There are still 300 new businesses that fail each week in the UK – and probably many more now the recession is so deep – and the vast majority are led by entrepreneurs just starting out or being faced with the first major problems in their career. The amount of mistakes new businesses have the potential to make is almost infinite.
1 Don’t take your company public
It is true that – given the right situation – you can make an unbelievable amount of money doing this. But being listed on the stock exchanges and making your shares publicly tradable means you are no longer in control of your company. Share price will become all that matters. A publicly traded company must keep shareholders informed about the company’s business operations, financial condition, and management, incurring additional costs and new legal obligations.
2 Don’t ask your family for money
Whoever lends you start-up money has control, so it makes sense not to involve your closest relatives. It can put an intolerable strain on family relationships if you do. The last thing you want is for your company’s successes or failures to hang over family gatherings.
3 Don’t deny yourself a wage
A big part of being a successful entrepreneur is believing in yourself, and you deserve to be paid. You absolutely must pay yourself something – or the whole enterprise is not sustainable.
4 Don’t deny yourself a life either
Another mistake entrepreneurs make is that they become so wrapped up in the business that they have no life outside it. This can cut you off from the sources of inspiration and correction that you will need. Obsessing about the business can send you mad. If it isn’t a joy to you, then really it isn’t worth doing.
5 Don’t forget to ask questions from people you admire
Being a successful entrepreneur means learning all the time, and when you meet somebody you admire – whether they’re from business or some other area of life capable of turning the world upside down – it really pays to ask some questions.
6 Don’t forget how to tell stories
Every entrepreneur has to be a great storyteller. Storytelling defines your differences, and has some chance of spreading what you find exciting about the business to customers and staff.
7 Don’t even get an office unless you absolutely have to
Overheads are the death of small businesses. There really is no need for one these days.
8 Don’t be afraid of being opportunistic
Successful entrepreneurs don’t work within systems – they hate hierarchies and structures and try to destroy them. They have an inherent creativity and wildness that is very difficult to capture. But they keep their eyes open.
9 Don’t get too obsessed by the accounts
You need to make a profit, of course. But if profit is the only objective, your staff drift away and you lose the thrill yourself. Equally, you need to judge staff by something other than precisely the money they earn.
10 Don’t just employ people like yourself
This requires considerable self-knowledge and honesty, but is absolutely vital if you’re going to progress your idea into a successful business. You really don’t have to know how to do everything because you can always find people with the right skills or money.
11 Don’t ignore people who tell you uncomfortable truths
One of the greatest failings in most organisations is that there is no one to tell the emperor they have no clothes. Leaders must develop mechanisms that provide dissonant information and surround themselves with people who can operate effectively in the role of devil’s advocate.
12 Don’t assume male business people know best
There is no doubt that it can sometimes be difficult being an entrepreneur as a woman, but women do have an advantage. It is the older, larger corporations that are dying of boredom and losing millions of jobs. Corporations as we know them were created by men for men, often influenced by the military model, on complicated and hierarchical lines, and are both dominated by authoritarian principles and resistant to change. By setting up their own businesses, women can challenge these male-dominated corporate models. So don’t worry too much if you’re a woman wondering whether to risk your idea in the business world – the truth is that they can’t survive without you.
13 Don’t expect sanity from yourself
Entrepreneurs are not wholly sane in conventional terms. They imagine the world differently. That is their defining skill. So if you have a few foibles that raise people’s eyebrows, don’t be too concerned. It comes with the territory. As an entrepreneur, you need the ability to stand out from the crowd because you act instinctively on what you see, think and feel. An entrepreneur’s dreams are often a kind of madness and it is almost as isolating – the key is to know which ones are too crazy and which ones can happen.