Deciding to go it alone and start your own business is always hugely daunting. There’s so much to learn and so much can go wrong. It’s no wonder that new startups are always on the hunt for advice from entrepreneurs that have already grown successful businesses.
Despite often downplaying the role that luck and timing had in their success, much of their advice is perfectly sound. Their experiences can be invaluable in helping you avoid the pitfalls and challenges that they faced along the way.
But some advice is just based on vague sentiment and worse still, some of it is just plain wrong and potentially damaging to anyone that follows it.
Here are 5 common pieces of advice that all startups should avoid.
- Stick to your business plan
Business plans can be dangerous. They do of course play an important part in helping young businesses document their strategy and aspirations. They can also be a bit of a time sink. Months can be spent poring over the detail of market projections, financial forecasting, costs analysis etc. While much of this analysis is important, the temptation is to believe that the more time you invest on your business plan the more chance you’ll have of avoiding being tripped up by some unforeseen issue.
But that’s not really the case. Business plans have to be flexible enough to adapt to the conditions and challenges that startups face in their first year.
Doggedly sticking to a business plan that doesn’t match reality or contains fundamental flaws is a sure path to failure.
Startups that adapt their strategy in response to real challenges, stand the greatest chance of success.
- Concentrate on the detail
New entrepreneurs face a vertical learning curve. There are so many new skills and business areas to learn about. Knowing what to take on yourself and what to outsource can be a real dilemma. If you’re looking for a particular skill set, should you hire a contractor, an agency or maybe directly employ people?
Whichever route you choose, the common advice is to get the details right and the business will fall into shape. By paying close attention to detail, you improve our chances of success.
This can be a risky course of action. Burying ourselves in the nuts and bolts of every part of our business is the quickest way to lose control and focus.
Website design is a great example of where it’s all too easy to get lost in detail. Worrying too much about precisely what size or colour a particular graphic is, will have no impact on whether your new business succeeds or fails.
Much better to stay out of the long grass and focus on your core business objectives.
- Test the market with a minimum viable product, then refine and improve it based on customer feedback
On the face of it, this old chestnut would seem to make some sense. Build a product that basically works but might have the odd rough edge, test it in the market and then use your findings to hone and improve it.
The issue here is that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. If that initial reaction is lukewarm then it’s going to be a tough sell even when you’ve made your improvements.
When Moz founder, Rand Fishkin, launched an upgrade to their core product with a minimum viable product, the results were positively damaging.
“I’ve found that when we launch MVPs, the broad community of marketers who follow Moz perceive our quality to be shoddy and our products to be inferior.” Rand Fishkin – Moz founder.
How you choose to launch your product to the market has a big impact on how potential customers will perceive both the product and your company overall.
You increase your chances of success by launching a product that is fully formed and ready to solve a demonstrable problem.
- Just stick at it
Persistence pays. By doggedly sticking to the task and keeping faith in your product and business model, you’ll succeed in the long run.
So many young businesses have failed because the owners haven’t recognised when the time is right to throw in the towel.
When things are going badly wrong, knowing when to let go is one of the hardest challenges. So much effort, resource and pride has been poured into the venture and admitting defeat can feel utterly humiliating.
It’s wiser – and braver – to admit defeat rather than continue to burn through cash with no real prospect or a return.
According to Forbes around 50% of all businesses fail within five years, so there’s absolutely no shame in letting go of the dream and living to fight another day.
Once you’ve made the tough decision, you’ll be able to look ahead with clarity to your next venture.
- You’ll need to work at least a 12-hour day to succeed
The world of startups is littered with people who parade their crazy unsustainable work rate as a badge of honour. This makes absolutely no sense. Working all hours is the fastest way to put your physical and mental health in serious jeopardy. Your relationships will be put under strain and your decision-making ability will be compromised.
Working unsustainable hours makes you a worse entrepreneur. You’ll make bad decisions and almost all aspects of your life will suffer as a consequence.
Be sceptical of all advice that’s not backed up by hard evidence. Don’t just blindly follow the advice of successful entrepreneurs. What’s worked for them may not work for you. By being critical of any pearls of wisdom that sound like a catchphrase, it’ll be easier to work out what advice is potentially useful and what to ignore.