Being a business owner is challenging.  Not only do you carry the enormous weight of transforming a vision into reality on your shoulders, you do so while also attempting to balance these business pursuits with your personal life, managing a workforce and handling the financial ramifications of business ownership.

Unfortunately, given all of these competing demands, it can be easy to let bad business habits sneak into your daily life, undetected.  To prevent this from happening, you must be vigilant in guarding against the following business mistakes – all of which can threaten your growing company if left unchecked.

Mistake #1 – Failing to lead by example

One of the biggest mistakes I see business owners and other managerial types making is the failure to lead by example.  Basically, we tell our employees to do one thing – and then turn around and contradict ourselves by doing the complete opposite.

The results, as you might expect, are decreased confidence in your ability to lead effectively and lower overall morale – both of which are situations you want to avoid as a business owner.  When you’re running a small company or managing a small team of workers, you need all hands on deck – and you can’t do that if you’re constantly undermining yourself in front of your employees!

The solution here is to check yourself before you wreck yourself.  Whenever you give employees feedback or make corrections to some element of their performance, ask yourself whether you do the same thing as well.  As an example, asking a slow worker to be better about meeting deadlines isn’t likely to carry much weight if you’re perpetually delayed in getting him needed instructions or materials as well.

Mistake #2 – Allowing fear to dictate your decisions

Believe me, I get it.  There’s plenty to be scared about when you’re running your own business – from concerns over whether your current product line is meeting your clients’ needs as effectively as possible to fears that any major business decisions (from leasing new space to taking on new employees and more) will bankrupt your company.

But, of course, you probably already know that you can’t allow these fears to control how you run your business.  If we all gave into these fears, there’d be no Apple and no Microsoft – really, there’d be no innovators in any space willing to overcome the scariness of risk taking and innovation.

For me, the key to this business mistake has always been to have mentors who keep me in line.  Often, I’ll find myself explaining new ideas to these people – hemming and hawing while I try to justify why they might or might not work.  My mentors’ answers for me are nearly always to quit letting fear disrupt my path and to just do it already – and you should do the same!

Mistake #3 – Not recognizing the difference between busy work and effective work

As a business owner, your time is limited.  As a result, taking the time to focus on one project automatically means drawing your attention away from another – not necessarily because you believe in one project more than another, but because the reality is that time is finite.

Because of this, you must be crystal clear that you’re focusing on the right priorities at any given time – and that means being able to recognize the difference between busy work and effective work.

Effective work involves those projects that move your business towards its goals in a meaningful way.  It encompasses the tasks that only you can do (versus those that can be outsourced to others) and serves to grow your business according to the goals and principles you’ve set out for yourself.

Busy work, on the other hand, meets none of these criteria.  Essentially, you’re engaging in busy work to feel more productive – even though the tasks you’re engaging in aren’t those that will make a substantive difference in your business’s success.

I can’t tell you which of the tasks you’re dedicating your time to can be considered “busy” and which constitute “effective” uses of your time – only you can do that by asking yourself, “Is the work I’m doing truly necessary to achieve my business goals?”  But do make it a priority to question your actions regularly, as any busy time you recapture can make a huge difference in your overall productivity levels.

Mistake #4 – Refusing to let go of control

When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that nobody else can do the work you’re doing.  Even though it’s incredibly unlikely that you have formal training in all the different areas of business operation – from financial, to technical, to graphic design and more – it can be difficult to allow others to play a role in the vision you have for your growing company.

Of course, the obvious reality is that you can’t do everything.  By trying to retain control over every facet of your business’s operation, you’re ultimately hindering its growth by failing to bring on capable team members who can allow you to focus on the things you do best.

If you struggle to let go, make a list of all the items that have been piling up on your “to do” list (the ones you always say you’re going to get to later, but then never do) and choose the one that’s least important to you and your business.  Outsource or delegate this one task to another worker in order to gradually become more comfortable with the process of letting go of control.

Mistake #5 – Failing to pay attention to your health

I know you’re busy and that your growing business or ever-increasing work demands require more of your energy and effort than ever before.  As a result, it’s incredibly tempting to take shortcuts – whether that means getting less sleep than you really need or relying on chemical stimulants to get you through the day.

Well, guess what?  These shortcuts can take a major toll on your health over time – and if you don’t have your health, you sure as hell don’t have a functioning business!

Your health is one of your biggest assets, yet it’s often one of the lowest items on the totem pole for entrepreneurs and managers.  You simply can’t allow this to happen, as burnout and its resulting medical issues can take as big a toll on your productivity and profit as a lost client or failed deal.

Instead, find a way to incorporate proper sleep, regular exercise, nutritious meals and other healthy habits into your daily schedule.  Though this may require you to delegate even further or limit your involvement in some projects, the end result of being better able to serve your business over the long run will be well worth your efforts.

Mistake #6 – Not separating your business life from your personal life

Similarly, keep in mind that all work and no play makes entrepreneurs dull people!  In addition to making time for healthy living practices in your schedule, it’s important to make time for your personal life as well.

Really, there’s more to life than work – though, if you continually prioritize your business activities over your personal pursuits, you might be surprised to find out that the people and activities you used to love are no longer there to support you.  This is a huge mistake to make, as your friends, family members and hobbies all provide a welcome – and necessary – respite from the demands of the modern business environment.

To make sure these relationships remain intact, set boundaries on your business life to prevent it from overflowing into your personal life.  Limit the amount of work you take home and make it a habit to shut your phone off at certain times – do whatever you need to do in order to retain some time that’s yours and yours alone.

Mistake #7 – Settling for a mediocre vision

Finally, while the previous few points make it sound like I want you to limit your involvement in your business, what I don’t want you to compromise on is the vision you hold for your company’s future.

Mediocre visions don’t inspire anyone – from the clients you rely on to provide your business with income to the employees you count on to turn these dreams into reality.  So think big!  Don’t make it a goal to expand to 10 employees – aim for 100.  Don’t try to make a product that’ll help users complete a small task in less time – try to revolutionize the way these customers interact with their world.

Bold, dynamic visions can be found in the mission statements of nearly all successful startups and companies, so don’t compromise and settle on mediocre goals.  Figure out how you can change the world, and then make it your mission to go out and do it!

Now, let me be totally clear – I haven’t mastered all of these different mistakes, and I certainly wouldn’t expect you to do so immediately after reading this article either.  I’ve struggled with all of these habits and more over my last 5-6 years as a business owner.

But what’s important isn’t that you’re 100% perfect when it comes to entrepreneurial management.  What matters is that you make an effort to be better each and every day – over time, the small steps you take will add up to big successes!

  1. Sujan .. each of these points is so damn important ..
    If some one is able to follow all 7 i am sure not many things can separate him and success …

  2. Number 2 really resonated with me because I saw a very dear friend lose one of his businesses over fear. He needed to expand but he was afraid of stretching too thin. Eventually a competitor basically ripped off his idea and took it where my friend wouldn’t. That same competitor put my friend out of business in a year.

    I guess it’s like they say: Fortune Favors the bold.

  3. Sunjan, this is such an appropriate post for me. I’m smack dab in the middle of the startup chaos and am struggling to keep my head above water. Thanks for the help.

  4. Excellent post and some really good points that I need to take to heart. The health point is specifically important, since none of the rest matters if we’re taking shortcuts on health. Great reminder and wake-up call for all of us.

  5. There is one thing that I wanted to add to my earlier comment –

    I really do believe that fear is the worst thing for a business. I agree that a mentor is probably a great way to go if you want to get over it, but that was not an option that my friend had, and it wasn’t one that I had when I was first building my business either. A lot of us start-ups are out here doing things that have never been done, so it can be nearly impossible to go out and find someone who can tell us HOW it can be done.

    For those people that don’t have mentor, my recommendation is this: Constantly remind yourself why you are doing what you’re doing. Don’t ever forget how much you want to be your own boss and how intolerable it was working for people with less vision and energy than you.

    On a more practical note, a good run is great for clearing the mind and getting some perspective. Hanging around the internet is just going to fill you with more conflicting ideas instead of the certainty and clarity you need to make the toughest decisions.

  6. Number two is for me. I always let fear engulf my plans and decisions that leads to a mediocre visions. Thanks a lot Sujan for these post, you lifted up my spirit!

  7. Good pin points. Its really very hard to avoid Mistake #6 at the beginning of your career.

    Personally I am committing this mistake even I know its consequences but can’t help it.

  8. oo often, managers do all the talking in a feedback situation, something I like to call the dreaded Manager’s Monologue – and that is guaranteed to cause trouble. It is vital to engage the employee in open dialogue; to seek to understand their thought processes and reasons. If you don’t listen to them, you may not get a clear understanding as to why the employee is behaving in this manner (do they lack skills, knowledge, etc). You will also increase the likelihood that they will not listen to you.”

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