In the ten years since I started my technology consultancy WebVine, I have made mistakes and learned a lot of lessons. There are still challenges as we have grown and flourished, but hopefully today’s new entrepreneurs can benefit from my experience with these potential pitfalls:
Proliferation, not Perfection
A common mistake I see startups make is thinking they need everything in place before they try to make a sale. A flash website, business cards, partnerships, an office, employees, clients, case studies… the list goes on. The truth is, the first thing you need is a sale. And for that, you don’t actually need all the other paraphernalia. All of these things can become a distraction, especially if the founder is afraid of just getting on the phone. It’s amazing how we can distract ourselves in order to avoid potential rejection. Then cash runs out, the list just goes longer and the business may not survive. Make sales the priority, the rest can happen over time.
Partnerships with other people can seem like a really good idea when you’re starting off and there’s not a lot at stake. You don’t have assets or obligations and pooling resources can seem like the obvious answer. However as soon as you start to get customers you quickly realise whether the partnership is going to work or not. Entering into partnerships without any legal agreements can quickly turn sour – do your homework before creating a formal partnership and be very clear about roles, responsibilities and financials.
Project vs Promotion
Strategic growth can be a real challenge in terms of balancing sales with project delivery. If you’re a sole trader with a new project it’s natural to want to exceed expectations and wow the client, but dedicating 100% of your resources to the project means no one is out there pitching for work. One solution is to hire another resource to cover the delivery while you continue with sales but be careful you do not over-commit early and put yourself under too much stress – now you need to bring in enough work to cover twice as many people. In short you may need to put in long hours to create sales opportunities as well as delivery in the initial year.
When you are ready to expand your team, the hiring decisions you make are going to make or break your business. If you’re under the pump with client deliverables, it’s really tempting to hire whoever is available. I made some poor hiring decisions in the early years when the right skills were difficult to find. If you do make a mistake in hiring, fix it fast. Australian businesses with fewer than fifteen employees have minimal dismissal obligations so don’t struggle on trying to make it work for months or even years. Parting ways when it’s not working is the best thing for both parties.
Starting a business is a hard slog and there are countless other traps – failing to delegate, micromanaging, overinvesting in non-essentials and of course becoming so focused on your business that you neglect the other important parts of your life. Making mistakes is all part of the journey but I hope that this article helps you avoid some of them.
About the author
Marcus Dervin if the founder and director of WebVine, a digital transformation consultancy based in Sydney.