Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

November 12, 2012

New Entrepreneurs’ Biggest Mistakes

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 3:20 pm

Asked on MosaicHub by IcanNY

I see several big mistakes by entrepreneurs that can cut either way. Or even three ways:

1. Spending money before it is absolutely necessary–especially on overhead.
Or, on the other side . . . Failing to go all in, not spending as much as you need when the window of opportunity opens wide.

2. Plunging ahead too quickly before you are ready. Going to market with beta.
Or . . . Hesitating, waiting too long, so that others pass you by. Striving for perfection instead of good enough.
Or . . . Beating a dead horse. Sticking with something long after you should have written it off and moved on.

3. Being the Lone Ranger. Taking too much on yourself, thinking you’re the smartest, and that you know all the answers.
Or . . . Being indecisive. Listening to too many voices and viewpoints, trying to satisfy everybody.

4. Micromanager. Hiring good people but always looking over their shoulder, telling them how to do their job.
Or . . . Laissez faire. Hiring good people then turning them loose, giving too little guidance and feedback.
Or . . . Switching back and forth between these two. That REALLY drives your people crazy!

We all do these things. I’ve probably made every one of these mistakes! You can recover.

In my book, How to Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy, I show how to avoid these errors, and how to recover once you commit them.


June 25, 2012

Are You Cut Out to Be an Entrepreneur?

Do you have what it takes to succeed in business? Some people think it takes special skills to be a successful entrepreneur. I think it’s a myth. If you question your own entrepreneurial credentials, take a look at some of the people I’ve worked with—from solopreneurs to 50 or more employees:

  • Two art majors started making hand-printed greeting cards for friends. Now they own a print shop with a bunch of employees. They’ve printed my books.
  • A woman was making pear condiments in her kitchen. Soon she was selling pallets of her specialty foods to Costco from her warehouse. I have a photo of her driving her forklift.
  • A woman in IT had gluten intolerance, started baking things for herself. She now has a bakery, several retail outlets including a new one in the San Francisco Ferry Building, sells online, and has 30+ employees. She still doesn’t understand her P&L.
  • A Japanese immigrant worked as a busser in a restaurant, and saved his money. The restaurant went bust, he bought it for a pittance. Twenty years later, he has one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area, and has had a Michelin star.
  • A woman took over her husband’s bookstore when he died of a heart attack. She didn’t really enjoy the business, but she trained somebody else to run it for her, and she actually hired two more people.
  • A Hispanic guy got hurt on his construction job, and went on disability. While he was waiting for some job retraining, he started doing gardening for neighbors. He was chastised by the state for accepting money while on state aid. He now has three trucks and two gardening crews working for him.
  • A woman got fired from her sewing job, took a couple of favorite customers and did sewing for them. She now has a sewing workroom with ten employees. She recently bought out her former boss.
  • A banker took his early-retirement buyout and started a yoga studio, and he just loves doing that.
  • My wife BJ, the least entrepreneurial person I know, left her job when she got passed over for a promotion. She scanned the want ads for a new job for about six months, until she had so many HR consulting clients she had no time for that. Ten years later she keeps her schedule full without any marketing, just by referrals.

None of these people would have scored high on anybody’s entrepreneur test beforehand. But they’ve all done well. It may be true that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, but I challenge you to point ’em out ahead of time.

Are you one of these “accidental entrepreneurs?” Your issue is, once you are up and going, how can you make the best of it? Not just to survive in business, but to thrive, and get where you want to go.

What It Takes to Succeed

For these folks to succeed as entrepreneurs and take their business where they wanted it to go, they had to master a handful of basic lessons. Here’s what they have told me. My guess is, these apply to you as well:

Find your natural gift and build your business around it. Not only what business you are in, but what you do in the business. These folks learned to succeed by doing what they were best at—design, product selection and merchandising, working with customers, spotting and negotiating deals, whatever—and handing off all the rest.

Insist on making a profit. Know what things cost, and how profitable each sale is. Don’t spend money unconsciously. If you’re not good at the numbers, hire a strong numbers person and have them give you the financial data you need in a way you can understand and take needed action. If they don’t do this, replace ‘em!

Pay yourself first, and well. If the cash is just not there, tune your business model until it is. Or is this just a hobby for you?

Listen to the market. Let it tell you what to sell, and what to ruthlessly pare back. Let your customers tell you what they want to buy from you, then give it to them.

Learn to sell by being who you are. Let your passion show through. Be there with your prospects and customers. Looked at this way, selling is not a fearful activity.

Don’t be the Lone Ranger. Get past your “only I can do this job” mindset. Bring in top quality people. The better people these owners had on their team, the bigger and more profitable they became, and the easier their job was. And the longer their vacations!

Let go those who don’t measure up. Don’t be held back by the limitations of your people—whether employees, subcontractors, or professional advisors such as accountants.

Stop being a control freak.  When you have good people, trust them to do the job you’ve hired them for. Trust but verify. Watch over things, but don’t jump in and do them yourself.

Get the secret knowledge out of your head. Learn to turn everything into systems, checklists, procedures manuals—even the things that you’re sure only you can do correctly—so that others can do them.

Set a plan, even when the uncertainties are daunting. Stick with it, review it regularly, and revise it as needed. A plan should be just a page or two, and should be dog-eared, coffee stained, and covered with notes.

Save money as you go along. Build up a cushion for tough times and a fund for expansion. Those that did this all along stayed in business throughout this tough downturn.

Take care of yourself. If you burn yourself out, you can’t provide the services you are passionate about. The notion of the 24-7 always-on entrepreneur is a dangerous myth.

Build your business around your life, not your life around your business. You’re in business to get to do what you want. Otherwise you might as well have a j-o-b.

Know when to let go and get out–whether you sell, pass it on, or just lock the door–and head on to the next thing.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to master these lessons. But having some help makes it easier.

This is where I come in. I’ve helped these folks grow to the size they want, put a lot more money in their pocket, take long vacations, then come back and find things ran well in their absence.  So give me a call.


November 25, 2009

Why Did You Go Into Business?

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tags: , , , — Mike Van Horn @ 2:08 pm

from a LinkedIn question asked by my friend Christopher Richards. I think this is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves. In “Success in 2010,” our annual plan workshop, the first question is, “Why are you in business?” It completely stumps some people! But once you answer that, it really helps you to organize your business to give you what you want.

Here’s my answer:

I went into business by accident. I was at a party. I overheard these two engineers talking about a project they’d gotten to produce a big conference for Jet Propulsion Labs. They were puzzled how they were going to handle the group interaction, which wasn’t their strength.

I butted in and said, “I could do that for you.” I ended up as #3 guy on the project, which went really well, and we were offered follow-on conferences. The two engineers said, “This really isn’t our thing; we’re turning this over to you.” So there I was, sole owner of a technical conference production company, with up to ten employees.

Since that time, I’ve only had one “real job” (i.e., one with paid vacation), when I made the mistake of going to work for my best client. That lasted two years. Since then I’ve owned an export management company (which lasted till Japan’s economy went in the tank), and my current company, The Business Group.

I’m in business because I like to create and organize big things. Yes, I like the money, and yes, I like contributing to others, but those aren’t the main drivers.

At heart I’m a teacher and  communicator and organizer, and my businesses have all been designed as venues for me to exercise these strengths in various ways.

And to schedule time off when I want it.

Oh yes, then there’s the fact that I’m such a hard-headed, autonomous sumbeech that no employer could long put up with me!

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