Congrats friend! If you’re listening to this then you might be a business owner in your first year (or first few years) or maybe you haven’t even quite taken the leap to pursue entrepreneurship yet. That is such an EXCITING TIME. When I look back on my new business owner self, I look at her with so much love and gratitude and honestly, sometimes it truly can feel like the “good ole days”. There were so many days of excitement, learning, figuring things out, an adrenaline to get you through! That being said, today we are going to talk about 6 crushing mistakes entrepreneurs make early on in their business because I know these times can be incredibly hard too! The ups and downs are very intense.
To top it off, you’re likely juggling other things too. Starting a business is a really big life change, so I wanted to just start this post off by saying: GO YOU!! Today’s episode was created with you in mind and I’m going to help you avoid some of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make early on (that I see) and tell you how to avoid them (of course!).
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Are you a new brand and website designer?
Before I jump into the crushing mistakes entrepreneurs make early on, I have a quick tip for you. If you are a designer and are looking to book your FIRST client (or next client!), I’ve created a free guide for you here. I will walk you through 8 key strategies for finding clients (and booking) design clients that I believe will serve you whether it’s truly your first client or your 50th client. Grab your free copy here!
Honest Statistics about Starting a Business
Before I dive in, I wanted to share a few statistics with you.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 1 in 5 U.S. businesses fail within the first year (18.4%). Then, after five years, 49.7% of those businesses faltered. After ten years? That number climbs to 65.5%.
A little disclaimer here: I am sharing these statistics, but I also want to say there is no SHAME in closing a business. It can take a lot of courage to see that something isn’t working and sometimes closing up truly is the right decision to make room for something better. There is a lot of messaging out there are says you should just hold on to your dreams forever and ever and ever, and I just don’t believe that serves everyone. Sometimes it can make sense to close things!
On the contrary, I’m sharing those stats because business is hard! As someone who will be passing the official 7 years of business mark this month (and has really had about 10 years of experience if you include my “unofficial start” into the freelancing world), I GET HOW THIS HAPPENS! Your passion and excitement are often what get you going, but it’s often not the thing that will keep you going.
Mistake #1: Waiting way too long to start booking clients
It’s easy to put off booking clients thinking you have to have a thousand ducks in a row first. You don’t. Truly, this is something I see all too often. A business idea stays an idea forever. I want to encourage you to be okay with starting imperfectly. Be ok with figuring things out with your clients, not before you have clients.
Basically - start scrappy!
Here’s my personal recommendation: when it comes to working with clients in tools like Dubsado or Clickup, you should focus on the marketing side first, THEN book a client, and THEN set it up as you go through the steps with your first client.
This often means the first project is more work, but it saves you time in the long run. In my opinion, it’s a mistake to try to set it all up perfectly before ever trying to find a client to go through it with. Trust me - there WILL be edits anyway!
Are You a Designer? We have this DFY in Booked Out Designer
In Booked Out Designer, I give you my ClickUp set up for clients so you will have that 100% ready to go for your first project anyway! I also give you what to say on Dubsado forms and in canned emails.
So if you are a designer, you’re set once you are inside. But EVEN THEN, focus on setting up the marketing side first and then go out and get yourself your first client (we have a TON of marketing material inside the course too - don’t worry).
Read More: The 3 Biggest Myths About Starting A Brand And Website Design Business
Mistake #2: Going full-time immediately.
By going full-time, I mean making this new business (that is starting at $0 revenue) your only source of income.
Now, I know that every person’s situation is different and some people actually CAN do this. For example, if your income is supplementary “cherry on top” income to your spouse, if you’re a college student who has your parents helping out financially, or maybe you’ve saved up some money from your 9 to 5 so that you have money to live off of while you start this thing. Those reasons (and plenty of others, I’m sure!) are fine reasons to go full-time and make this brand-new business your only source of income! BUT for most people, going full-time actually puts a lot of financial strain on your business (and life). Down the road, it could actually cause you to quit your business sooner because you aren’t able to meet the financial requirements your life needs soon enough.
So before you quit your day job, I strongly recommend having other sources of income while you get started! This might mean staying at a 9 to 5, or it could also be having a side hustle alongside your business with things like nannying, dog walking, waitressing/restaurant work, Instacart/Doordash, working for someone else in their business - you have so many options! It might surprise you, but I actually had side hustles supporting my lifestyle for the first year after I “went full-time” in my business many years ago.
I have a whole episode on this because this is one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make early on and I feel super passionate about it! There is so much pressure to go “all in” in your business. Tune into why I believe having a side hustle is actually a GOOD thing.
Mistake #3: Niching down and specializing too quickly.
Do you remember the statistics I shared at the beginning of the episode? In the same report, businesses shared the reasons they closed their doors as follows:
- 38% ran out of money and/or couldn’t raise new capital:%
- 35% cited a lack of market need
- 20% were beaten by competition
- 19% feel they chose the wrong business model
After “ran out of money” (which we just covered in mistake #2!), the remaining three reasons kind of relate to this mistake #3: they made the mistake of niching down and specializing too quickly. I actually had this point written out BEFORE I found the stat but it’s funny how it lines up perfectly!
When to Niche Down in Your Business
I’m a big believer in niching slowly. If you’ve taken Booked Out Designer, there is a whole module focused on this stuff. Niching and specializing are different, but both are best done slowly and deliberately. I usually recommend offering many services in the beginning (and don’t be afraid to share them all on your website!) and then slowly removing the ones you don’t love as much once you try them.
I know there’s that scary phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” BUT, I truly see business owners niching down and trying to specialize too quickly as one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make early on. It often creates cash flow problems, immediately eliminates potential clients, and to top if off, because they are new businesses, they often pick the “wrong niche” and regret it later.
For me personally, when I started my business you could hire me to be your social media manager, copywriter, graphic designer, website designer - literally so many things. I had graphic design clients for almost a year after I took it off my website and stopped taking on those types of projects. It’s okay to do that! Take your time figuring out what you love to do and what the market wants from you.
Read More: How (And Why) To Find Your Ideal Client (Free Workbook!)
Mistake #4: Not learning and getting support.
I know this one feels a little cheesy (and may not apply to you since you’re clearly doing this by reading my blog after all ). But here’s my advice: Be like a dog at a fire hydrant. There is so much to learn when you start your business. Learn it.
I do have a bit of a caveat here. Don’t learn from every person you come across or you’ll just feel confused. There are many ways to build a business and the more people you try to follow, the more you’ll find yourself getting stuck with conflicting advice. For example, there is a lot of people out there that might disagree with me on mistake #3 (but I really do still believe it’s one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make early on.
Choose key mentors to learn from and really soak up their free content and consider their paid stuff. You’ll get places faster with help! And shameless plug, if you’re a designer (or another type of service business) who wants my strategy and support, Booked Out Designer is the way to go!
On top of that, there are a lot of people (myself included) who put out really great free content (like this podcast/blog!). So listen to business podcasts like this, ask other business owners what books, podcasts, and courses helped them, and soak it all up.
Even at this point in my business, I still try to do the same thing. A couple of weeks ago at a retreat I went to as an alum, I gathered up a few specific questions I had for other attendees (like - hey, I saw you do Facebook ads really well, tell me about that!). If they are like you, they won’t feel annoyed and will likely ENJOY sharing what they’ve learned (and hearing what you’ve learned as well!). Networking with other business owners is never a bad idea!
Mistake #5: Spending too much money on things you don’t actually need.
Cash flow is the #1 problem that crushes new businesses.
I’m putting this as one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make early on but let’s be honest, it’s often a mistake we can all be guilty of even when we are NOT running businesses, right?
This one probably feels funny coming from someone who sells things to new business owners but hear me out: I truly believe both my website templates and Booked Out Designer are GREAT investments early on in your business. When you purchase either of them, you are spending on things that ultimately should make you more money.
But even with that being said, and even with me being someone who sells things, I don’t want you to fall victim to all of the BS marketing out there.
Red Flags When Investing In Your Business
There are so many messages out there that are like: this really expensive $15k mastermind is going to guarantee you make 6 figures, this course guarantees you’ll have a gazillion clients, this certification that will make you $5k months - those kinds of messages. I think when programs are leading with “give us X amount of money, and you’ll make back X amount of money,” we need to be weary.
Here are a few general red flags to look for when investing in your business:
- If people are guaranteeing any specific results (generally speaking), it’s usually not a great idea. Unless they can directly control the outcome, they can’t really guarantee anything.
- If they won’t tell you the price of the investment upfront, I’d be cautious. You shouldn’t have to have apply for a mastermind, and then have a sales call, to learn the cost.
- If a coach or business mentor is suggesting you go into debt (with messages like “put it on your credit card”) to buy their thing. I’m actually not anti-credit card but if people are encouraging you to go into debt for their course or program, run the other way!
Just be smart with your spending! It’s okay to be scrappy.
Consider Payment Plans Over Debt
I want to add a little note here about payment plans because I DO think that while cash flow is a huge problem in business, some things you’ll want to buy for your business ARE an investment (for example - a website!). One of the reasons I offer payment plans on both Booked Out Designer (which has a 12-month payment plan option here!) and my website templates (which have a 4-month payment plan!) is because I believe they are both really good investments even when you are just getting started and I WANT to make it accessible to those who want or need them.
Usually, there will be an extra cost to take advantage of a payment plan but if that extra cost makes more sense financially instead of using a credit card or being able to invest in your business sooner, do it.
Being Scrappy is Such a Good Skill in Business - Regardless of How New You Are!
Especially when you are just starting, you don’t need the fanciest email software, CRM, home office, etc. When you are just getting started, it’s okay to go slow!
Honestly, when I think back 7 years ago to when I was first starting my business, this was my reality:
- My office was a desk I bought at a thrift store and painted white (for $50) that I set up in our guest room inside of our small apartment.
- I was using a “refurbished by Apple” laptop and random notebooks. That was my “office supplies.”
- I used free trials on things for as long as I could and was really deliberate about what I bought.
And guess what? I’m still like that. That’s HOW you maintain high-profit margins in your business.
Even early on in my business, I DID use credit cards, but I always paid them off. I love credit card rewards, so I’m a “pro-credit card” person. But that doesn’t mean I recommend you take on debt you can’t pay. Using the rewards, it’s a great way though to make extra money.
Read More: What My Life Actually Looked Like When I Was Starting My Business (PLUS 5 Things I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then)
The best credit card for new businesses
For example, I’ve talked about the Spark Cash Back Card before (this is an affiliate link - but it’s my favorite card). You can earn $500 in cash back once you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months. When I first signed up, I got that bonus too! I bought a course that I was really excited about (that was similarly priced to Booked Out Designer) which accounted for some of it, and then I also put a few large personal purchases on the card as well. I know that’s not the best idea for accounting purposes, but I tracked it all well and then transferred the money to cover it. THAT is what I mean about using credit cards smartly in your business.
Mistake #6: Believing they need to do work for free for experience.
No matter how new you are, you’re allowed to charge money. You don’t have to operate your business like an unpaid intern just because you’re new to something.
Let me back up for a second because the truth here is that this is a BALANCE and there are nuances to it. Too many to discuss under one tip of one podcast episode, but let me just share some of my thoughts here. I do think there’s a time and place for free work, and certainly, a time and place for reducing the amount you’re charging when you’re super new or adding a brand new service BUT the reason I’m listing it as one of the mistakes entrepreneurs make early on is that I see business owners doing this for way too long and for too many projects.
What I don’t want for you, is to work for free or undercharge because of your self-worth or nervousness to charge. If you’re nervous because charging all of a sudden puts so much pressure on you to “get it right” and you are worried you can’t handle that well or charging makes you realize that you’re up for scrutiny and you start thinking to yourself “what if they don’t like it?” - I don’t want you to work for free or cheap for those kinds of reasons.
When I talk to designers specifically, I usually recommend maybe 1-2 free projects and being really upfront with the person that you want a testimonial and feedback from them in exchange. In that case, those projects can be a pillar of your portfolio (like a beta student for an online course!). Then start charging from there!
Let’s Recap the 6 Crushing mistakes entrepreneurs make early on in their business…
The biggest mistakes I’ve made early on in my own business or see commonly made by new business owners are:
- Waiting for way too long to start booking clients, trying to have a thousand ducks in a row first. You don’t.
- Going full-time and making their business their only source of income immediately.
- Niching down too quickly
- Not learning and getting support - be like a dog at a fire hydrant. So much to learn. Learn it. Choose key mentors to learn from instead of trying to learn from absolutely everyone, though!
- Spending too much money on things you don’t need.
- Believing that everything they do has to be for free because they’re new.
Those are truly the 6 biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make early on in their business!
Before I share a quick recap of the 6 mistakes entrepreneurs make early on in their business, I want to say this: don’t be so worried about making mistakes that you don’t do anything at all. I should have almost included that in the official list because it’s another BIG one I see new business owners make. You are going to make mistakes, and that’s okay! Mistakes are good as long as you learn from them. So to finish this post, I want to share three of my favorite quotes about mistakes.
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”
- Niels Bohr
It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, you only have to be right once.
- Mark Cuban
“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. and that’s a big mistake.”
- Frank Wilczek
Whether you are brand new in business or you are a few years in - You’ve got this! I am here for you too. Keep listening to this podcast. Scroll back through the 200+ episodes that are here to help you as you build your business. If you are a designer, don't forget to download your free client booking guide to help you get your first (or next!) client as well!
And hey - if you are a designer, I would love to see you and support you inside of Booked Out Designer! It is THE business course for design businesses.
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Listen to Episode #196 about Why It's a Good Thing If Your Business is a Side Hustle:
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March 14, 2023
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