my businesses survived those three traumatic threats of sabotage, the only times I’ve fully failed came down to the mistakes and actions of one person: me.
If your business is growing slower than you’d like, showing signs of stagnation or a decline, or feels like a fast-track to failure, here are 5 fatal flaws you may be unknowingly committing. Reverse these errors and you just may be able to right the sinking ship that is your promising startup.
One of the most common mistakes I see among the most ambitious of founders is the well-intentioned attempt to bite off far more than they can chew because they believe a 360-degree strategy is the only way to win. These are the entrepreneurs who’ve been fed the lie that they must:
- Raise funding
- Build a personal brand
- Conquer every social media platform
- Build and launch in public (document their process)
- Hire quickly and delegate as much as possible
- Build in five extra streams of revenue in tandem
The result? It should be no surprise that in attempting to do everything at once, these entrepreneurs typically move at a snail’s pace, making microscopic progress on each pursuit, and conquering none of them.
As a brand-new founder, you probably don’t need to raise funding right away; proving your concept and gaining some traction is a much more common-sensical precursor. However, doing that requires building an actual product, service, or at least a minimum viable product (MVP), which is arguably more important than building your personal brand — unless your product is a direct extension of your personal brand aimed at your followers.
Conquering every social media platform? That’s a nice to have, once you have the bandwidth to conquer one or two lead generation and customer acquisition channels, but spending 100% of your time on diversified social media content marketing probably isn’t the best play if it comes at the expense of your MVP and proven lead generation channel.
And building in public? If that’s going to distract you from building in private and impede your progress with the focus on documenting over doing, then that’s a poor suggestion, as well.
When you’re a solo-founder, bootstrapped entrepreneur, or in any way resource-constrained (as most first-time founders are), the fastest track to success will be focused attention on the things that matter. Spreading yourself too thin and sampling every suggested task at the entrepreneurial and marketing buffet is a surefire way to cloud that focus and derail the straight line to success.
You can either keep your head down and do the not-so-sexy work of step-by-step meaningful progress or you can put on a show, dabbling with hands in every sexy entrepreneurial pot. If you like the attention, go for the latter, but if you prioritize efficiency, progress, and impact, I’d suggest the former first. There’ll be plenty of time to expand your efforts later on, but biting off more than you can chew and punching above your weight on tasks that won’t move the needles that matter is a recipe for distraction and failure.
In today’s information age with the advent of e-learning and the rise of every type of “coach” and “guru” imaginable, one of the most prevalent failure-inducing flaws is the decision to mimic an idol’s blueprint. I know multiple incredibly successful gurus who’ve made tens of millions of dollars selling a one-size-fits-all formula to build a business just like theirs.
The problem? These gurus are building an army of second-rate wannabe competitors who won’t be competing with their idol, but rather with each other. If you’re blindly following a “proven system” that ten thousand other people are concurrently implementing in tandem, don’t be surprised when it’s hard to stand out from the throngs of copycats.
That’s not to say you can’t learn from successful founders who’ve gone before you or enter their industry with your own product or service. However, assuming you can blindly follow an overused formula and attain similar results in an increasingly competitive, oversaturated market is unrealistic at best, ignorant at worst.
Unlike a job, in which any employee may be able to replicate your process and you theirs for the same result, breaking into an industry with a new business requires differentiation. The copycat formula isn’t a recipe for success, but rather an incomplete map to an increasingly steep uphill battle.
One of the biggest fear-mongering myths wafting through the entrepreneurial atmosphere is the idea that if you aren’t early, you’re destined to fail. Big-name influencer-CEOs (like Gary Vaynerchuk) have hammered home the idea that you have a small window to be an early adopter on new platforms, and if you don’t take it, you lose out forever.
While there’s some truth to the idea that early adopters may have an easier time gaining publicity and a large following on new platforms, that doesn’t mean being an early adopter is the only way to succeed. In fact, it’s no guarantee that if you are an early adopter you will succeed; likewise, it’s no mandate that all latecomers are doomed to failure.
If you let another platform’s timing dictate if, when, or whether you launch a new product or enter a new market, I’d argue you’re granting far too much power to external factors.
There is such a thing as launching too early. There is such a thing as being unprepared, hastily rushed, and thus, sabotaging yourself to meet an arbitrary timeline. The Fyre Festival debacle is a prime example of when launching too early and too fast can backfire and be far more detrimental to your company’s success and reputation than a delayed timeline.
On the other hand, it’s just as easy to talk yourself out of launching or embarking on a new platform at all, since you believe you’re too late to be considered an early adopter. With that mentality, you can cut countless ideas and new ventures off at the knees, all because perfect divine timing between your venture’s progress and a chosen platform didn’t align.
While there can be benefits to entering a new market or platform as an early adopter, it isn’t the be-all and end-all. In reality, quality and persistence can trump being an early adopter, and far too many entrepreneurs allow the early adopter myth to dictate what they will or won’t pursue, even if that means abandoning promising opportunities.
I recently embarked on a new venture, and it wasn’t until hearing a complaint from a first-time entrepreneur that I realized my error was the same as hers: Not even three months into our respective new ventures, and we were both judging our progress. The difference is she was asking if she should call it quits, while I was asking myself and my team how we could accelerate things. Either way, the answer was similar: If you’re focusing on weekly or monthly targets, you’re being far too myopic and short-sighted.
Building successful, lasting businesses takes time, and the real progress reveals itself in the two-year, five-year, and ten-year goals and outcomes, not just the three-month updates.
Bill Gates famously stated “people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years”, and if I look back over the past decade in contrast to my first year as an entrepreneur, it couldn’t be more true. In year one, I was 2/3rds of the way through failing my first solo-founded startup, which would ultimately feel like 18 months of no progress. A decade later, the skills, businesses, accomplishments, and progress markers I’ve conquered are comparatively staggering, though it never felt that way at any isolated point along the journey.
Point being, most aspiring entrepreneurs are far too aggressive with their short-term goals and too obscure and foggy with their long-term ones. Being short-sighted and giving up too early when you’re six months in and feeling dissatisfied with your pace of progress often creates serial quitters, rather than serial entrepreneurs.
Don’t rush; don’t take shortcuts; don’t juggle 10 balls in the air if you have yet to master one. Success takes time, and we’re all impatient and dissatisfied with our rate of progress; but those who stick it out and trudge forward may see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Some people say you have to build a business around something you love or a product or service you’d use; I disagree. While loving your industry, product, or service is a great perk, you most definitely won’t love every single minute of building the business. Thus, you’ll need something stronger than an affinity for the industry, product, or service to pull you through the boring, repetitive, frustrating tasks which may seem to comprise a disproportionate amount of your time in the beginning.
Rather than building a business around something you love, for which your affinity could get chipped away with every annoyance and hiccup you’re bound to face along the startup journey, I’d suggest building a business with a strong enough “why” to maintain your attention and dedication.
Simply put, many wantrepreneurs and short-lived founders who flit from venture to venture lacked a strong enough “why” to keep them committed to any one idea. A weak “why” might as well be the kiss of death in entrepreneurship, as it’s a great indicator that when times get tough — which they likely will — you’ll have a hard time convincing yourself to stay the course.
A strong why will move you emotionally, remind you of the impact you’re working towards, and consistently far outweigh the daily frustrations, pitfalls, and fear-striking uncertainties sure to riddle your path. If you don’t know your “why”, I’d urge you to stop and ask yourself what you really plan to get out of this whole entrepreneurship thing and honestly wrestle with whether getting that outcome will be as fulfilling as you once thought.