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Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

8 Signs It’s Time to Fire a Client

April 23rd, 2013 ::

Buh-byeIn a recent blog post, I wrote about how to turn difficult clients into customer success stories. Sometimes, though, despite your best efforts, it is just not working.

Here are 8 signs it’s time to fire a client:

1 – Your client undoes all of your work

Have you ever delivered a project to a client, only to have them dismantle it piece by piece and then rearrange it so that it makes no sense? For me, this is a sign that they don’t recognize or appreciate your expertise and have decided that they are the true expert. If that’s the case, well, good luck to them!

2 – Your client is never available

If your client is very slow to respond to emails and voicemails – or doesn’t even bother to respond – and is constantly cancelling and rescheduling meetings, then the project you are working on is not a priority for them.

3 – Your client withholds information

At the beginning of your project, you told your client what resources and information you need from them in order to do your job and meet their goals. If they withhold that information, it might be literally impossible for you to complete the project.

4 – Your client does stuff behind your back

This is always a fun one to deal with: clients who hire another consultant without telling you, shift strategies, or ignore your recommendations (for a graphics firm, manufacturer, etc.) and go with someone else instead (who turns out to be, oh, not very good).

5 – Your client asks you do something unethical

Thankfully, I have never had a client ask me to do this, but I did work for a company in which the CEO asked a colleague to do a whole list of unethical things. Going to jail for someone else’s hubris is not a good idea.

6 – Your client doesn’t pay

I just got paid for a small project 8 months after the work was complete. This client had the audacity to brush it off and then ask me to work on another project with him. Um, no.

A corollary to this is if a client balks at the price and tries to negotiate it down or push it back. You might never get paid (this happened to me on a big project).

7 – Your client constantly changes scope of work

Changing the scope of a project happens often, and it is usually not a big deal. What is a big deal is when the client expects you to do more work for free.

8 – Your client is never satisfied

Some people are literally impossible to please. Maybe they ask for one tweak after another, thus dragging out the project. Maybe they take one look at what you did and say they hate it – and refuse to pay. The stress of trying to please a negative Nelly is just not worth it. Save your sanity, and say good-bye.

Have you ever fired a client? Why?

Image courtesy of zainjoyce.com

7 Timeless Pieces of Advice for Small Business Owners

March 28th, 2013 ::

7 pieces of advice that lead to successI have been reading a lot about what makes a businessperson successful lately, and the following pieces of advice really struck a chord with me. Of course, many different factors contribute to success, some of which you can control, and some of which you can’t.

One thing you can control is your attitude, and I think attitude plays a big role in success. Here are 7 timeless pieces of advice I always try to follow:

1 – Have a great product first

Before you have a company, you have to have a great product or service that people want. Doing market research is great, but what’s better is getting out there and talking to people. Run your idea by people you trust, potential customers, mentors, and people in the industry. Stay open to their suggestions, and make changes that will improve your product.

2 – Don’t have a back-up plan

I recently read this, though I can’t remember where, but it stuck with me. The premise is that if you have a back-up plan, you won’t go all out to achieve your goal. You’ll start making excuses for why Plan A isn’t working, and then it’s a downward spiral from there. Have one plan, and go for it.

3 – Never judge a book by its cover

CEOs, company founders, venture capitalists, millionaires, royalty, United States Senators – they look like you and I. Just because you don’t recognize the person sitting next to you doesn’t mean they’re not worth knowing. I talk to everyone, and I have met some really cool people simply by reserving judgment.

4 – Be resourceful

Learn to solve problems quickly so you can take advantage of any opportunity when it arises. I have taken on clients even though my roster was full; I simply pulled in contractors to help out.

5 – Be passionate

If you are enthusiastic and passionate about your product or company and project confidence, people will respond. I know a lot of startup founders who are bootstrapping it and making huge sacrifices to launch their company. You know what keeps them motivated? A strong belief in what they are doing.

6 – Focus on what you’re good at

There are two big mistakes any business owner can make: 1) – trying to do everything, even the things you are not good at (I have been guilty of this, which is why I now have a CPA), and 2 – deviating from your core competency rather than being really good at that one thing.

7 – Be honest when you mess up

We all make mistakes; sometimes they’re huge. When the founder of Zipcar realized her pricing was way too low just as they were about to launch, she emailed her customers and told them she had to raise rental fees by 25% or the company wouldn’t survive. She didn’t lose one customer – they all loved the concept and appreciated her honesty.

What other pieces of advice have served you well?

Image courtesy of binauralbrains.com

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: Google for Entrepreneurs (Programs and Partnerships for Small Business)

October 2nd, 2012 ::

Google for Entrepreneurs

Not a company to think small, Google has launched a new website, Google for Entrepreneurs, to bring all things entrepreneurial under one umbrella. Use the site’s search feature to find workshops, networking events and mentoring sessions around the world that support startups and entrepreneurs. Programs and online tools to grow your business are highlighted, plus Google-led programs will bring experts and tools directly to entrepreneurs. Some of the current projects include partnering with business accelerators and incubators and teaming up with Women 2.0 to bring their Founder Friday events to more cities.

Web.com Small Business Toolkit: National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day (Mentoring Event)

October 1st, 2012 ::

National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day

Are you an entrepreneur over 50 who could use some expert advice? In May 2012, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and AARP launched a strategic alliance to provide American entrepreneurs over the age of 50 with real-world, actionable information to start or grow a small business. Through this alliance, the two organizations have jointly committed to train 100,000 “encore entrepreneurs” over the next year. October 2 (that’s tomorrow), you have a chance to meet mentors from the SBA’s network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), and SCORE chapters, who can help you take your business to the next level. Click on www.sba.gov/mentorday to find an event near you.

What Traits Do Successful Entrepreneurs Have in Common?

June 9th, 2011 ::

By Maria Valdez Haubrich

Are entrepreneurs made, or born? In other words, are the characteristics needed to be a successful small business owner innate or can they be learned? According to a new study by Ernst & Young, the answer to this puzzle is…well, a bit of both.

The study, Nature or Nurture: Decoding the Entrepreneur, surveyed 685 entrepreneurs worldwide as well as winners of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. The results challenge the notion that entrepreneurs tend to start businesses without a formal education and without experiencing corporate life.

Nearly half (45 percent) of respondents did not start their first business until they were age 30 or over. Almost 60 percent said they had previously worked in a corporate environment before striking out on their own.

Asked what was the most important source of learning that helped them with their business, one-third of respondents said it was their experience as an employee, 30 percent said it was higher education, and 26 percent said it was a mentor or mentors.

“Entrepreneurial leaders are defined as much by their early business experience, cultural background and external environment as they are by any innate personal characteristics,” said Maria Pinelli, Global Vice Chair Strategic Growth Markets for Ernst & Young, in announcing the study results. “Nurture, not nature, does appear to be more important in shaping the entrepreneurial mindset.”

But not so fast. At the same time, the study found that successful entrepreneurs share certain behaviors and attitudes that are differentiate them from the average corporate employee or CEO. When asked to name the top three most important qualities of an entrepreneurial leader, more than three-fourths of those surveyed said ‘having a vision’, 73 percent said ‘passion’ and 64 percent said ‘drive’.

“These findings highlight that most successful entrepreneurs share a unique combination of seeing opportunity where others see only risk,” said Pinelli. “And they tend to be optimists and believe they can succeed despite the fact that everyone else is telling them they cannot.”

For those who’ve got the entrepreneurial combination of nature and nurture, starting just one business is not enough. Sixty percent had started three or more companies, 20 percent had launched six or more and 10 percent said they had founded more than 10 companies so far.

Image by Flickr user Horia Varlan (Creative Commons)

The Entrepreneurial Mindset — Good and Bad Reasons to Start a Business

April 21st, 2010 ::

by Carol Roth

She made a lemonade stand and even though we told her no one would be buying lemonade in November she managed to make $6 in less than an hour on a dead end street. Donald Trump would be proud.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/ / CC BY 2.0

You may wake up one day with an amazing idea for a new business. As the days go by and you realize that you are smarter than your boss, that your co-workers smell like bologna sandwiches and that your desk has gum underneath it circa 1972, you may actually really think about pursuing it.

If you read a magazine or talk to your friends and family members, you may hear some of the hype on entrepreneurship (nobody likes to tell you the dirty little secrets) and you may start to believe one of more of the following:

  • Your idea will get you rich;
  • Your idea will get you rich quickly;
  • You can escape the corporate grind;
  • You can be your own boss and have the freedom to do what you want, when you want;
  • You can work shorter hours and have more free time for your hobbies, families and other passions;
  • You can do more of what you love to do; and/or
  • You will “do it better”

Unfortunately, most of the reasons that people start businesses are myths based on a gross misunderstanding of what it means or what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

So, what are some good reasons to start your own business?

There’s a customer need! We have more products and services available to us than we would ever want or need, which makes today’s entrepreneurial landscape very different than it was just 50 years ago. If there is a gap in the market that customers are desperate for a solution to and willing to pay for, that’s a darn good reason to start a business. Remember, Ray Kroc didn’t start McDonald’s because he was bored or unfulfilled; he did so to meet a customer need!

You are THE person to meet that need. Having a customer need is great, but why the heck are you qualified to meet those needs for your customers? Maybe you have unparalleled industry experience, knowledge and/or contacts that make you the ultimate candidate to make a difference in this market? If so, bingo – you are on the right track! If you don’t have anything to bring to the table, go get something before showing up for dinner, if you catch my drift.

You want to RUN A BUSINESS. Everyone thinks that if you love to do something, you will get to do more of it when you run a business. Wrong-o. When you run a business, you have to do and oversee so many functions, from marketing to accounting to employees to customer service and more, you actually spend less time doing whatever it is you enjoy doing. Your job as an entrepreneur is not to do one thing, it is to run a business. So, if you love to wear multiple hats and are jazzed by the idea of managing all aspects of a business, plus you think that is a good fit for your skills and experience, you are headed in the right direction.

And finally…Is it worth it? Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should, that you will be successful, or that it is the best choice for you given your goals, circumstances and opportunities. You have to look at the rewards of your opportunity and see if they justify the risks – and I am talking both financial and qualitative risks and rewards here. Far too many people trade their salary and risk their savings for an opportunity where they are making the same or less money, working more hours and have more stress. In the game show world, they call that trade a “zonk”. Don’t get zonked – make sure that the risk/reward tradeoff makes sense for you and that you have the opportunity to significantly improve upon your current situation or do better than other situations that could be available to you.

Carol Roth helps businesses grow and make more money. An investment banker, business strategist and deal maker, she has helped her clients, ranging from solopreneurs to multinational corporations, raise more than $1 billion in capital, complete hundreds of millions of dollars in M&A transactions, secure high-profile licensing and partnership deals and more. Carol is a frequent media contributor on the topics of business and entrepreneurship, including as recurring/featured guest on Pittsburgh Business Radio’s Women Mean Business show. She blogs about issues affecting entrepreneurs and their businesses from her Unsolicited Business Advice blog and is the author of The Entrepreneur Equation, a book about evaluating the realities, risks and rewards of business ownership, coming out late this year. She holds a BS degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Once, Twice, Three Times Trackable

December 29th, 2009 ::

Whether you’re creating a marketing piece/strategy, or getting into social media, you need to be conscious of how you will measure the success, or failure, of your endeavor. Like sending a package through UPS or FedEx, you’ll want to know your items were received and arrived. It could be the amount of emails you collected, the number of page views you hoped to achieve, the amount of sales you intend to make, or any number of reasons, but you need to be conscious, as you start your efforts, that you have a way to track your leads back to its source.

There are tons of ways you could to track your efforts. You could create specific urls to direct people back to a page on your website they could only reach by that marketing piece/effort, a phone number that is only used for that marketing piece/effort, or by the number of physical bodies that show up on the scheduled day. Whatever you choose, decide on what it will be before you get started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked people how they determined the success of their piece only to hear “We didn’t think about that until after we printed it”.

I am not suggesting, in any way, that you should throw out everything you’ve created till now if you can’t track them. If there are pieces you have that don’t have a way to be tracked, find a creative way to make them so with the resources you have at your disposal. Here are a few creative ideas:

  • Use mailing labels on your brochures/postcards to update your information.
  • Call the places you’ve placed advertising with to see if you can alter the type in the next edition.
  • Place analytics tools, like Google Analytics, on your site to see where people visiting it are going.
  • Use sites like bit.ly to shorten, and track, the website links you put out in social media.

Once you’ve got the means in place to track the items, you need to determine what success means to your project, strategy, or piece. I’m going to ask you exercise some patience when it comes to tracking your success. Overnight success or an instant explosion of interest is not, and I repeat not, likely. It will take time, but you should determine what timeframe you are comfortable with or accepting of.

A little thought on how to figure out what success will look like. Please understand that it might take a few days for people to get a hold of your effort and that you can’t factor for people who many not be interested in your effort sharing it with others. There are multiple theories of success that you could use to determine your final outcome. One theory of success is the Pareto principle, often called the 80-20 rule, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The 1 Percent Rule is another, and Wikipedia defines it as “the 1 percent rule or the 90-9-1 principle reflects a theory that more people will lurk in a virtual community than will participate. This term is often used as a euphemism for participation inequality in the context of the Internet.”

Lastly, please don’t think I’m saying tracking your items is a quick thing to do. Tracking your efforts is a task unto itself. You’ll need to set aside some time to review your statistics and outcome as they come in. This could be day to day, month to month, or an accumulative total in a year. It’s best to take a step back and remember it’s not personal, but in these numbers you can find what works and what doesn’t.

The last thing you want to do is feel like any piece you’ve created was out there with no means for you to know it works. I hope this post has inspired some ideas of how you could begin to track the success of what is working and what doesn’t. This is me giving you a bit of permission to experiment with what works and what doesn’t, but always give each thing you choose to do a way to measure it’s success.

I would love your thoughts on today’s post here in the comments or you can reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

Eight Things to think about before you use Social Media

December 24th, 2009 ::

Every day, more and more people become aware of the possibilities, successes, and capabilities of using social media as part of their marketing strategy. Some take the time to learn how to use the tools. Some will start blindly, get frustrated, stop using, and cry of it’s a failure/waste of time. Others will create accounts on the big social media sites, be less than passively involved, and ultimately forget they have them until someone asks a question.

With the people who are looking to get started using the tools of Social media, or are in the early stages of using them, here are Eight Things to think about before you use Social Media:

  1. Will this be a marketing tool or a customer service tool? People have a wide range of reasons to start using social media for their business. Often it is to promote themselves or their business, but companies, like Comcast and Zappos, have found that Social Media can be a great tool for improving customer service/experience.
  2. Are you the best person to take this on? Speaking of Zappos, their CEO Tony Hsieh, is their voice on Twitter. Not every CEO is the best person to be the online face of the company or organization. Chris Brogan, in his post “Develop a Strong Personal Brand Online Part 1”, wrote that you should “…remember that branding isn’t playing a role. Be yourself. It will become apparent rather quickly if you’re being someone that you’re not.”  This is the same whether it is a personal or professional brand. Deciding if you, or your boss, are the right person to be on social media is hard choice to make, especially when egos are involved, but depending on how you decide to use social media could make that choice for you.
  3. Do you have people around you that can teach you? Or is there someone in your company/organization that is already passionate about social media? Like Zappos, Comcast uses social media as a customer service tool, but instead of their CEO using it their Twitter account is maintained by Frank Eliason, Senior Director for Comcast National Customer Service. Because of Frank and Tony’s efforts, there have been a lot of companies following their format and finding success, and failure, in social media.  These are just two examples, but make sure that whatever your choice that the voice you choose fits the overall tone and attitude of your company.
  4. Are you willing to listen more than you talk? A big part of making social media an effective tool for marketing/customer service is the ability to listen to what your audience has to say as much as you intend to talk. People want to be talked “to” not “at”, so make sure that you find a balance between reviewing, responding, and posting.
  5. Do you have the time to focus on social media? Social media, like any other marketing/customer service effort, will take time out of your day. But, like checking your email or attending a meeting, if you believe it to be important to the success of your business, or your personal brand, you will find the time. A rule of thumb that works well for me is, and I can’t recall where I first heard it, “If you have time to schedule and attend a meeting…you have time for social media”.
  6. What social media tools will you use? Whether it’s wiki, blog, Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other avenues you could choose from, you need to decide which will be the best one for you depending on who your intended audience is. Take a little time and do some research to see just where your intended audience is, and they may not be using social media yet, to see if your choice is worth the time before you jump head first.
  7. Are you patient? Just like finding the time for social media, you need to understand that it will take time. Unless you are already a well known individual in the public eye, and being a legend in your own mind doesn’t count, then it will take time to grow your audience. You are also going to have to live with some people either not buying into your idea or talking negatively about your company, or personal brand. Don’t try to judge your success by the successes of others, but don’t throw in the towel early because it’s not doing what you think it should. You didn’t start a company just to quit did you? Treat your social media the same way.
  8. What will you determine as success? Will it be number of follower (which I don’t recommend)? Will it be how often your messages are shared? Will it be how many of your followers take an action on your behalf/request? That is really up to you, but I implore you to be realistic about your goals. Remember, you will need patience, clear intentions, and an ability to weather the storm as it comes, but success is ultimately determined by you, your efforts, and your choices.

What I can tell you is that if you are looking for a quick solution, or instant boost in sales, then social media is not for you. There, I said it. I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that no matter who you are or what you do that you should jump on the social media band wagon, but I’m sorry that’s not true. It has to make sense for you, your brand, or your company.

I would love your thoughts on this post or if there are other things you think people should keep in mind in the comments below. You can reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

The Beauty of Keeping It Simple…

December 22nd, 2009 ::

In my last post “What is this ROI thing” I posted that “…marketing really comes down to the simple questions we learned in school. Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.” Did I shock and offend a few people by simplifying that? More than likely I didn’t, but I have found that people who get easily offended by someone exposing the initial simplicity of something are ultimately trying to keep everyone else from knowing how simple it is as well.

There is no reason, in my opinion, that someone should just put a shingle on their door and expect customers to expect to know they are there and open. There are a laundry list of reasons that most businesses don’t make it past the two year mark and over all I see that as poor planning across the board. I have known more than my fair share of start-ups or small business owners that have forgone a marketing strategy in their first year or two because they have viewed it as too costly, confusing, or complicated. When in reality, that fear kept them from reaching a wider customer base or audience.

You need to know how you are going to get people to learn about your great new product/service/Whatchamacallit. Simply just creating the same marketing pieces that everyone has (a website, a business card, etc.) won’t have your phone ringing and email box filled with orders. I wish I could say it was that simple, but it’s not. You first need to think of those six simple questions as you go into the creation of your marketing piece/strategy.

The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How will vary depending on what you want to do. Here are some great examples of starter questions for your next marketing strategy/piece, but feel free to come up with your own:

  • Who –Who will want this? Who do we want to know about our latest product/service? Who is going to purchase our [insert item/service]? Who will carry our message for us?
  • What – What will we use to reach/tell people about? What will we use to measure who successful this is? What will separate us from all the other daily noise that our audience receives? What will we use to track it?
  • When – When will we be putting this out? When is the most effective time for us to launch this? When will use to track the success? When do we review on how well this is doing?
  • Where – Where are the people we want to reach with this? Where will be put this that people may not expect? Where will we announce the product/place/thing/event? Where do we want this to take our business?
  • Why – Why are we going to do this? Why will the audience we are trying to reach care? Why are we using X over Y? Why aren’t we using multiple opportunities for people to reach us?
  • How – How are we going to create this? How are we going to measure the success? How are we going to get this out to our chosen audience? How often are we going to try this to see if it is successful at different times of the year?

I know I’ve kept this extremely simple, but the biggest reason for that is that the resources for you to create your marketing plan are already available to you on this site. Steven Fisher wrote a great piece that I view as a strong follow up to this post, the Guide to Writing a Killer Marketing Plan.

I hope you at least come away from this post with a sense that your first marketing strategy doesn’t have to be scary or overly complicated. When you are in your first year or two of business your time is very valuable, but by asking simple questions up front you save yourself some time and be better prepared for when you hire a designer, marketing firm, or whomever to accomplish your goals.

I am interested in Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions you’ve come up with. Please leave them in the comments below or you can reach me on Twitter by sending a message to @wickedjava, or on Facebook at facebook.com/mcdougherty.

As all ways, if you have been reading, thank you and stay wicked.

Five Things You Must Avoid With Your Startup

December 21st, 2009 ::

I was doing research for my upcoming book “Rules for Entrepreneurs” and providing advice on starting a business is mostly about what not to do. You can only provide recommendations so much until you have to just do it. This is why “Startup FAIL” posts are popular and allow a sort of therapy and war story sharing with fellow entrepreneurs. I came across this post from Momentum Venture Partners that I had to share with you below. These are five great things that you must avoid with your startup (MY FAVORITE? You are building a company, not a club):

There’s no shortage of advice for start-up companies to follow, but in my experience working with emerging technology companies I’ve noticed something that’s just as important: there are certain pitfalls that bog down entrepreneurs, costing them money, time and ultimately a chance to break through the clutter. Every new venture has limited resources – and limited time – to get off the ground, and anything that needlessly burns cash or slows progress limits the chances of making it to the next level. Here are five ways to avoid the most common traps that snare new companies.

1 – Don’t overspend on marketing or advertising

During the late 1990s dot-com boom it was common practice for companies to blow millions of dollars on ambitious advertising and marketing campaigns. Remember the Pets.com sock puppet? It was a funny ad campaign – highlighted by blowing $1.2 million on a Super Bowl television spot – but it wasn’t so funny when the company closed its doors nine months after going public, and investors probably weren’t laughing when they recouped just 17 cents on the dollar two years later.

While most early-stage companies don’t have the resources to mount a marketing effort on that scale, entrepreneurs are often tempted to divert valuable resources to advertising and promotional activities before their products are ready for prime time. A great example is a social networking company I recently worked with. They spent a fair bit of money on acquiring members, but their site wasn’t ready to offer the full range of services they were planning. As a result, users went to the site but had a terrible user experience because there was nothing for them to do once they logged in. The company might as well have stacked up their cash, poured kerosene on the pile and lit a match.

Entrepreneurs need to make sure that any marketing or advertising they do is in support of a specific and tangible goal. For example, it might be worth spending money to generate profitable traffic or to reach a critical mass of customers in a “tipping point” business, but writing checks to achieve the amorphous goal of “awareness” is a sure-fire way to lose money with no discernible benefit.

2 – Don’t confuse years of experience with ability to execute

One of the most difficult parts of being an entrepreneur is hiring the right team. After all, one misstep in a key area could not only cost you money, but could also set the company’s growth plans back. For example, hiring a director of engineering who lacks the right skills or acumen to deliver on your vision could delay the release of your products, which could have devastating consequences for a new company trying to succeed in a crowded marketplace.

Many entrepreneurs overspend on seasoned executives so that they can make sure that their mission-critical work is done quickly and efficiently, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I worked with a start-up mobile applications company that hired a seasoned business-development person to generate deals with major advertisers. They paid him an annual salary of more than $200,000, but never saw any results. In addition to his high pay, he was racking up exorbitant travel costs, including expensive hotel rooms and dinners. It was pretty clear that he was enjoying the lifestyle, flexible hours and good salary without the pressure of incentives to deliver results. In this case, hiring a scrappy, less-experienced candidate with bonus or stock-based compensation would have been a much better choice.

3 – Don’t lock yourself away from the world

Deciding on the right product strategy is a never-ending tightrope walk between sticking to your vision and building products that will generate short-term sales. After all, no one wants to build the wrong solution for the market, but at the same time you can’t spend your time “chasing the rainbow” looking for the next big trend. I have seen companies that are so busy responding to others’ points of view they lose focus on the core rationale for founding their business. But I have also seen companies that go to the opposite extreme, locking themselves away from the world for months on end to build the “perfect” product.

The best approach for start-up entrepreneurs is to try your best to walk the line: pursue a vision while at the same time taking time to really understand the problem you are trying to solve. Sit down with potential customers to hear their pain and really figure out what they’re looking for and take advantage of experts in your own community or industry by recruiting advisors who can help you determine your sales, product and marketing strategies. In many cases, they won’t even ask to be compensated! Also, you need to get out in the world to start refining your elevator pitch. Before you ever get in front of a VC, you’ll have to sell yourself to potential employees, landlords, strategic partners, banks and many others. Get used to it so you’re good and ready for the investor pitch.

4 – Don’t forget you are building a company, not a club

Part of being an entrepreneur is relying on your friends and personal contacts to help you get off the ground, but be wary of hiring or partnering with people who don’t add value to your business. It’s happened to me personally, experiencing the thrill of starting a business with a group of friends only to hit painful bumps in the road later as people show different levels of commitment or value. For some businesses, these conflicts can become debilitating.

While there are no tried and true rules for dealing with friends and family, there are a few things to be aware of. First, make sure you pick partners that have a passion and an expertise that can move your business forward. Second, make sure they are committed to leave their current jobs to join you full time. I’ve seen several companies suffer major conflicts when one partner can’t get himself to leave the comfort of the corporate world. Third, look for warning signs that might indicate your partner isn’t cut out for startup work. Does he panic every time something takes longer than it should? Does he demand an outlandish salary? Does he analyze every decision to death? Take care of partner mismatches as soon as possible! The pain of fixing the problem only gets worse when you bring in outside capital. There’s nothing more damaging to a relationship than having to side with an investor when she demands you fire your college roommate.

5 – Don’t be timid

The meek may one day inherit the earth, but the present belongs to those who are decisive and assertive. If you need help or advice don’t beat around the bush: just come out and ask. Plenty of people are willing to give guidance, but chances are that they’re not going to come to you without being asked, and you’ll never get anywhere unless you make a conscious decision every day to actively pursue what you need.

Don’t even know where to start? It’s easy – you just need to pick up the phone and start dialing. Looking for someone to help you write a column for your new women’s fashion site? Go out and buy every fashion magazine and start calling every name on the masthead to see if the editors or writers will spend a few minutes answering your questions. Most likely, they will. Looking for that first reference customer? Go to the industry trade shows and strike up conversations with people you meet on the floor. If you have your pitch down, you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help or get involved. It takes guts at every step to be an entrepreneur, and if you’re skittish about asking for advice and guidance today, chances are you’re not going to be very successful when you have to start asking professional investors for money.

Got Another Pitfall We Should Add to the List?

After reading that, do you think that there is another major pitfall that should be added to the list? Leave a comment.