One big mistake can derail a business. We all know that. But what’s less obvious is the damage little mistakes can do! Obvious screwups like spending beyond your means or failing to advertise are less common, because their effects are drastic and easily understood. It’s the subtle mistakes that hurt most businesses, because we’re so rarely on the lookout for them. In my experience, when a small business is in trouble and the owners don’t understand why, it’s the little things.
The culprit tends to be a shortcut. Sometimes we’re tempted to do things because they’ll save a little money, time or effort. These shortcuts seem harmless, but what’s saved in the short term can cost big in the long term. Be on the lookout for these subtle missteps, and avoid them— even if it seems easier not to.
Mistake #1: Not having a website
This cannot be overstated: in the 21st century, every business needs a website. Every. Single. One. Even offline businesses are cheating themselves by not having an online presence. Whether it’s a pizza shop, yoga studio, or law office, your business needs its own website, separate from any other online forum. Even if it’s just a single, simple homepage with your business’ information, it’s a requirement.
Please understand that social media alone isn’t enough. Simply having a Facebook page and a Twitter account is helpful, but it’s not necessarily driving business your way. If anything, it’s only guaranteed to drive revenue Facebook and Twitter’s way! This is because of the way people find what they’re looking for. Gone are the days of the Yellow Pages; when consumers want a product or service, they Google. If your business doesn’t have a website of its own, it doesn’t have a presence on Google. No Google, no web traffic. No web traffic, no actual traffic!
Some business owners avoid building their website because they’re intimidated or lack the skill. The good news is that it’s easier than ever! Enough affordable services exist to make website design as simple as filling out your Facebook profile. Services like Weebly, SquareSpace, and Hostgator are there for you. If you haven’t already, build your website now, and start working on your SEO. There’s simply no valid reason not to.
Mistake #2: Not having a domain-based email address
This may seem like a cosmetic issue, but image matters in business. Your professional email address should include the name of your business, so that you seem professional enough to trust. It’s a credibility issue. Perception is at the heart of any business’ brand, so make sure you’re perceived as knowing what you’re doing.
If I sign up for a service or spend perfectly good money on a product, I don’t want an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. I want an email from kevin@KJGraphicDesign.com or kevin@JuniorShoes.com. If a business person hasn’t even bothered to set up their own email domain, how competent can they really be? As with web design, there are affordable, easy options for this. Gmail for business is more than reasonably priced, for example, and simple to use.
Mistake #3: Selling exclusively on other platforms
There’s nothing wrong with getting started by selling your wares on Etsy or your services on freelance.com. But ultimately, you want to cut out the middleman and work out of your own shop. Selling on other people’s platforms is great for idea validation and other early stages, but this is a stepping stone, not a game plan.
First, you’re giving up a cut of your revenue. Yes, you’re exchanging that cut for better exposure, but no business can succeed in the long run without its own marketing. Stay on other platforms for too long, and it becomes an “exposure crutch.” If you want to be a truly independent business person, create your own content and build your own following. It takes time, but it’s the foundation of any sustainable business.
Mistake #4: Outsourcing your content
And speaking of marketing, make sure that your content is your content. Having an editor or professional writer help you articulate your ideas is one thing. Farming your thinking out to freelancers is quite another. If you’re paying someone else to create your content from scratch and slapping your name on it, it’s time to reconsider.
Part of what you’re selling is yourself. Your vision, your approach, your unique solution to the needs of your customers. Offering impersonal, stock content is the worst way to find your special niche in the market. Again, there’s nothing wrong with professional articulators like writers and editors, but when it comes to your content, you have to contribute more than just your name. Otherwise, you’ll be found out by your audience.
When it comes to these and any other shortcuts, remember the first rule of a genuinely successful business: value. Real value. Don’t take the easy road. Put in the effort for your business, and your audience will know that you’ll put in the effort for them.