Three Deadly Mistakes for a Business Start-Up

Homer Simpson going, "D 'OH"

By Mark Fleming, President, Academy of Business Training, Inc.

In my 40 years of business, I have seen many companies come and mostly go. The primary reasons for the high failure rate are lack of management experience and undercapitalization. In this article, I will discuss what I find to be the most common mistakes made due to a lack of management experience.


Three common management mistakes are almost always fatal: 1) poor choice of location, 2) poor spending habits, and 3) failure to seek advice and training.


1. Poor Choice of Location

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage, “What are the three most important considerations when opening a new business…location, location, location.” Truer words were never spoken, yet I repeatedly receive calls from entrepreneurs seeking advice on saving their business when the location is the primary problem.   

I have often seen entrepreneurs open in a location a national chain has abandoned. They chose the location because “it was already set up for my business, so I saved big on fixtures and finishes.”… that’s your reason for opening in that location? You thought you could make it in a place abandoned by a national chain? Your two-hundred-a-month advertising budget will bring people in when the national chain spends hundreds of millions a year and couldn’t make it there? Opening in a location abandoned by another business is rarely a good idea. 

Another location mistake is opening a specialty business in a middle-class to a poorer neighborhood. This choice usually means, “I wanted to open my business close to where I live.” Choosing a location because it is close to where you live with no consideration of whether or not people in the area want or need your product or service is always fatal.


2. Poor Spending Habits

Poor choices in spending come in many forms. One of the most common is unrealistic expectations of business volume. Entrepreneurs are optimistic, so they tend to overestimate their opening volume of business. One young man I worked with was certain he would make it big, so he opened a 2000-square-foot store. As it turned out, and it usually does, 1000 square feet would have been sufficient. Even though there were often customers in the store, the store always looked empty, which creates the impression the business is not doing well and potentially drives away customers. We solved the problem by partitioning off the rear half of the store, and then his business looked booming. It took several years for his business to grow to the point where the partition came down. The net result was he had to pay double what he should have been paying for rent, and this caused him to struggle for years.

Another mistake is buying everything new. Because most new businesses only last a year, plenty of fixtures are in almost new condition and available for ten cents on the dollar. Look around before you call a vendor to purchase new. 

You should always ask yourself if your purchase will make you money. I was contacted by a woman who had just opened a clothing resale shop and had cash flow problems. We reviewed her books, and I found numerous examples where she had spent money that would return nothing to the business. For example, she had paid $185.00 to have her logo on her checks. I asked her if she thought having her logo on the checks would generate business for her. On reflection, she realized the only thing the recipient of the check would be concerned about was if the check cleared! I asked her if the $185.00 would have come in useful now, and she admitted yes.


3) Failure to Seek Out Advice and Training

The last problem we will discuss is new business people’s failure to seek advice and training. Entrepreneurs are an independent bunch, doggedly determined to do things their way. What makes them want to own their own business is what makes them fail. Unless you are in some cutting-edge business, everything you will do has been done before. Why not learn from other people’s mistakes so you do not make them yourself? Join discussion boards or groups for entrepreneurs. Ask lots of questions; the most successful people enjoy helping newcomers. Seek out training in management, customer service, and anything related to the operation of your business.