A Smart Man (written May, 2004)

There is an old saying – maybe you heard it before – a smart man learns from his own mistakes, (I have always considered myself fortunate enough to be smart) but a genius learns from other people’s mistakes (I wish I was a genius! How about you?)

Let’s say for example that you have a great idea for a business and you’re really willing to commit your valuable time and valuable energy to making it work – as well as your hard earned money. What can go wrong? Here are some mistakes that even smart entrepreneurs admit to making. If you can learn from other people’s mistakes, you’ll be way ahead of the game. You’ll be the genius I wish I were!

Genius Mistake #1 – They take on too much too soon. Some business people jump into untested waters without stopping to do the necessary homework.  It’s far better to test your ideas in the marketplace before you invest your money. Big companies spend thousands on market research. Small businesses can conduct informal surveys. Don’t just ask friends and colleagues if they’d buy what you’re selling; ask them to buy. Talk to other people doing what you want to do. Even competitors may have something to say that will be helpful. Stick to your day job, if possible, until the new venture is generating profits that come close to your salary. In MLM, going slow, learning from what other people are doing well, and being patient and being committed long term is the way to go!

Genius Mistake #2 – They work without a business plan. You’ve heard it before: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Banks demand that you have a business plan before you take out a loan. If you’re using you own savings as your capital, you owe it to yourself to be just as careful. You don’t have to have your plan printed or bound but you should do the figuring and keep your work sheets where you can refer back to them. You could use a notebook or a planning book with a calendar. Start by stating your purpose in a few words. Then list ways you’ll use to market your product or service, noting what deadlines will have to be met. Also estimate your cash flow and your expenses with the knowledge that things usually cost more than expected. Also note when estimated tax payments are due. Always refer back to your original plan as time goes on. Make changes when necessary and write them down to refer to later too. Every year, I re-evaluate my objectives and goals. I suggest you do likewise!

Genius Mistake #3 – They try to do it all alone. When you start a business, and since you know how things should be done, you may have to do everything by yourself at first. You may also not be able to afford to hire anyone else. As your business grows, you may find yourself doing the jobs of two, three or four people. Decide early in the game which chores can be delegated to someone else – a friend or family member – to make your daily work activity the most important and most efficient. The more you’re able to delegate routine, time-consuming tasks to others, the more time you’ll have for the important phases of running your business – things like marketing and planning for future growth.

Genius Mistake #4 – They try to be all things to all people. You won’t be able to please everybody all of the time. Decide what’s important. When you need time, for example, for business correspondence or going over the accounts, don’t be afraid to hang out a “Do Not Disturb” sign or letting the answering machine take your calls. You can even set times when you want to be alone with your work. You’ll perform more efficiently without interruptions. Like everything else, you are looking to please the majority – that is how businesses grow. Besides not everyone is reasonable enough to merit your efforts. Although you must be polite to all customers and you may enjoy informal conversations with them, you may sometimes have to say, “I have other calls waiting” or “I have to get back to work.” Period!  I am sorry, but I make it a point to make sure every telephone call I make or receive never lasts more than 4 minutes. Let’s face it: I can’t answer every question in the universe, nor should you or I have to. Be polite and stay within a time constraint. If your customer doesn’t like it, you know you gave it your best effort. You can’t please everyone! Don’t we wish we could!

Genius Mistake #5 – They set unrealistic time frames. Even the best entrepreneurs want everything now, not later. They ask their suppliers to rush this and rush that. And they consistently underestimate how long things will take. First of all, allow time to do your homework and formulate your business plan. Then recognize that getting your business off the ground probably won’t happen overnight. For example, it may actually take two years to get the number of customers or the amount of profit that you’d expected in your first year. Or the first and second ad you place may not bring the orders you expect, but the third one will.  Give yourself time. Don’t cheat yourself by being impatient. All businesses require time to grow. Also don’t forget that you may also promise your customers instant delivery only to be faced with delays because of equipment failure, diminished suppliers, slow mail or any number of other reasons. Always allow more time than you think you’ll need; then surprise your customers by getting the goods to them early.

Genius Mistake #6 – They don’t plan for success. Sometimes – through good publicity or luck or special circumstances – a business grows far faster than you’d imagined. Amazingly this is when some business people get into trouble. They can’t take all the calls or fill all the orders. MLM companies are notorious for this. They have what’s called a “success problem,” which is the kind of problem everyone wants, but it can be overwhelming when it occurs. Don’t daydream about success. Have a concrete plan for what to do if your business really takes off just as you have concrete plans for everything else that could happen.  That is called planning for success!

If you learn from these 6 genius mistakes without making them, then you are far ahead of me. I like to think I am smart, but I sure wish I were a genius. How about you? Talk to you next month!

The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.