Do you remember when you decided to start your own business?
I do. Because I was f*cking scared.
I quit a good job to do it – so good in fact that my dad thought I went *crazy* and pretty much didn’t talk to me for the rest of the year.
But before I could prove him wrong with my results, I had the most overwhelming and stressful time of my life.
So much to learn, so little time (I had only enough savings to survive a few months without work).
I felt like I had to get a university degree (ekhm…*again*!) just to make my first dollars.
For the first 6 weeks or so I was spending all my waking hours hustling in my tiny office, reading everything I could find online about marketing, pricing and how to get my customers.
So. Much. Fun.
I didn’t have enough money to hire professionals or outsource, so I was doing everything myself:
Doing and then redoing my website.
Creating infographics and posting them on Facebook and Instagram.
I tried every trick I in the book hoping the clients would come and then…
BAM. I run out of money.
And I had to get a part-time job to survive.
The results – and clients – O-B-V-I-O-U-S-L-Y – didn’t come.
But among all the things I did wrong, I did one thing right:
I didn’t give up.
A few months after starting my business I finally got my first client. As I was learning more and more, testing more strategies and finally getting some things right, slowly I started getting more and more clients.
And I managed to prove my dad *wrong* by making more money in my business in my first year than in the job I left behind.
Fast-forward a few years and I started 3 different businesses (sports nutrition startup, app and a language services agency) and sold two of them.
Looking back at what I did, these were the biggest mistakes I made:
Investing before testing
My first business was actually ‘supposed’ to be an online language school for professionals – it was only after about 6 months that it morphed into a translation, and a few years later also a content agency (what it still is now). I had a *great* idea of organising online English courses for professionals (e.g. doctors, lawyers, vets, dentists, IT professionals, engineers, psychologists and a few others). I spent the first 2 months in my new business recruiting staff before doing any proper market research [no, asking a few friends to tell me what they think (they always think all of my ideas are great ideas) doesn’t count!]. The bills were piling up (rent for the office, national insurance in my dear home country Poland, where you have to pay through the nose whether you are making money or not, the accountant, internet, phone, electricity) while my savings pot (I was working in PayPal in Ireland for the first 8 months from graduating from university, saving every penny I could) was rapidly depleting.
And then, after I have finally recruited my ‘dream team’ (which really was *awesome*) I realised…that it was *much much* harder to sell the courses than I thought (more on *why* it was so much harder in point 2 – I simply didn’t have a CLUE in the blue hell about marketing!). I got a few signups and zero money in the next couple of months.
I made this mistake again and again in two more businesses afterwards:
- I designed and produced 10 flavours of porridge without checking if anyone wanted them apart from me
- I created an app for expats with a business model based on ads without testing if anybody wanted to buy the ads first
This is probably the worst mistake most beginner entrepreneurs do. Just because *you* think something is an awesome idea/ product/ service does not mean that your target clients will want it / need it.
TIP: Before you start working in *ANYTHING*, create a simple sales page on an email marketing tool (I love MailerLite for this, you can see an example of a sales page I created with it here; MailChimp also offers landing pages) with a PayPal.me link
2. Money, money, money…Saving on the wrong things + not outsourcing + unnecessary spending
As I mentioned: for the first 6 months of running my business I was burning through sh*tloads of money on things like office, accountant, rent, business cards and branded accessories etc. I thought I *had* to have an office because I was starting a business, right? Even though my business was an *online* business and I was never actually meeting any clients in person. Now it seems insane, but I’ve seen many beginner entrepreneurs makeing the same mistakes, so it’s not just me.
TIP: Cut all the fat and ‘vanity’ spending. You don’t need a $2000 website or $500 logo or $150 business cards or $200 pens with your logo if you haven’t even started selling anything. Cups with your logo won’t make you feel like a ‘real business owner’. Actually making money on selling your services will.
Also – not outsourcing things you can theoretically ‘do yourself’ and getting professional advice (including marketing and legal advice) can cost you more than you think you are saving. Here are my examples of ‘savings that backfired’:
1. I paid a*LOT* (£1200) in ‘stupidity tax’ on Google Adwards and Facebook Ads without getting any results (except for some ‘fake likes’). What I should have done instead is outsource things like creating infographics, social media management and most of all ads.
On top of not getting any results for the money I was spending on the ads, there was also the added ‘hidden’ cost of my wasted time. I said – I had a lot of ‘fixed costs’ in running the business (mainly insurance and rent), so the alternative cost of me creating ugly infographics in Canva all day (then brought absolutely no results at all) was tangible and measurable. Given my costs of running the business was around £500 at that time, I was wasting around £ 25 extra every day I was not making money.
2. I didn’t get legal advice about using photos from the internet on my website so I had to pay £1000 in compensation for copyright infringement. Oooops!
3. I also really regret not investing in my education. If I hired a marketing consultant, a business coach, went to a few courses and read more books instead of doing all the stupid things I was doing back then, I would have known that the way I was approaching my business back then was absolutely *insane*. It was impossible to market so many product simultaneously (I didn’t even understand that each of my courses was a completely separate product targeting a completely different group!) with so little resources (I pretty much didn’t have a marketing budget!).
TIP: Pay pros to do things you’re not an expert in (e.g. social media marketing – no, if you’re using Instagram to post your cat photos it doesn’t make you an expert!)
3. Not defining my target customer well enough
As I mentioned above, my idea was to create courses for ‘professionals’. Then I came up with all the possible ‘professions’ I could find and thought I did an amazing job because I was offering something the other language schools didn’t offer.
This should have been a warning sign. The fact that the competition is not doing something does not necessarily mean you struck gold – it can also mean it doesn’t make sense to do it.
As a result, I didn’t have a clear idea who my target customer was and how to market to them. I was marketing to everyone and noone at the same time. Instead of reaching out to professional associations, specialist Facebook and LinkeIn groups etc., I was running ads for ‘professional courses’ for everyone interested in learning English.
I am burning with shame over how stupid it was.
4. Having too many products / Going broad instead of going deep
As Gary Vaynerchuk said on the Word Business Experience conference I attended in Warsaw in September: ‘Going broad instead of going deep is the biggest mistake small businesses make’ .
Guess what, this is exactly what I did!
As I already said – I should have created only *one* course targeting only one group – that I was most familiar with (e.g. dentists or laywers) and then go-all in marketing the course in all possible (but very *targeted*) ways.
The same happened in the porridge business. 10 products at the beginning without a proof of concept?! Insane! (This is exactly what an R&D director of a massive food company told me when he was coaching me later).
Arguing for days over label colours. Bloody label colours! The particular shade of blue on the labels. The trophy icon on the promo video. What the hell was I thinking?!
Or another example: spending 4 hours looking for the *perfect* term in a translation (once I’ve pivoted from the failed online language school). Nobody cared. Nobody paid me for the excessive due diligence.
The truth is: if nobody but you cares about some tiny little detail (oh no! I have a microscopic pimple on my nose on that photo! I need to retake the whole photoshoot and redo my website again!) – stop obsessing over it right now and move on.
What I would have done differently today:
- Create a simple MVP and actually *selling* the product/ service before even creating it.
- Cutting the fat on things like rent, accountant, employees, bills – don’t start a business until you’re really sure you’re gonna get paid to do so.
- Defining whom I will be selling to exactly. Give your customer avatar a name (mine is ‘Magda’ now), age, interests, family, problems. Think like her. Be her for 5 minutes. Would you buy your own service as Magda? Why not? Does your marketing message speak to you as Magda? Why not?
- Targeting only *one* target client at a time. Don’t try to serve more than *one* client when you’re starting your business. If it means scaling down to only ONE product, do so – I know it will hurt at first, but trust me, it’s gonna work. Focus on the ONE thing and once it’s actually working and running on autopilot, you can add more to your offer. Marketing is really harder than you think now and unless you FOCUS and 10x your efforts, it’s not gonna bring the results that would motivate you to continue your business. Read Gary Keller’s book “The ONE thing” to help yourself get over the maximalist mindset.
- Having only one product for starters.
- Outsourcing things like SEO, Facebook and Google Ads to experts.
- Hiring marketing consultants and a business coach – to hammer some stupid ideas out of my head.
Why am I telling you this story though?
After all I’ve been through I can honestly say I would never want anyone else to go through the same hell when starting their own business.
And whenever I go on Facebook I see way too many posts from people who are just as desperate as I was at the beginning.
So after selling my last start-up I decided to pour everything I’ve learnt into one über-actionable resource:
– The DIY Markeing Guide –
…so you can start get *real* results in as little as 30 days:
(I so wish I had it when I started!)
- An irresistible brand that attracts to your dream customers
- Clients that pay you what you deserve
- A WordPress website that sells
- 1000 new Instagram and Twitter followers
- 100 new email subscribers & newsletters that sell your services
- Social media strategy that promotes your brand and gets you new customer