Early in my career, I remember asking one of my mentors what mistakes I should avoid as a new entrepreneur. My young business was going strong and I was afraid to do anything to throw it off balance. If I knew then what I know now, I would have asked a very different question.
If we use them right, mistakes can be our biggest learning experiences. They are not something to avoid – they should be embraced as a part of the journey. Here are five mistakes every entrepreneur should make if they want to build a successful, long-lasting business.
1. Using money as a motivator
I started hauling junk for one reason: I needed a way to pay for college. When the business took off, I wanted to become a millionaire as fast as possible. But using money as my primary source of motivation backfired – big time.
I overlooked the importance of culture and hiring happy, passionate people. I didn't prioritize my relationships, both in and out of the office. I failed to take time for myself away from the business. As a result, the business, my marriage and my health suffered. It was rock bottom for me, but it was an experience I had to go through to learn what truly mattered.
My priorities have changed a lot since then. Now, I'm motivated by building something special that extraordinary people want to be a part of. I focus on relationships, personal development and self-fulfillment, and it's made all the difference.
2. Hiring the wrong people
In a startup, your team might be a little lean. It's easy to jump at any opportunity to bring people on board. My criteria for new hires used to be: can you lift at least 50 pounds? If the answer was yes, that was good enough for me.
As we grew, I had to tighten up on hiring. But five years in, I realized I was still making mistakes. I was hiring people based on experience, but I overlooked culture and personality fit. The environment in our office became so toxic that I started avoiding it altogether. I knew had to make a drastic change – I fired all 11 employees in one day and started from scratch.
I learned the hard way what can happen when you compromise on the people you bring into your organization. Now, we've adopted an "it's all about people" philosophy, and we only hire passionate people who are aligned with our values and our goals.
3. Trying to control everything
Entrepreneurs are notorious for being control freaks, especially when they're first starting out. I used to refuse to give up control of anything. Marketing, sales, operations – you name it. I helicoptered over it all.
I get it: your business is your baby – why shouldn't you be involved in every part of it? What I've learned though, is that's just your ego talking. If you've hired the right people, you should be able to trust them to do what they do best. Bonus? Letting go frees you up to focus on the bigger picture, for instance vision and strategy.
4. Trying to kill the competition
It's only natural for new entrepreneurs to want to disrupt their industry, wiping out competition. I used to have that mindset, too, until I realized my energy was better used elsewhere.
Six years into 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, my top employee quit – and started a competing junk-removal business. At first, I was crushed. Then, I became obsessed with shutting him down. I believed there was only enough success for one of us. Ironically, my desperation to put him out of business came at a cost to my own company: for the first time, our growth was at a standstill.
Now, I know there's more than enough success to go around. Everyone benefits when you share ideas, even with the competition.
5. Not trusting your gut
If you're starting your own business, chances are someone (or everyone) has told you it won't succeed. This happened to me when I decided to franchise 1-800-GOT-JUNK?; my mentors told me a junk removal business couldn't be franchised. I almost listened to them – but then I decided to listen to my gut instead.
Yes, the odds were against us: there were hundreds of mom-and-pop junk haulers who had been in business for years, and anyone with a truck was a potential competitor. But we had something no one else did: a vision and a passion to make an ordinary business exceptional.
We found a way to set ourselves apart by professionalizing a fragmented industry. Along the way, we proved how scalable the junk business can be. The next time someone says you can't do it, trust your gut and prove them wrong.
There's really only one mistake I do advise all aspiring entrepreneurs to avoid: not starting in the first place. The biggest cause of failed businesses is that people are too afraid of failure to try.