My Five Biggest Business Mistakes

By Laura Wallace |  April 2, 2019

If there were an award for screwing things up in business, I’m pretty sure that I would have a nice little trophy wall in my office. I’ve made a ton of great decisions in my business, but only because I’ve made A LOT of bad ones too. Making mistakes really isn’t an easy pill to swallow, especially if they’re ones that require you to go through a hard lesson or there’s a ripple effect that kind of hangs on after the fact.

This week on The Gutsy Podcast, I’m going to share with you My Five Biggest Mistakes that I’ve ever made. And while mistakes are inevitable and actually a really important part of our growth, my hopes are that you can learn through some of my experiences and help apply them to maybe something you’re struggling with right now or maybe something that comes at you in the future.

In any area of life – not just business but life in general as a human being – failing and making mistakes is part of the learning process. When you make a mistake, it gives you an opportunity to look at the scenario from a different perspective, and it also encourages you to learn how to prevent that from happening again. I’m also a firm believer that the mistakes you make and the way you learn from them are setting you up for the success of something in the future.

The majority of mistakes typically happen when we either are learning something new, don’t have all the information, or are trying to rush through something that really needs our attention. So let’s break these down.

The first one, when you’re learning something new, you don’t really know what you’re doing, right? Nine and a half times out of 10 when people are starting businesses, they have no idea what they’re doing. I mentioned in an earlier podcast that when I started Worx, I didn’t have any prior business training. I didn’t have any technical sales training. You know, I just, I didn’t really understand the mechanics behind owning a business. So EVERYTHING that I did was new.

I feel like owning a business is a lot like parenthood: There really isn’t a manual to teach you how to do it, and just when you get the hang of one stage – something else comes in and you have to learn it all over again (can I get an amen?). The key here is to be patient with yourself because you don’t know what you don’t know. Think of the process of learning something new as a time to kind of play around a little bit. It’s an opportunity for you to make mistakes so that you can learn from them to later apply to something bigger.

We tend to be so hard on ourselves when we make a mistake. And honestly, if you didn’t make mistakes – I would probably be a little bit more worried. If everything is constantly perfect and there are no mistakes happening, one or two things come to mind:

  1. You are either spending a substantial amount of time crossing every T and dotting every I in every aspect of your life or, the more likely version is –
  2. You’re hiding them.

And why do we hide mistakes? Because we feel like if we show that vulnerability, people are going to think less of us? Can you imagine if more people just literally owned the mistakes they have made and the challenges that they’ve gone through? That’s actually an aspect of our culture here at Worx. You know, as human beings – we make mistakes. And when we’re making mistakes, that means we’re learning something. So all we do is we own it. We’re not looking for perfection. We’re looking for, Hey, I made a mistake. This is how I’m gonna fix it and how I’m going to prevent it in the future.

Be willing to give yourself the space to create, grow, and learn through the mistakes you may have made.

The other area where we make a lot of mistakes is when we don’t have all the information. As entrepreneurs (in a standard fashion), we get an idea in our head and then we immediately want to run a thousand miles an hour. Sometimes that’s beneficial because ignorance is bliss. But sometimes – it ends us in a situation where we’ve gone 10 steps a little bit too far, when we actually only needed to be three steps in.

An example that comes to mind is when someone asks you to donate your time or services to something and it feels like a really good fit. It’s something that you’re excited about, you really want to help out – but the mistake falls in not having some sort of signed agreement between the exchange of the services you’re providing versus what their expectations are of you. And we all know where this is going, right?

You think you’re going to do X, Y, and Z – yet they’re expecting you to do the whole alphabet. You end up putting in a lot more time, money, and effort than you ever expected. Yet you feel compelled to continue doing it because you said that you would. Mistake: You didn’t have all of the information to make an educated decision.

And one of the other ways that we typically make mistakes is when we’re trying to rush. This one in particular doesn’t feel very awesome because a lot of times it’s either procrastination or taking on too many things at one time and not being able to give your undivided attention to all of them. So you kind of get backed into a corner and feel like you have to achieve these things within a very short period of time or else you’re going to drop the ball.

So then you start working late, you start getting fatigued, you start doing too many things and your focus becomes split over a hundred different actions. Most of the time, you don’t even feel accomplished by the time you finish them. And you’re no sooner done with one item and moving onto the next thing at a hundred miles an hour.

And then you get that dreaded email.

You know, that one that points out the faults you’ve made: Something that you’ve missed or skipped over; An important part of the information you knew was so important, but because you were so busy and working so fast you just simply.. forgot. That’s a real shitty email to get. And I’ve certainly received those as well. But that’s when your mistakes are kind of flashing red in front of your eyes saying, Hey, you’ve messed up.

And again, this is a place where you want to OWN it.

You want to accept responsibility for the mistakes that you have made and then share how are you going to prevent them from happening in the future. Now the key with mistakes is that mistakes happen, right? They’re just kind of part of our normal day to day process. But the real trick is to not repeat the same mistakes.

People around you – your team, your clients, vendors that you work with, family, friends, heck even yourself – EVERYONE has a tolerance for mistakes. And if something happens, you own it, and you just kind of move on while not continuing to make the same mistake, that tells me that you have learned. But if you make a mistake and you apologize and someone accepts it, but then you repeat it again and again and again – *sighs* – not only are you doing yourself a disservice by causing unnecessary stress, but you’re also disrespecting that relationship.

You have started to take advantage of the fact that this person will forgive you. And whether that’s intentional or not, it’s happening. So I want you to really be aware of areas in your life where you may be repeating mistakes again (intentionally or not). What are some problems that continue to pop up in your life that say, You know what? Enough’s enough. I need to change a habit or a pattern to prevent this from happening again in the future.

So like I mentioned, I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes. That’s why today, I want to get into My Top Five Biggest Business Mistakes that I feel have really made a substantial impact on me, personally, and on my business.

One of the first biggest mistakes that I have ever made in owning my business is not knowing my numbers.

I have said for as long as I can possibly remember, Oh, I’m a creative person, so numbers aren’t my thing. Well, guess what? I kind of found out the hard way that whether they’re my thing or not, they need to be my thing. Because as a business owner, I have a responsibility to understand those numbers inside and out.

I’m a huge fan of the show, The Profit with Marcus Lemonis, and he drills on people about knowing their numbers. So I’m always feeling like if Marcus Lemonis walked in the door right now today, would I be able to explain those to him?

Not knowing my numbers range from a lot of different aspects as well. So there’s not just one pot of numbers, right? There is our hourly rate, there are our prices, there are billable versus non-billable hours. I mean, the way we work in our agency is we have A LOT of different aspects. While the team was tracking time, I wasn’t tracking how they were tracking time – which meant I didn’t understand how to use some of that data to make better-educated decisions on how we were going to work on projects in the future.

It wasn’t until I started to really look at our reporting tools through our project management system called FunctionFox – which allows us to put in projects, track time, and then pull reports (which is super handy unless you are only putting in the projects and clocking time – like me – because I felt I wasn’t a quote-unquote numbers person). I didn’t really put two and two together that I needed to pull reports to see what we were actually spending our time on and how long.

Then the harsh reality came that I needed to learn to use this tool after sitting down with my accountant saying – What is going on? – and I found out in 2017, we gave away over a hundred thousand dollars worth of business simply because I wasn’t properly tracking time or finances, and I didn’t realize that ours were literally going out the window.

When you have one person, it kind of adds up. When you have two, it adds up quickly. When you have four or five people – or even more than that – any gaps in your finances and the way that people are utilizing their time adds up substantially. You can bet your ass that after I discovered this, I all of a sudden became a numbers person. What I realized was numbers overwhelmed me because I didn’t really understand them. And while I certainly am not an accountant by any means and I really still heavily rely on some way more intelligent people than me to really understand my numbers, I at least have a foundation. Now I know what I’m looking at. I know how to access this information. I know how to gauge what is good and what is bad. And I did this by literally sitting down with my accountant and saying, What’s going on?

So I’m curious, what about your numbers? Do you feel like you, Yeah, I have this nailed, I know all about the ins and the outs of my numbers. Or is there an opportunity for you to help prevent future mistakes by getting in the weeds a little bit more? Are there areas of your finances where you feel like you’re getting by with just enough information to be dangerous, but if you had to explain it to someone, you would be a deer in a headlight almost instantly?

One of my next biggest mistakes (which kind of dovetails off of not knowing my numbers) is not charging enough.

There seems to be a pang of guilt that comes along with people charging what they are worth. And then we’d go into the challenge of, Well, what am I worth anyway?

So most of the time, we’ll do a little bit of research to find out what other people are charging.

We’ll kind of close our eyes and wave our finger around in the dark and pin the pin on the tail on the donkey to whatever number comes to mind first. And then in projects, if we tend to go over or we need more time, we don’t ask for it because we feel like that’s gonna make us look bad. Like we literally just FEEL BAD for charging money to people even though they’re coming to us for a very specific service.

This happens a lot when we’re talking about small business owners, entrepreneurship, and service-based industries, but when’s the last time that you went to get your oil changed and they felt bad for charging you for the oil change? Or the last time that you went to get a haircut and they felt bad for charging you? Now we don’t know how they are feeling, but we know that the rack card rate is the rate card rate, right?

If you go to get your oil changed and it’s $29 95 plus tax, you know that at the end they’re going to charge you $29.95 plus tax. And if you add-on any other services, they’re going to tack that on alongside it. But then we go back to our own businesses and someone says, Hey, thanks for doing this. I also want to do these other three things. We start to shy away from saying, Okay, well I’ll do those, but I’m going to have to charge you more.

We just feel like our time is completely open-ended and because it comes easily to us that we don’t necessarily have to charge them. Well, guess what? It’s only easy for you because you’re an expert at it (yes you humble person you – Read, absorb, repeat). You have experience and you know how to do it. The people that are coming to you don’t know how to do it or don’t have the time to do it, otherwise, they wouldn’t be working with you in the first place.

So what areas in your business are you not properly charging for? Is it an hourly rate you feel like you’re stuck with or you’re afraid that if you increase the price your clients are going to jump ship? Speaking from experience, I can tell you that every time we have increased our prices, we have also increased the quality of the clients we work with. Look at what black holes you have, where are you giving away too many services? What contracts or arrangements are you in that have taken you to the cleaners, but you’re just too nervous to say anything about it? Your time is extremely valuable and I want you to start seeing it like that.

You’ll see a pattern here because my third area is taking on bad fits to fill a void in projects or cashflow.

These are not necessarily bad people or bad businesses, they’re just simply not the right fit for our culture and our products. I could name at least a dozen times where I was sitting in a meeting with a client, we were going over projects, and I thought to myself when this is a prospect, This is not going to be a good fit. Or, if they’re already a client, Why are we continuing to work together?

But because either cash flow was tight and I knew that by taking on this client we could increase the cash flow fairly quickly or because I felt like I had to take on this client because if I told them no I might hurt their feelings, I ended up inviting a lot of unintentional, really shitty relationships into my business. When you can tell in the first meeting that this is going to be a challenging relationship to work with, the only thing that happens is it becomes a really challenging relationship to work in and it just multiplies.

If you’re not feeling synergy from the get-go, it’s really rare that all of a sudden you’re going to start singing Kumbaya and get along together. By taking on clients that were not a good fit, I set the tone that we would accept that. I also continued to reinforce to myself that I had to take these people on. These clients were also taking up space in my business that was not allowing the really amazing, perfectly-aligned clients to come in the door.

So enough was enough.

I was frustrated, my team was frustrated, the clients were frustrated, right? If I’m not servicing them well, we’re not creating a great relationship. It affects them just as much as it does us. So one of our mottos is: Let’s set them up for success and if we’re not the right fit, let’s get them to someone else that may be.

So I’ll ask you, make a list of all of your relationships – clients, vendors, partners, contractors – and I want you to go down that list and think, Man, I really feel amazing when I’m working with this person or This person has some areas that maybe we need to just have a good old fashion talk about, let’s communicate about some of the issues we’re having.

And then last but not least, who are the ones that you would not rehire today based off of the relationship that you have together? I know it can be insanely scary to fire clients or filter through some of your relationships, but you have to really think, which is more uncomfortable: A short-term problem by filtering things out now or continuing with this grief and challenging relationship for the next month, two months, a year, five years? It might hurt now, but you can get over that fairly quickly because then you’re also going to create space for the right relationships to come into your life.

The fourth biggest mistake I’ve ever made is not owning myself as the boss.

Now I know this one might sound kind of funny, but I spent a lot of time not relating myself and not having anyone relate to me as the boss of our company. I felt as though being looked at as the boss would make me come across as better than everyone else or arrogant or unapproachable or all these other fictitious things that I created in my mind. I felt like if I was just like everyone else, then everyone else would just appreciate me for that.

Turns out that sucks because when people don’t see you as the boss, they don’t treat you as the boss.

Now I’m not one of those crazy movie bosses that walk around in a suit (reference back to Episode 3 where I dig really deep into that). I’m not walking around in some crazy fancy suits standing behind everyone micromanaging them, breathing heavy down their neck like I’m some goddess that came down from the sky. We’ve created a culture that is very open. We can have conversations, we brainstorm and collaborate with one another, but at the end of the day – the ship that we’re on needs a captain. And we floated on a ship without a strong captain for a really long time.

I went through a lot of personal growth exercises to find out, You know what? Just because I’m the boss doesn’t mean I’m an asshole and my team and our clients and our partners, they need me to fulfill the role that I serve. Being the boss is actually pretty awesome, especially when you can own it into the way that YOU boss. I might not be what textbooks would say is a stereotypical boss, but I do know that my team trusts me and they lean on me and we have a culture that works for us (kinda hence the name Worx).

I wear that very proudly now. It’s one of the things that I do really well. It’s something that I enjoy. It’s not a negative thing – it’s part of who I am. So my team created some space branding graphics and on my glass door, it says “The boss with the sauce” (head over to the ‘gram to see for yourself!). Three, four, five years ago – I would’ve freaked out about that. And now I absolutely own it every single day.

I want you to evaluate one area of your specific role that maybe you are dimming the light on in fear of perception. Most of the things that we think other people are thinking are things that we generate in our own minds. And guess what? Everyone else’s opinion of you or your role is actually none of your business. In fact, nine and a half times out of 10 it’s way more about them than it is about you. But if you’re not showing up in your role and accepting who you are and the magic that you bring to your business, you’re missing out on a really great opportunity to grow and enhance yourself, your business, and your clients.

While I’ve made plenty of more mistakes and could continue to have this conversation for the rest of the day, the last one for this particular episode is the mistake of giving away my power to too many people for far too long.

This showed up in a lot of different scenarios (whether it’s someone that came to us and hired us and then ended up dictating the entire process because I didn’t have the lady balls to stand up for myself OR being completely plowed, driven over my own business based off of other people’s opinions on how things should be done). It all really just boiled down to not speaking up when I knew that I needed to and because of that I’ve had to reap a lot of sewing projects.

I’ve learned that what I do and how I say things and how I interact with people is really important.

I may not always have the answers (and I most certainly am not always right), but I bring a flavor to the table that no one else can because it’s my own spice. That’s actually kinda corny, but I’m going to leave it in there cause it makes me laugh. I can’t do what anybody else does because I’m not them and no one else can do what I do because they’re not me.

But if I’m constantly giving away my control – constantly giving away my power – I would just become kind of this passenger in my own vehicle. My voice won’t be heard, my ideas won’t be accepted, and we may not get to the destination (even though I know where we’re going). If I don’t voice it, I can’t get us all there. Which ties back into being the captain of the ship. While not every situation needs you to be in control, the ones that do need you to be in control, you need to be able to stand in your power.

So I want you to evaluate, what areas of your life are you currently giving away your power and control? Where do you feel like you are a passenger in your own vehicle? Where do you need to step up and voice your expertise? Where are you really truly needed that you’re really hiding from? It’s time to own it.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got a really important role to play, but we need you to kind of step into the spotlight to be able to perform. I think that it’s really important to understand that even the people that you may look up to have gone through very similar mistakes. Maybe bigger ones, maybe smaller ones, but they’ve all gone through mistakes. Even the most wealthy person on the planet or the most business savvy person that exists have made mistakes to get them to where they are today.

You can’t dodge and miss a mistake, but you can embrace it. And by embracing it, you can learn from it. And by learning from it, you can grow.

Join me for this Thursday’s #powerback as we talk about a little concept called No Bra Sunday. Now, if the title alone doesn’t get your attention, I’m not really sure what will. But on Thursday we’re going to talk about the concept of taking back your time and refilling your tank.

Until then, follow The Gutsy Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or for more business insights, follow me on Instagram @thatlauraaura. See ya next time!

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