Startups

4 Overlooked Mistakes That Sabotage First-Year Entrepreneurs


7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


I’ve had the chance to help many new entrepreneurs over the years, and in the process have noticed a pattern of four mistakes committed over and over. These blunders slow your growth and stop you from gaining traction, and for most people, they’re counterintuitive and go against what your instincts are telling you.

Here are the four crucial errors to avoid when launching and growing your business in the first year.

1. Not choosing a well-defined niche

Many new entrepreneurs hesitate to choose a narrow niche because they’re afraid of limiting themselves. However, you’re not limiting yourself by choosing a niche; you’re limiting yourself by refusing to do so. 

For example, if you’re a freelancer or consultant, here are a few positive things that happen when you choose a narrow niche:

  1. You get better at selling your service because you’re pitching the same thing over and over again.
  2. You build up reviews and testimonials faster for the service you’re offering.
  3. Since each project is similar, you can create templates, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and other tools to streamline your processes so you can complete more work in less time.

Picking a well-defined focus isn’t just beneficial for service-based businesses, either. I went through this process while growing my job-search advice website, which began as a general career advice site but never grew. It was too scattered and broad to get noticed. So I narrowed my niche and decided to cover only job-search advice. That’s when the website began to grow. I had a smaller potential audience now, but I was a clearer choice for that audience.

I took this a step further, too. For the first few months after this transition, I created content and products only about job interviews. Now my potential audience was smaller yet again. However, I had less competition and became known faster. Nobody would come to my site for general career advice now, but if they needed help with job interviews, I was one of the few sites tailored to their needs. 

Starting with a narrow niche doesn’t limit you later, but it does help you gain traction to start.

Related: 5 Steps You Can Use to Find Your Niche

2. Not seeking help and support

Entrepreneurship can be difficult and isolating, but there are ways you can get help. One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your first year is not seeking support from others. You can find help (and moral support) in online forums, websites like Reddit and through hiring a coach or mentor. 

I’ve also found excellent communities in entrepreneurship-focused Facebook groups. There are many good niche groups that are completely free, that you can find by searching Facebook for keywords like “freelance web developer group” or “copywriters group.”

I’ve also invested in a few courses that had private student Facebook groups and found that accessing these communities was often worth the price of the course alone. Since it requires an investment to get in, the discussions tend to be higher-level and feature entrepreneurs with higher earnings and more experience. If you’re a service provide, you may even find potential clients.

However you choose to get help and support, you don’t need to struggle through this alone. Chances are, other entrepreneurs have experienced the exact problems you’re dealing with. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, seek help and ask their advice.

3. Not collaborating with your competition

There’s one more way you can get help and support, too. As a new entrepreneur, you should look for ways to collaborate with industry peers and competitors. When I started my business, I felt like everyone in my niche was the enemy, so I avoided talking to them and tried to do everything on my own. This was a critical mistake. I later realized that you could succeed with others and grow faster by collaborating with the competition.

For example, there’s a large website in my niche that I originally viewed as a competitor. One day, I emailed the founder and asked her if I could write for her blog. She said yes, and we both benefited. She got free content for her site, and I got exposure to her audience. Then I realized the content she wrote was excellent, so I featured her advice in a few of the articles on my website without her even asking. The law of reciprocity is powerful.

More recently, a reporter from a very large publication read one of the pieces I wrote on this competitor’s website and asked to interview me for a similar article they were writing. That new article brought me thousands of new readers. This all started with reaching out to a competitor and building a relationship.

Related: The Collaboration Vs. Competition Dilemma Among Business Executives

4. Being busy but not productive

This mistake is common with entrepreneurs who left a job to pursue their own business. In most jobs, you were given tasks to do, and you worked a certain number of hours each day. Now, as an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to choose tasks and decide your work hours. So it’s important to prioritize well, focus on the most important tasks and recognize the difference between being busy and being productive.

For example, if you emailed a proposal to a potential client and then refreshed your inbox 100 times while anxiously waiting, you were “busy,” but not productive at all. You would have been better off looking for more potential clients to pitch. Finding and pitching one more potential client may have only taken 20 minutes, but could be a difference-maker for your business. 

Each day, I recommend asking yourself, “What is the single most impactful thing I can do today?” Then do it first. If you do this every morning, five days per week, you’re going to vault past the competition in your niche. Many first-year entrepreneurs get caught up in busywork, like obsessing over their logo or changing their website tagline 10 times. Focus on revenue-generating, business-growing tasks first thing in the morning, and you’ll be much better off.

I’ve also found it helpful to audit the tasks I’m doing and assign dollar values to each. For each task, I ask myself, “Is this activity worth $10, $100, $1,000, $10,000 or more for my business in the long run?” This helps bring clarity to whether I’m focusing on the right things or just being busy. If a task is particularly low-value, I may look to outsource or eliminate it completely, too.

Related: 4 Ways to Be More Productive, Not Just Busy

The faster you can shift your mindset to focusing on accomplishments and results rather than time spent, the better. Be productive, not just active. If you follow the steps above, you’ll avoid the common blunders that derail many new business owners so you can grow your revenue faster, become known in your niche and position yourself for long-term success.

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