6 Critical Mistakes I See Small Business Owners Make
And how to avoid them.
Working with small business owners I’ve noticed several things that keep coming up, especially when the person is new to running a business.
You may be thinking that this is a good thing, because if others are also doing them, then it must be OK. But these are things that can, unfortunately, be fatal to your success.
I’m going to show you the six critical mistakes small business owners make, and how to avoid them.
Let Me Tell You a Story
It’s a story of un-success, about a client I had a couple of years ago. Let’s call her “Pam”.
Pam hired me as a content strategist to manage her social media platforms and create content for her small activewear brand that she launched almost a year prior.
The contract was for six months, and she essentially wanted to grow her brand awareness and make sales.
After our initial strategy meeting, I learned that Pam didn’t have a specific target audience.
“No problem. That’s why I’m here, Pam.”
So we did a target audience workshop and created a primary and a secondary ideal customer. I let Pam sit with these customers over the weekend and we came back the following week to regroup.
Pam had some big reservations about having target customers. She didn’t want to cut anyone out of her marketing, so, against my advice, she chose to scrap them and cast her net wide.
This is the first critical mistake small business owners make.
1. Not Having a Clearly Defined Target Audience
I explained to Pam the importance of having a very specific target audience over a broad audience. I showed her stats and even gave her examples.
But she was adamant that she needed to target every woman because most of them wear activewear.
Every month we had the same conversation when the results were in and they weren’t showing much improvement. I did AB testing without her input to show her, but even with evidence, she was still worried about being specific with her target audience.
As a content strategist, it’s up to me to do the research and build a strategy for my client’s business that will be the greatest ROI. And it’s also important that I educate, advise, and guide my clients along the journey.
So when Pam wasn’t taking my advice or even considering the data, let me tell you, it was frustrating.
Something else I’ve seen in several clients over the years is, that many don’t like to delegate work.
Small business owners can be hard-headed and stubborn even when they clearly need help.
And I find that this is usually because a lot of business owners are new to this world of small business, they’re so passionate and hands-on, that they don’t want anyone to come in and mess it all up.
They want to do all the things to make it work, and they have trouble letting go of the reins.
This is the second critical mistake I see small business owners make.
2. They Want to Do it All Themselves
When you want to be involved and hands-on in every single area of your business, it makes it incredibly hard to grow and scale.
We all have our strengths. But if we’re too inexperienced in other areas, that’s where we need to accept the truth and outsource to someone who knows better.
If you don’t, you can end up as the bottleneck in your business growth and success, which can ultimately lead to failure.
And if you’ve trusted someone enough to hire them, then please, take their advice.
One thing I will say is that, apart from her lack of direction, Pam was a dream client. She paid on time, she was easy to work with, and she wasn’t pushy with results. She was understanding that you couldn’t put a definite number on certain metrics, particularly when it came to the fickle beast of Instagram.
But our goalpost kept moving back month after month, and by the end of our contract, we had very minimal progress to show for it.
Which brings me to the third critical mistake I see small business owners make.
3. Not Having Clearly Defined Goals
You should have one-month, six-month, twelve-month, two-year, and five-year goals as a general rule. It may be different for your business, but that’s usually a good starting point.
It’s like anything in life, you need to set goals. Like buying a house, having a baby, or losing five pounds. Without goals, we just float through life aimlessly.
Business is exactly the same. You should set goals, and reverse engineer each step to make them achievable. Use the SMART goal framework to ensure your ideas aren’t too far-fetched and can be achieved in the time frame that you set.
When you don’t reach your goals, it could be that they are unrealistic, or that there’s something else going on.
It could be, as I mentioned earlier, that your target audience may not be clearly defined. Or maybe your brand messaging is unclear.
Whatever you do, avoid a knee-jerk reaction. The fourth critical mistake I see small business owners make is, that when they’re not reaching their goals or making sales, they—
4. Discount Their Products
Please do not do this.
Discounting your products because you’re trying to get more sales is a race to the bottom.
If you regularly have sales just to get more sales, you’ll educate your customers to never purchase anything from you for the full price. You’ll start to attract the kind of customers that buy from you, not because they love your brand, but because they know they’ll get a discount.
You want your customers to love and trust your products for the quality that they are, and to build a relationship with your customers.
You want them to believe in your brand—and in you. So when you start your business, if you haven’t defined a clear brand story — your mission, your “why” — then it makes it very hard to connect with your customers.
The fifth critical mistake I see small business owners make is—
5. Not Building Their Brand Story
There’s a reason why you started your business, a story behind your brand, and your customers want to hear it.
Before you buy your products and set up your online presence — literally before you do anything—you should write down your mission, your vision, and your purpose. These are guiding principles for your brand.
Tell a story about why you started. What pain points you had that catalyzed your brand. Why you’re brand is different and special. And when you launch your business, create an “Our Story” web page and tell your story across all channels.
I’ll tell you another story about a previous client who, against my advice, refused to have a brand story or show up as the face of her business.
As you know, I’m a content creator. I created video content for her social media channels using the skincare products she was selling because she didn’t want to do it. But after a few weeks, I realized I was the only person showing up for her brand.
Needless to say, she ran out of money, and as far as I can tell her business has been idle since I finished up my contract.
Tell your story to connect with customers and sell your brand. Don’t skip this part, it’s crucial.
The sixth critical mistake I see small business owners make is—
6. They Try and Reinvent the Wheel
Businesses have been around for centuries. Especially in product-based businesses, it’s all been done before.
Don’t try and do things the hard way. Look at successful competitors and see how they started, how they grew, and learn from them.
Don’t blatantly copy or plagiarize. But take note of how they position themselves, how they speak to their customers, and how they present on social media. Sign up for their newsletter. Read their brand story and learn about their founder/s.
Basically, just stalk the crap out of them.
What you’re doing might be new to you, but it’s been done a million times before. Use what you can to your advantage.
Join Small Business Networks
You’re not on your own on this journey, although it may feel that way at times. But there are so many others out there who are striving for the same things you are.
Join networks for small business owners. It’s great to have a community where you can pitch ideas, vent your woes, and just have support from like-minded people who are in your exact position.
And, lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Download it here. Did I mention it’s free?