How Small Businesses Can Learn from their Mistakes


At some point in every small business owner’s experience, there comes a moment when something goes terribly wrong. To “err is human” and for business owners that can mean really messing things up in front of customers or colleagues. But take heart – it can happen to anyone at anytime and chances are it won’t be the first or the last time you make a business mistake. The good thing about business mistakes, are that they become a unique opportunity to learn a valuable business lesson. This can help you to become better at what you do, how you do it and propel your business into a positive growth mode.

Read on to hear about some of the common mistakes real small business owners have made and lived to tell about! Then discover how every small business can learn from these mistakes.

Taking Shortcuts to Save Money

One of the biggest mistakes made by many small businesses is to try to take shortcuts to save money. It happened to Izzy Goodman, CEO of Complete Computer Services, an ink cartridge sales and web marketing company from Queens, NY. As a new business owner, Goodman tried to reduce his start-up costs by throwing together an amateurish website with very little thought to how online marketing and SEO might affect his business. He discovered quite by accident when an article he wrote, “brought thousands of visitors to his website, many of whom emailed to say the professional article didn't match the poor site.” Goodman says, “You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. I'm sure most of the people who visited that early site never returned.” So, to make lemonade out of lemons, Goodman “concentrated on polishing the site before releasing his next set of articles.” As a result of these efforts, now most of the Complete Computer Services website visitors become customers. This is just one clear example of why a small business should never cut corners in terms of promotion. To do so can cost you more than just customers.

Outsourcing the Wrong Tasks to Others

It’s understandable that as an entrepreneur you may find it difficult to handle everything on your own. However, it’s very important to evaluate each task before assigning it to someone else, because you may be shortchanging your own efforts by not doing some things yourself. Several years ago, Debra M. Cohen, CEO of Home Remedies of NY®, Inc., a homeowner referral network, decided to hire a consulting firm to document her business and write a franchise manual in the hopes of changing her business model to a franchise. After spending many months writing a step-by-step manual of what her business does and sinking over $10,000 into this venture, Cohen realized two very important things (1) No one was more qualified to write a business manual about the business than she was. (2) Franchising her business would completely change the simplicity that made her company so successful in the first place. Cohen says that, “my mistake set me on the right path. I sat down and evaluated my business on every level and systemized it so that anyone could duplicate my model. Ultimately, I was able to grow nationwide without having to franchise at all.” Oftentimes, it’s better to take a good long look at your business to decide what your dream is for it, and then handle the foundation tasks yourself so you get better results.

Making a Bad Hire in a Key Role

Another common, but critical, error that small businesses owners make includes hiring the wrong person for a key role within the company. As the CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a marketing and SEO company in New York City, Gabriel Shaoolian found out the hard way that a resume isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. A high-level employee was brought on based on his apparent qualifications, but after just a few weeks, turned out to be a bad hire because he did not have the skills he listed on his work history. Shaoolian says, “When a small business makes a bad hire in a key position, it can really damage or even destroy the company. You lose money and you lose the time it takes to train the employee. Worst of all, you have the lost opportunity of what you would have been able to accomplish with a great hire.” Moving forward, Shaoolian developed a system for hiring the right kinds of candidates for key level positions, by “writing a detailed job description of exactly what each job entails and what specific attributes and experience the right person would have.” Then he “makes a list of five to ten questions that candidates have to answer by phone or e-mail before a face-to-face meeting.” He goes even a step further by evaluating each candidate on their passion and articulation level. Says Shaoolian, “If people can't communicate a clear vision of what they can contribute, I don't want them talking to clients." When hiring candidates to fill important spots in your company, make sure to have a plan in mind and know exactly what your expectations are, screen candidates carefully and always check references for the best choice.

Undervaluing Your Business Offerings

When the author of this article, Tess C. Taylor, owner of Taylor Resources Writing, a copywriting service in Charleston, SC, was first starting out, she made a critical mistake. Fortunately, this was short lived and became the pivotal turning point in her career. The major mistake she made was undervaluing herself as a service provider. Starting out, Taylor chose to charge people very little for her writing services, in an attempt to earn clients. Within a short period of time, however, this backfired and led to a period of disillusionment about the whole business ownership thing. Fortunately, over time Taylor learned that the only ways to really give her clients value and be successful as a business owner were to (1) increase her skills as a writer, and (2) require fees that were more in line with these skills. Don’t make this mistake as a new business owner – remember you must place real value on what you do for others if you want others to see your value.

Owning a business is not for the faint of heart. Making mistakes is just part of the territory, but this doesn’t mean you will fail as a small business owner. In every mistake, there is always a lesson to be learned. Sometimes the worst business mistakes become your greatest opportunities. Keep moving forward and look for the lessons that business ownership gives you for the greatest reward.

About the Author

Tess Taylor

Tess C. Taylor is a Web Copy Writer and Business Consultant from Charleston, South Carolina. In addition to being a 15 year veteran in Human Resources, Tess has had over 2,000 articles published on various small business, online marketing, green lifestyle, entrepreneurial and career topics around the globe.

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