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The 10 biggest mistakes I’ve made in my business

The 10 biggest mistakes I’ve made in my business 10 November 2019

Open and honest, here are the ten biggest mistakes I’ve made in my business over the last twenty years.

1. Prioritising my business over my family life

Let’s do the hardest one first. I never admit it because nothing is more important than my family. But if you ask my wife, it’s a different story. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t matter what you say or think, it only matters what you do. My actions had supported my business more than they supported my family, and this hurts to admit. To this day, I struggle with making sure my actions match my intent, and I need constant help and realignment on this, particularly from my wife, Nicole. It’s still a work-in-progress.

2. I overvalued short-term over long-term results

In my early days, business was always about survival. Did I have enough cash to meet my bills? What sales do I need to secure this month to keep my staff employed? Serious issues, yes, but when you’re only dealing with the short-term, you slowly get conditioned to make decisions that only benefit the short term. For example, maybe I shouldn’t have forced a sale that’s not within my target market. I could’ve scaled down temporarily (costly in the short-term) but have a better target market presence and higher profitability in the long-term.

3. I didn’t realise that my reputation was my #1 asset

Sometimes building a business from nothing can be a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog environment. Competitors want to squash you; suppliers are nervous about you, and clients are skeptical of you. At times I made decisions out of fear, which didn’t make me look good. For example, when I thought a client or supplier was unfair, I’d get my lawyer involved and defend my position too early, rather than compromising more for the greater good. As soon as people have to deal with my lawyers, it says, “I’m ready to fight” and done enough times, it begins to hurt your image.

4. Not firing underperforming staff quick enough

It’s hard to admit, but unless you have all the right people in the right seats, your company will not achieve its true potential. It’s uncomfortable to performance manage staff and get rid of people who aren’t performing to a high standard. And it’s easy to lower your standard and accept that ‘they will do.’ But it’s terrible for business. For example, I had a reliable, hard-working manager. Nice guy, but there were always problems and complaints about his work. Eventually, he left, but I took way too long to make the change – and I paid for it dearly as only once he left did we realise the true extent of damage caused.

5. Not hiring new people fast enough

When you fire underperforming staff over and over, you lose faith that anyone will meet your standard, and slowly resist hiring new people altogether. When I got defensive like this, it slowed the growth of my business and caused different, more uncomfortable problems. For example, overworking existing staff to burnout, or declining profitable sales as we didn’t have enough people to deliver. Later, I got better at accepting my hiring mistakes and not giving up until I found the person that worked.

6. Too focused on sales, rather than marketing effectively

Again, this talks to a short-term mentality, rather than building sustainable, long-term results. Sales are more about ‘hunting’ and transacting in the present. In contrast, marketing is more about ‘farming’ and creating more demand for your services in the future. I resisted spending money on marketing activities because I didn’t believe it would achieve immediate sales. But to build a long-term, sustainable business, marketing and promotion are vital to generating an abundance of quality leads for sales teams to convert. I needed to increase my marketing efforts to improve sales in one year’s time – not one month. 

7. Not spending enough time with my superstar staff

We all try to correct non-performers, but I overinvested time in doing so as I wanted them to ‘work out.’ I then had little time to spend with my over-performing staff, the people who truly pushed the company forward. When I didn’t give them enough of my time, it invalidated them, starved them of recognition and appreciation. It’s sad, I hate admitting it, but it happened – and sometimes I lost them because of it.

8. I focused too much on internal operations, rather than improving my client’s experience

In the early days, the business felt chaotic and uncontrolled. Then I began to put systems in place, which made the company operate much better, with less confusion and more productivity. The problem was that I didn’t know when to stop and focus on the next important matter, like building our client relationships. I did achieve a well-oiled machine internally. However, during that period, I lost work to competitors who understood my clients better which left me with a lot of catching up to do.

9. Working long hours without being effective

Very common for any owner or manager in business: you work harder but achieve less – a diminishing return. When I was young, I wore long hours as a badge of honour. But later, I realised I was covering up my own insecurities. In my first business, most of my staff were older than me, so I felt I needed to work harder to earn their respect. Later, I realised that people respect results more than ‘hard work,’ so I’ve tried to discipline myself always to achieve more in less time. And I have.

10. Not recognising that my primary role was to lead

I was 21 when I owned and managed my first business. I had 25 staff, and I didn’t know anything about leadership. So, I just treated myself as a worker, doing what everybody else did, filling in the gaps, and things of that nature. Sure, people saw me as hard-working and humble, but not a great business owner or manager. I then decided to step away from the coalface and work purely on managing the team, planning and setting up the systems needed to increase performance at a higher level. Results increased, staff flourished, and people began to respect me as a businessman. This newfound respect improved my leadership, which allowed me to grow the team and its positive culture at scale. I’ve never looked back since.

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