Mistakes I've Made in Business

Blog - mistakes I've made in business

My coaching business (formerly Laptops & Lattes) was born on 23rd of October, 2019 and a few months ago, I celebrated the second anniversary of the business. Although, it wasn’t the second year in business altogether.

I am - without a doubt - a serial entrepreneur.

In this article, I’m going to share my business journey, both successes and failures, and highlight some of the key mistakes I made on the way. I hope that by sharing these lessons learned, you’ll be able to avoid them and go on to create the business of your dreams.

My Business Journey

I got my first freelance gig when I was 18 years old where I wrote articles and took photos for a travel and camping magazine. And that was my first taste of running my own show, and I was positively hooked.

I've always wanted to run my own business from the time that I learned that it could be possible.

When I was around 13 years old, I discovered how awesome Photoshop was. I’d play around on it creating magazine covers, editing photos and designing logos for my parents’ business. I loved it!

Photo of a mock-up magazine cover that Michelle designed when she was a teenager.

(Photograph of a mock-up magazine I designed when I was a teenager 1999)

So, 8 years after discovering Photoshop and design, I put those skills to good use by bringing my love of design together with my desire to run my own show. And I started my first business at 21 years of age.

Ever since then, I've had some form of business on the go. Yep, serial entrepreneur.

While my Graphic Design business was the longest lasting business, I attempted so many others too. I grew up in the country and had a crazy love of animals; so I tried to freelance as a wildlife and landscape photographer. The photos were there, but the marketing was not. There was a blog that my sister and I attempted (I’m pretty sure I was holding her back on that one), then an e-commerce store. There was a brief stint selling artworks too. Ahh, memories.

I tried a wildlife educational business which went really well (I was even on TV for Totally Wild!) but my empathy for the animals meant I spent too much time apologising to them. Every session I’d take them out of the comfort of their home, travel in a bumpy car, only for them to be poked and prodded by people. That didn’t sit well with me, so I closed that business down.

Photo of Michelle holding a baby crocodile.

(Still image taken from an episode of Totally Wild where I'm educating school children on Australian Crocodiles 2014)

But that led me to starting and running a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organisation. That was an incredible experience. Not only was I making a positive impact with helping the animals I loved, but I was also educating the community and raising awareness for their protection. It was very fulfilling.

I ran that organisation for almost 4 years, until my son was born. Caring for animals or people is something that fills your cup; however, carer’s fatigue is a real thing. I didn’t want to compromise the animals’ care, nor the wellbeing of my son or myself. I knew I couldn’t manage both so, I merged that organisation with a similar one across the state so I could focus on my newborn.

While all this was happening, I was still freelancing as a Graphic Designer. That one stuck with me for a long time.

When my son was born, I quit my full-time job and resumed my design business, but this time I wanted to diversify the services I offered. I started including more brand strategy into my design work, and started offering some admin services and bookkeeping. I loved that variety.

I finally had a successful business that I enjoyed. Yay!

But then my coaching business came and swept me off my feet, didn’t it! That might be a story for another time.

I tried many businesses, some were successful, some were not. There were lots of mistakes made. But the important thing is that I learned from every experience. I believe that’s what helps me be a better business coach now. It’s what drives me to help other women create something of their own that fills their cup.

The Mistakes I’ve Made in Business

When I think of my failed attempts at business, or the mistakes I’ve made along the way, I don’t regret them. I feel like they were important lessons and experience that brought me to where I am today. But most of all, I enjoyed the journey.

While I’m going to share my mistakes with you, I don’t want you to beat yourself up if you are or have made those mistakes too. Because we’re all learning, and learning is part of the fun.

Mistake #1 Not Being Open to Guidance

As a 21-year-old Graphic Designer, I wasn't hugely confident in my design ability, but I was still learning and was doing my best. I thoroughly enjoyed learning new techniques, tricks, and software. However, I wasn't open to accepting advice from others.

Admittedly, I was a bit too arrogant for my own good, especially when it came to taking advice from people around business. There was so much to learn about; strategy, marketing, pricing, mindset, finance… And having a cocky attitude was not going to get me anywhere.

My first mistake was not being open to guidance. I grew to understand that my inability to accept guidance from others was due to deep-rooted fears of mistrust, and of being vulnerable. I felt that receiving guidance from someone meant that I was not good enough. It felt like a weakness. Like I should already know it.

I love to learn. But, to avoid feeling inadequate, I would learn quietly by myself.

But there are two problems with not receiving guidance from others:

  1. You can’t see your own blind-spots
  2. You don’t know what you don’t know.

I still feel the same deep-rooted inadequacy when people give me unsolicited advice and I tend to shut down when it happens. That’s a work in progress, but I can now say that I openly embrace and appreciate guidance from people I trust.

I’ve learnt that for me to trust them enough to guide me, I need to build a connection with them, and allow that trust to grow through credibility. (Inadvertent bonus lesson: I’m not alone in this. People need to trust you before they work with you. That comes from connection and observance. This is why content marketing is so effective- they connect with you and learn from you.)

So, I spent a very long time trying to run a business without knowing what I needed to know. I never asked for help, therefore I never found that mentor who would shorten the learning curve for me, or show me what was hiding in my blind spots.

What you can do instead:

If you struggle to ask for help or receiving guidance, then I first encourage you to become more aware of that fact. Try to understand why you struggle with it. Is it avoidance of feeling inadequate like me? Or perhaps there’s another reason for it.

All successful business owners have their mentor, advisor, coach, or confidante who helps them see their blind spots. It would be helpful for you to model someone you admire who also has their own mentorship. Seeing their openness to learn and accept guidance will help you become more flexible with the idea.

You don’t have to trust everyone, but you do need to trust someone. Understand what is stopping you from receiving guidance, and work towards overcoming it. You’ll achieve happiness and peace in your business a lot faster when letting go of those barriers.

Mistake #2 Not Working on Pricing Mindset

My business is thriving, and I feel so fulfilled in it. I wake up every morning, so excited to get into my office. Mondayitis isn’t a thing for me because I love going to work.

But I still have challenges.

I’m going to be transparent about that with you because it’s important for you to know that having challenges doesn’t make you any less of a person. It doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t make you a terrible business owner.

One of the biggest challenges I struggled with is not pricing adequately.

It is only due to finally accepting guidance from my sister (if she’s reading this, she’ll be rolling her eyes at me now) that I started seeing my blind spot of charging inadequately.

The one thing that will always cause a business to fall is pricing inadequately.

It doesn’t matter how amazing your service is, or how much you love what you do, poor pricing will not permit your business to thrive.  If you don't charge enough, then even while fully booked, you won't earn enough to support your life and you’ll probably burn out in the process.

You will start resenting your clients, your business and you’ll no longer enjoy going to work. This kind of chronic stress is devastating, not just to your business, but also your health and wellbeing.

What you can do instead

I could list so many reasons why entrepreneurs undercharge, but most of those reasons come back to one thing: Your mindset around pricing and self-worth. All the pricing strategies and tactics in the world are useless to you if you don’t first work on your mindset.

So, how do you feel about your own pricing? What is holding you back from charging more in your business? Some issues I have experienced myself, and see in clients are:

  • “I can’t charge premium rates for doing something I love.”
  • “My clients won’t pay that much.”
  • “I can’t charge more than I got as an employee.”
  • “I don’t want to be seen as greedy.”
  • “I don’t deserve to earn that much.”
  • “I’m not qualified enough to earn that much.”

Do any of those seem familiar? They’re all issues that stem from your own personal mindset around money and self-worth.

When I work with clients on their pricing, we start by looking at the facts. What do they need to charge in order to thrive in business and live the lifestyle they desire? Once we’ve established that, I start to look for the mental barriers that are going to stop her from charging enough – because I know they’re there.

When we breakthrough those mental barriers, pricing appropriately and confidently becomes so much easier.

So, if pricing is a challenge for you, I’d encourage you to start working on your money mindset. What is stopping you from charging enough to have the business and life that you desire?

Related: 7 Signs You’re Ready for a Price Increase

Mistake #3 Not Being Consistent

There are many things that plant doubt in the mind of your potential clients. Inconsistency.

Your role in marketing your services is to build trust with the people who may need your services. Earning their trust over time will result in them becoming a loyal, paying client. How much time is needed for a client to engage? This much time *Michelle says as she shrugs her shoulders*. It could be a couple of hours, or a couple of years.

You see, as service providers, we solve problems for our clients. A busy business owner who is overwhelmed with admin needs a solution. A scaling business needs an OBM. A creatively-challenge entrepreneur needs a designer. The service you provide are solving problems for your clients.

But, there’s a few stars that need to align before a person will become you client.

  • They need to be aware of you
  • They need to have a problem that you can solve
  • They need to trust you to solve the problem

You might know someone for months before their problem becomes apparent to them, or before they trust you enough to help them.

What does this have to do with consistency?

We know that the time between awareness and engagement is unknown, so if you’re able to stay consistent in your marketing, your offers, and your value, then they’re more likely to trust and engage.

If you keep adding new offers, removing old ones, changing your services, and your marketing is all over the place – that’s going to confuse your potential clients. Confusion doesn’t nurture trust, and they need to trust you before they engage.

I catch myself doing this sometimes (but not always, because blind spots, right?). But I notice it when I’ve been on a plateau in business growth. I get the urge to create something new in response to slow periods but when I recognise it, I can call myself on it.

Often, I’m creating something new when I should be refining what I currently have. Or I’m forcing growth when I should be in the rest phase of my growth cycle.

Related: The Solopreneur’s Growth Cycle

I see it often in others too. They try something, don’t get the results they want, and get rid of it and create something new. This is a trap I don’t want you to fall into.

What you can do instead

I’m not saying you can’t change things in your business, or create new offers, but I do recommend you keep some stability in your business. Consistency.

Have one or two primary services in your business and make sure they are the staple offering. They’re always front of mind, and it’s what your target audience know you for.

When you have the urge to create something new, just check in with yourself: Is this me creating something out of boredom, or to boost a plateau? Or is it a long-term business decision guided by my big picture?

If business growth is hard and you’re trying to force growth by creating new things, learn to recognise this and divert your attention to what you can tweak in your existing offers to get better results. Ultimately, this is what will give you a more sustainable business in the long run.

Michelle sitting on the floor next to a laptop, notebook, holding a cup in her hands. She's happy.

(Happy in biz. We'll make mistakes, but it won't stop us enjoying the ride.)

Mistake #4 Believing Social Media is “it” for Marketing

When I first started in business, social media wasn’t around yet. It wasn’t far off, but it meant that any business I got was through word-of-mouth or print advertising. Or I had to actually send a letter, email or make a phone call to pitch to a client or magazine.

Somewhere down the line, social media took the world by storm and many entrepreneurs fell into the false belief that if you wanted clients, you just pop something on Facebook and clients would magically appear. I was one of them.

While social media has its place in marketing, we forget about other marketing activities like SEO, advertising, directories, and the most effective one; relationship building.

What happens when we adopt the belief that, “I’ll just promote it on Facebook” is enough to bring clients, we usually get nothing but disappointment.

I also know many entrepreneurs who are so anxious about social media, and avoid posting anything, but fear their business will fail because they’re not posting on socials.

The reality is that it takes much more than posting on social media to bring in clients.

What you can do instead

Social media is a brilliant way to connect with people you wouldn’t ordinarily see every day, like friends, family, business buddies, prospective clients, and referrers.

It can be a wonderful part of your marketing strategy, but don’t let it be the only part of your marketing strategy.

Let it be the platform that allows you to build connections, and nurture relationships with people (not just clients). If you’re into content marketing (this is where you produce informative, inspirational, relatable or comedic content for your audience), then social media is a brilliant way to spread your value as a way of building trust and credibility.

Don’t rely on it 100%.

Here’s an exercise for you: If you couldn’t use any form of social media, how would you gain new clients? The answer to your question can inform your other marketing efforts.

Related: Which Marketing Strategies Suit You?

You win or you learn

I’ve made many mistakes over the last 15 years, and I’m sure I’ll keep making them. The important thing to remember is that you’re not failing if you make a mistake. Don’t think of mistakes as being failures. Think of them as lessons and opportunities for course correction that will get you back on track to where you want to go.

You’re doing an amazing job x

Michelle Marks Business Coach

About the author

Michelle is a chocoholic, stationery obsessed Business Coach from the seaside town of Mandurah, WA. She specialises in working with Virtual Assistants and B2B service providers, helping them to grow a fulfilling, sustainable and profitable home-based business.


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