Small Business Start Up Traps to Avoid
Some of the most common business start-up mistakes and how to avoid them. If you are thinking of starting a new business, take a short break and read this article first. It could help you avoid some very costly traps that are waiting for you.
The Marketing Trap
One of the first small business start up traps that awaits any budding entrepreneur involves marketing. Let’s face it, most small business start ups don’t have a lot of marketing experience. Even most marketing companies aren’t actually very good at marketing themselves. The biggest causes of small business marketing failures are down to:
- not knowing what your core messages are (more about that below)
- lack of real data about your market (a bit of research goes a lot further than ‘gut instinct’)
- no crystal-clear idea about what your aims are (i.e. what exactly do you want to achieve with your marketing?)
- getting marketing confused with sales
Top take-away: when it comes to marketing your small business start up, you need to swap your spectacles for binoculars and focus much further ahead than you think.
The App Trap
I know they’re trendy, but most small business start-ups do not need an app. You should only decide to get one if you are convinced that your clients will genuinely find it useful. If you have any doubts about that, think long and hard before you get an app built. There are two ways to get an app for your business: the expensive way and the really expensive way. Whichever one you choose, the most expensive way is to get an app designed and built that your clients hate. It’s not all bad news though; there are businesses that are perfect for an app so don’t be afraid to investigate it if you think you’re one of them. Just remember that if you go for it, your app will have to compete for space on your clients’ smartphone and that’s becoming an increasingly crowded place.
Top take-away: unless it’s essential to your business plan, save your money.
The Website Trap
Every business start up needs a website, no matter how small. However, over two decades in the industry have taught me that there are 3 golden features every website needs today. Here they are:
- Attraction – a website that doesn’t look great will drive customers away. This includes having clear routes in and around the website, great photography and magnetic copy that really speaks to your clients. The look, the feel, and the tone of voice of your website are what will lift it head and shoulders above your competition.
- Clarity – this is about knowing why your website exists. You can’t just have a “brochure website”, they’re a waste of time. Either have a brochure or a website. Or both. A brochure website is a waste of money. It needs do so much more than a paper brochure, yet they rarely do. Why are you online? Is your website there to raise brand awareness, grow your mailing list, connect with your tribe, lead your industry? Something else? Choose its job. Websites that try to do it all, fail at everything.
- Sociability – this is about doing a lot more than just adding a pathetic little Twitter feed to your home page. Your website should help you connect with the people you serve. That’s why it also has to be responsive, because if we can’t interact with your website from our phones, tablets, and (soon) our watches and spectacles, you won’t see us for dust. Being social means being sociable. If that isn’t enough reason, remember that 93% of shoppers’ buying decisions are currently influenced by social media (want more stats? Watch this video). Also, if you want any substantial SEO value at all, your website needs a blog.
Top take-away: a website is essential, but don’t waste your money on a website that doesn’t know what it’s job is, and doesn’t have social media at it’s core.
The Telephone Number Trap
Starting up a new business can be one of the most exciting challenges a person can take on. There are lots of things for small business start-ups to consider but choosing the right telephone number is often forgotten about. Tamar Telecommunications is a successful Plymouth business today, but it began life back in 2002 from a box sized bedroom, with a limited budget.
“My top tip for start-ups is to strongly consider using a virtual telephone number. Virtual telephone numbers are not tied to a physical location. This means that as your business grows and premises change, you can move the number with you. If you find that your new business really takes off, you could have the virtual telephone number set to try several different locations around the UK.” says Kevin Christoforou, Managing Director of Tamar Telecommunications
Virtual numbers are great options for new businesses because they are so flexible. They can be reassigned to different devices and even be free for customers to call. If you are planning on running advertising or leafleting campaigns, you could consider assigning different virtual numbers to each campaign. Since the number of calls to those numbers is monitored, you get to see which ads and campaigns are working best.
Top take-away: get a virtual number and you won’t have to keep getting your business cards reprinted every time your business grows.
The Tiny Budget Trap
This one is simple. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard the phrase “We need a website/online promotion/anything but we don’t have a big budget” I’d have… well, a lot of pennies. It’s not a phrase anyone in business likes to hear. If you want a quality product but are not willing to pay for it, don’t expect to get one. If you want quality, you really have to find the money. There’s no excuse for expecting a supplier to give away their products or services for less than they are worth. If you do, what you’re really saying is: “I really like your product, I value the effort it’s taken you to become an expert in your field, and I really want to benefit from your experience and the products you have developed. However, I only want to pay you the same as someone who has a fraction of your talent, experience and skills. What do you say?”
This is the Tiny Budget Trap: you know you need great quality suppliers but, in common with other business start-ups, you don’t have unlimited funds. So you try to negotiate your great suppliers down. The problem with this is that, even if you manage to do it, you’ve left them with a sour taste in their mouths, reduced margins (we all have to make a living), and the distinct impression that you don’t value them as much as you value the price. That tells any experienced supplier that you’re more interested in the price than the quality. If they value the quality of their product, it’s going to ultimately make them wary of doing business with you in the future.
Top take-away: successful businesses collect suppliers of the best quality products and services. Make it your job not to scare the best ones away by being a tightwad.
The I-Can-Do-Anything Trap
I hear this so often. I meet a new person at a networking event:
Me: “Tell me what kind of clients are you looking for? Who shall I recommend you to?”
Look, I get that you are a new business and you need to pay the bills. It’s good to focus on income. But really, what can I do with that response? I can’t actually refer everyone to them, that would be ridiculous. If you don’t know what your niche is, don’t expect those around you to know it. A great exercise for every start-up is to sit down with a sheet of paper and work out what your ideal customer looks like. I don’t mean that literally. It doesn’t matter what they look like never judge a book by its cover). Create a profile. What kinds of thing interests them? Where do they hang out? How old are they? Do they have a family? That way you may have a better answer the next time you’re asked what kind of customer you’d like to attract.
Top take-away: if you don’t know what your ideal client looks like, how can you find them?
The Secret Identity Trap
The best business advice I was ever given came to me early on, and it was about brand identity. I’ll tell you what that advice was shortly. A lot of small business start ups fall into the trap of thinking that developing a brand identity is about logos, marketing literature, straplines, and deciding which font to use. I’ve been designing small business branding for over two decades and take it from me, all that stuff is the least important part. For small businesses, there are two branding choices:
- corporate branding
- personal branding
Corporate branding is all about the image of your business. That places straplines, vision statements, etc. at the centre of the stage. Your marketing job becomes about raising awareness of the quality of your products and services.
Personal branding is all about sharing your expertise. It is about helping others to understand that you are the source of the best knowledge of your core subject. If you are business consultant, you need to concentrate on sharing some of that business expertise through your blog, Twitter stream, Linkedin posts; use whatever it takes to display your expertise. If you sell your own brand of organic pet food, develop a personal brand that tells your story: why you care, how you developed your products, and how much you know about your market. The best business advice I was ever given came when I asked a panel of experts what they thought a business’ biggest asset was: capital, ideas or reputation? They all answered: “you, the entrepreneur”.
Top take-away: your clients are buying you first, and what you do second. Remember to share both though.
The Next Step
Starting a new business can be tough. Sleepless nights, stress and anxiety are often constant companions for new entrepreneurs. So it is important to be able to avoid the most common traps that could otherwise knock us off-course. This article gives you some of the worst and not only that, gives you ways to side-step them. If you want to know more about avoiding on-line traps, talk to me via Design Inspiration. If you want to know more about virtual numbers, talk to Tamar Telecommunications.