7 mistakes new entrepreneurs make

I often work with new start-up businesses and would-be entrepreneurs and I've learnt a few things about them over the years. It's fascinating to hear from the super successful ones and being able to compare them to the up-and-coming but sometimes stuck-in-a-rut ones. Drawing from these observations I've listed my version of the top 7 mistakes new entrepreneurs make, themed up with references from the second world war, as new entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the strategy of war.

1. Not having laser focus and spreading themselves too thinly

Quite often I'll hear new Entrepreneurs boast of their achievements of starting four companies simultaneously doing various things, as if they're describing medals won in a mirage of one-upmanship.

Having been there myself, I know there's nothing quite worse than spreading yourself too thinly and ending up with four very tiny businesses, rather than one really fast growing business because a laser like focus has been applied.

My favourite analogy is 'Operation Neptune' otherwise known as D-Day, from the second world war back in 6th June 1944, where the Allies conducted a substantial military deception and misled the enemy as to the date and location of the main allied invasion. The enemy was deceived into thinking the Allies would invade all along the coast of mainland Europe from Norway down to France. But in actual fact the Allies planned to penetrate just one location and send 160,000 troops and overwhelm the enemy. This was genius and because of this laser like focus it was the beginning of the end and a great example of not spreading your resources too thinly.

2. Not having a plan

The very fact that the Allies had a robust plan and very early on, they were able to co-ordinate hundreds of thousands of people across multiple continents. Part of the plan involved a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to mislead the Enemy into expecting an attack on Norway instead of the actual location.

None of this would have been successful if it wasn't for a well thought out plan with plenty of Plan B's. And the main advantage to new Entrepreneurs of having a plan is to help them look ahead and predict and forecast roadblocks and problems, allowing them plenty of time to prepare and pivot as they go.

For example, the most common issue I see is where new Entrepreneurs have this half thought out plan in their head that they're going to build and launch a website and then they'll be rich beyond their wildest dreams. So off they go spending time and money building this website only to launch it and then scratch their head and wonder where all of the customers are. It's usually down to not planning and figuring out that marketing should be the second big part of the plan.

3. Working in the business and not on the business

In the early days of a start-up business it's founders will be doing every job going that would normally be spread amongst 5 to 10 people in a junior start-up. Jobs such as invoicing, book keeping, recruiting, marketing, sales, technical, customer service, etc, etc.

This is fine, as long as the founders allocate some time each week to business development and evolving the business plan.

Operation Neptune did not achieve all of its objectives on day one. It failed to capture some key locations and if it wasn't for the original planning and the fact the enemy spread its resources too thinly, the outcome could have been a lot worse. So it took the Allies longer than they had planned, but with the Generals consistently meeting to discuss the evolution of the battle plans, they were able to take swift and decisive action when it was crucially needed.

The lesson here is, plan ahead and continue to map the road on a regular basis.

4. Not delegating & taking on too much

This is probably something we're all guilty of, doing a task and not wanting to delegate it to someone else for fear of them not doing as good as job as you. So the inevitable happens, the new Entrepreneur ends up doing all of the small jobs that tie up most of their time and takes their eye off the ball with the big things that really matter.

Usually the reply is, this job will only take me 10 minutes and by the time I show someone else how to do it, I could have done it myself. This is true, but this is also saying you have no real trust or faith in the person you should delegate it to, and perhaps it was your mistake for recruiting them in the first place if you have no faith in them. To break this habit, set your own expectations and realise that not everyone will do as good a job as you, but none-the-less the job will get done and you'll be able to concentrate your time on bigger things that will really grow the business. Also be aware of not micro-managing the person you've given the task to and relax, is it really the end of the world if the letter you want typing doesn't look as pretty as you want it, the message and contents are still the same.

5. Spending too much time on the wrong stuff

As a new Entrepreneur and business owner, you are still finding your feet and figuring out what tasks should be done and what the priority is. Your thought process should always be on the tasks that will generate the most revenue first and foremost and everything else can be done as and when you can fit it in.

An example here could be the new Entrepreneur who has a passion for their products and spends most of their time designing, creating and making. There's nothing entirely wrong with this, except when that person fails to look ahead and realises the big customer they've been selling their wares to is running low on stock and they fail to order more, and there's nothing worse than a customer wanting a repeat order and having to wait a long time.

In operation Neptune the enemy only partially finished the defences along the coast of mainland Europe with resources diverted elsewhere, therefore contributing towards the Allies winning this crucial campaign.

6. Not taking advice from other experienced Entrepreneurs

One of the little known strategies that most new Entrepreneurs don't know about or realise, is the opportunity to talk to seasoned pros who've been there and done it.

There are groups and organisations that specialise in helping new business owners at the start of their journey. If you ever have this chance, grab it with both hands and use it to its full potential. Getting advice early on to avoid costly mistakes is a huge advantage to a new rookie and worth it's weight in gold.

But one of the most frustrating things I've witnessed over the years is newbies who think they know it all, and they hear rather than listen. The know-it-alls who are defensive when someone try's to question their product or strategy. They take it personally and immediately close their ears.

This is the equivalent of the Admiral ignoring the bad weather forecast because right now the sky is blue and the sun is shining.

7. Not measuring stuff including success

Usually the new Entrepreneur goes out all guns blazing...

  • Let's get some mouse-mats, pens and cups with our logo on
  • Let's advertise in the local paper because everyone else is
  • Let's do some of that social media stuff

Slow down there kid, how will you know what's worked and what hasn't?

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes.... "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half".

It's really important to be able to track and measure things like marketing, staffs performance, companies actual revenue to targets, and whether or not the company is successful.

A successful businessman who I greatly respect once told me.... whenever you embark on something new, always write down three anticipated outcomes labelled against, 'Poor, OK and Excellent'. That way, when you complete that project, in the post-mortem analysis you'll know how successful it was, greatly helping you in future projects.


Operation Neptune's victory stemmed from several factors: the enemy preparations were weak and resources were spread too thinly; the deception undertaken by the Allies was successful; the Allies achieved and maintained air superiority (they stuck to and exploited their strengths); and most importantly, indecisiveness and an overly complicated command structure on the part of the Enemy high command was also a factor in the Allied success.

Whether you're a new Entrepreneur or just thinking of getting started, it's important to listen to others and plan ahead.