My Three Biggest Mistakes in Running a Business

I was reading The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It – and while I can’t say I took away any life-changing epiphanies, I certainly got to ‘revisit’ all the mistakes I’ve made. Or a lot of them.

But it’s not clear what ‘small’ really is, anyhow. D&B considers small up to $200 million in revenue. Others consider it 10 people. Or you can think about size the way a study I read about 10 years ago correlated income with your schooling; it turned out that graduates’ income correlated not to their alma mater, but to the highest-ranked school to which they applied. Which means ambition trumps class, any day. I agree.

As for mistakes, here are the ugly things I saw in the mirror of a book that’s 15 years old. It’s a big mirror, which means a lot of us can see the same reflection.

  1. Doing it all. Call it what you want, but flaunting expertise, or assuming that no one else can do it as fast, or as well, is the fastest path to the psychic death spiral. It demoralizes staff, who quickly figure out that there’s no real need to bother, if the boss is going to do it over, anyhow. And it’s exhausting.
  2. Assuming work should be personal. It isn’t, and it can’t be.  Life is personal. Work is professional. Employees work where they are wanted, and valued. But when it’s your company, they’re not supposed to take it home at night. If one or two of them do, be prepared to 1) involve them more, and more meaningfully, or 2) don’t be surprised if they quit.
  3. Expertise is good, but systems are better. We developed our first roster of ‘best practices’ about 10 years ago, and keep redoing them, because systems, like life, don’t stay the same. In fact, this winter, we began another major overhaul – on everything from how to write a socially-aware press release, to how to get our bills out the door. We’re cleaning out the junk, and focusing on the 40 or so we really need, and use. The fundamental idea is that everyone should be replaceable. Even if we want them to stay, forever.

I’m still making mistakes, of course. Hopefully different ones.