Three fatal mistakes for fledgling entrepreneurs starting out

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Business adviser Stefano Maifreni highlights three fundamental errors that entrepreneurs make in their early days

Do you ever find you’re so busy with your fledgling company? Maybe you don’t work normal hours, take holidays or even have time to attend your own birthday party? If so, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem. But it’s fixable.

The launch of any new business is bound to make life unusual for a while. In those early months, you probably work later and sleep far less than the 7-9 hours that adults should really be getting.

However, if this becomes “the norm” after several years, then something is going badly wrong. You may pay the price in terms of your personal life and harm to your business too. The good news is that you can do something to solve the issue.

Here are three common mistakes that small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) can make during the first three years of business — and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Waiting too long before seeking external help

As a business grows and evolves, new challenges crop up. Although business founders usually have a broad skillset, it’s unrealistic to expect you can handle everything. Press on regardless, and you could start making poor decisions in areas where you lack expertise, or you could become a bottleneck for the business.

Solution: Focus on your core skills and managing the company. It’s essential to seek outside expertise in areas that will help your business to develop and run smoothly — from strategy and marketing to operations and accounts. Get recommendations, set a budget and then trust people to do a good job for you.

Mistake #2: Forgetting you need an evolving business plan

There are two extremes for SMEs to avoid: one is creating a rigid roadmap that becomes outdated quickly; the other is keeping everything in your head and flying by the seat of your pants. This second scenario is a particular peril for SMEs because business can sometimes get so busy that owners become dizzy and directionless. Also, by nature, entrepreneurs can be unstructured and like to break the rules … which isn’t always a good thing.

Solution: Ground yourself with a realistic business plan — and review it quarterly at least to keep it fresh, responsive and relevant. Set guiding principles, goals and bite-sized actions, but don’t be too prescriptive about everything. Also, seek honest, outside expertise for when your plan is created and reviewed, so that you can give everything a sound sanity check.

Mistake #3: Overestimating what you can do in a day

Entrepreneurs tend to be optimists. But this can mean they’re not realistic about what’s achievable. Before long, the calendar manages them, not the other way around. The business week becomes an exercise in plate-spinning (and smashing). Amid the haze, individuals can overlook the critical jobs, such as responding to important emails and sending out invoices.

Solution: Prioritise what’s important over what’s interesting. Put tasks in the diary and ring-fence them as much as you would with an important meeting. Don’t let random emails and text messages distract you. Include time for yourself in the diary too.

Are you struggling in the storm?

Even the most inspired and successful business leaders can find life challenging in the first few years of a company’s growth. The best way forward is to get an experienced advisor to come alongside you and provide balance. Choose someone who’s different to you, able to challenge you and sometimes show you an alternative course of action. It could transform your business… and your quality of life.

Stefano Maifreni is founder and director of Eggcelerate, the business expansion advisors