Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. The challenges are so different from those of a standard-issue job that many budding entrepreneurs can fall into traps they’d never anticipated. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this long enough to have seen (and made) many of the common mistakes that make independent business harder than it has to be.
Some mistakes are minor and inevitable, but some are such deadly missteps that they can derail your entire dream. Avoid these crucial errors in order to stay on the path you’ve chosen- your own.
1. Thou Shalt Not Overanalyze
It’s always great to look before you leap, and preparation is one of the keys to success. However, if you suffer from the kind of pre-planning perfectionism that stops you from making moves, that’s not caution. That’s Analysis Paralysis.
Analysis Paralysis freezes a business in place for the sake of seeking a level of control that no one can ever actually achieve. Business is risky! Accepting that with calm determination might be the most important act of preparation you can make.
Trust in the twin truths of your passion and your expertise, and move forward. Try things, and if they don’t work out, try something else. Don’t fall under the illusion that you can control all outcomes by laying the groundwork perfectly; you can’t. Explore, improvise, and don’t be afraid of setbacks. Set deadlines by which you have to act, regardless of the preparation, and stick to them. Even when something could have been better planned, it’s more important to overcome the fear of moving than it is to move perfectly every time.
2. Thou Shalt Not Think in the Short Term (Only)
Short term success may be gratifying, but it can also be intoxicating. It can make you forget the overall, long-term mission of your business. What’s the most important thing you’re trying to achieve? The answer to that question has to keep its place in the forefront of your mind.
While a good day, week, month or even year is worth celebrating, never forget the ultimate goal. What do you want for and from your business in 5 years? In 10? In 20? Entrepreneurship is a long game, a lifetime commitment. The sum total of your work is what will ultimately matter most, so be clear in your long-term intentions, and be guided by them above all.
3. Thou Shalt Not Do it All
You can’t do everything. Many have tried, and all have failed. While the independence of entrepreneurship is part of the allure, no man or woman is an island. Trying to maintain control over every aspect of your business is a fool’s errand, and detracts from the basic principle of entrepreneurship: turning your individual talent and passion into an enterprise.
That means learning the most important skill a leader can ever have: delegation. Find the people who can do everything other than what you decided to make a career out of doing, and let them do it. The time and energy you waste on things outside of your wheelhouse is better devoted to perfecting your own skill, your own art, your own vision.
4. Thou Shalt Not Be A Perfectionist
Nothing, and nobody, is perfect. The illusion of perfection can be a great tool for motivation, but it can also be paralyzing and self-defeating. While every entrepreneur should strive for their best, there are times when getting something done is preferable to getting it done more perfectly.
Have high professional standards. Seek improvement and development at every turn. Chase perfection as if it’s attainable, even though it’s not. The cumulative results of that effort over the course of your career will bear incredible fruit- but don’t hold your business back by insisting on unrealistic expectations.
5. Thou Shalt not Fear Failure
Business is the art of risk. Entrepreneurship is the fullest expression of that risk, since it’s done without the backing of the established powers that be. That’s what you signed up for. That’s why it’s so much more rewarding than working for someone else. The risk is yours, but so is the payoff, including the freedom of forging your own path.
However, it’s going to mean failure. Failure will lurk around every corner, and rustle every hedge you pass. You’ll fail often, mostly in small ways, but always in ways that will teach you something. Poster-child for entrepreneurial success Robert Kiyosaki urges his students to “fail fast;” the more quickly you fail, the more quickly that failure will breed success.
Don’t fear failure. Get comfortable with it. Make failure your friend, your constant companion, and you’ll discover how superb a teacher it really is.
6. Thou Shalt Not Be Anyone Other Than Thyself
Posing is a guarantee of entrepreneurial disaster (unless the field you’ve chosen is modeling, of course). Taking on a persona or fabricating a voice is not branding or image-building; it’s lying. Who you are and what drives you is your greatest asset, not something to be disguised. Entrepreneurship works based on the unique approach of an individual, not an archetype or a character.
Be yourself. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Especially if your business is based on your expertise, don’t be afraid to share your journey of improvement, development and learning. That kind of honesty separates the entrepreneurs from the scammers, and builds the trust that creates real consumer loyalty.
7. Thou Shalt Not Measure Thyself by the Success of Others
Measuring yourself by someone else’s metrics is a self-defeating strategy. There will always be someone more successful- if you choose to define that in terms of sales, income, or notoriety.
The only scale by which an entrepreneur should measure their success is the one that they create for themselves. Am I on the path to fulfilling my long-term goals? Have I improved since last quarter? Am I living with the freedom, determination, and creativity that made entrepreneurship attractive in the first place? Am I enjoying this?
Ultimately, you’re your only competition. If you focus on that, you’ll find that the ups and downs of others aren’t nearly as relevant as they seem.
8. Thou Shalt Not Move the Goal Posts
Setting goals, even short-term ones, is important. Overall goals, sub-goals, even daily goals are healthy metrics by which to keep your business on track. However, one unhealthy temptation to which some (especially very driven) entrepreneurs succumb is to change those goals before they’ve been reached.
If you see that your business is on track to hit a certain milestone, don’t retroactively decide that you’re shooting for a different one. Hit your goal, enjoy the success, and then establish new, more challenging ones. By not allowing yourself to acknowledge an accomplishment, you can damage morale. Worse, goals become negotiable instead of being reliable guideposts.
9. Thou Shalt Not Confuse This With a “Job”
It’s crucial to understand the basic difference between entrepreneurship and a “job” in the traditional sense. They are two very different animals, with two very different requirements.
A job is something you do for someone else. It’s something to which you contribute, and that contribution is well-defined and (more importantly) limited. You do your job, and then you go home. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. It’s the commitment of an entire individual to a goal, and there is no clock on which to punch in or out.
It means that the line separating your work from your life is a fuzzier one, if it exists at all. It’s not something you do; it’s something you are, all the time. Balancing your work/life responsibilities is a trickier and more subtle art for the entrepreneur. Friends and family have to understand this, and be willing to accommodate and support the extra responsibility.
It’s not better or worse, but it is different. Those who choose to create their own careers, to shape their professional lives independently and free themselves from the dictates of an employer have to do so with an awareness of the implications.
10. Thou Shalt not be a Lone Ranger
With all the independence entrepreneurship offers, one can be tempted to think that it’s a one-person enterprise. It never is. Entrepreneurship isn’t about flying solo, it’s about choosing your own path. Even on a path of your own making, you’ll need help and support.
Independence doesn’t mean independence from others. It means independence from the dictates of others. It means finding the people with whom you can go your own way. I tried to go it alone, before finding my partner Nicole and the other members of the team we’ve put together to build our independent living.
That was the idea behind the $100 MBA- to offer guidance to other independent business people, so that we could all reap the benefits. Collaborative support between entrepreneurs might seem less like independence, but it’s at the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit. With focus, honesty, and a little help, anyone can carve out the future they desire for themselves.