10 Business Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Out

I have a confession. Are you ready?

I’m not perfect.

Whoa, I know you must be shocked. Ha! That’s right—I’ve made my share of mistakes since kicking off my small business 10 years ago. Just like the rest of us. And, I’m sure I’ll continue to make a few more. After all, that’s part of learning process, right?

The good news is I’ve taken time to learn from experience and grow. Here are a few of the biggest slip-ups I’ve made. It turns, out they’re pretty common. Are you making these mistakes right now?

1. Not following a schedule.

I used to think that one of the perks of being a freelance writer was working whenever I wanted. Sure, this can happen. But, I actually work best on a schedule and not in an ad hoc way.In the early years of my business, I worked odd hours at coffee shops, on my couch, and even in bed. This made my life hectic and confusing. Since then, I’ve discovered that I’m most focused in an office (with the door shut) and during regular business hours.

2. Trying to do taxes on my own.

I’m not an accountant. Numbers are far from my thing. A few years ago, I tried to save some money by tackling taxes on my own. Mistake. Not only did I end up missing deductions, but I also got a follow-up letter from the IRS.It wasn’t an audit, but I did end up hiring a CPA to deal with it—which then cost me money. In retrospect, I should have gone to an accountant at the get-go, learned about deductions I can take, and avoided a ton of stress. Today, I work with an accountant on a quarterly basis to learn about new tax laws and get advice for saving money.

3. Underpricing my work.

When I first started out, I didn’t know my worth. And I wasn’t very confident. As a result, I underpriced my writing. It was difficult for me to live on such a low salary and it prevented me from getting new business.The psychology behind pricing is interesting. When something is free or very cheap, what do you think of it? Probably not much. After all, you get what you pay for. Pricing my work at fair market value actually helped me get more work. Clients want to pay more (or at least a fair price) for a higher quality output.

4. Not going “all in” earlier.

It took me nearly a decade to go full-time with my business. I was hesitant—too hesitant. What if it failed? What if I couldn’t make ends meet? How would I get healthcare?The truth was, I should have pulled the trigger much earlier. In many ways, it actually hurt my business. I had a very effective side gig going, but clients wanted my work full-time. I had to turn them down because I didn’t have the capacity to do the work part-time. As a result, they went elsewhere. In retrospect, I had enough work to go full-time earlier.

5. Failing to put money into marketing.

I’m actually in the marketing industry, so this is a bit ironic. But, I’ve been too busy executing campaigns for my clients that I’ve neglected my own marketing.This quarter and through 2020, digital marketing is a priority for me. I plan to spend time, money, and energy into blog writing, paid search, SEO, and emailing campaigns. I know marketing works wonders and is well worth the cost. Don’t neglect this in your business.

6. Ignoring the competition.

There’s been a recent trend in the use of “content farms.” These are companies that sell content to boost SEO. They hire junior-level writers from the U.S. or even abroad to write to large quantities of copy at an incredibly low pay rate. The result is content written for search engines, but not for customers. In other words, it’s not very good.But the content is cheap, and for businesses, it’s tempting. As a freelance writer, content farms are my biggest competitor. As a result, I’m spending time now figuring out how to differentiate my services from their mass-scale, cheap content. I wish I had done this earlier. Instead of back-peddling, I could have information on-hand to educate marketers on the benefits of working with a true, professional writer.

7. Forgetting about IT.

When I worked full-time at a big company, the IT department blocked social media and other “fun” websites during business hours. At the time, I hated this. Didn’t they trust me to focus?Now, I get it. While struggling with writer’s block, I’ve been tempted to check my newsfeed, read CNN, and do a little online shopping. Hey, I’m human. To help, I downloaded a Chrome app called Block Site that prevents me from accessing social media sites during my prime writing hours.As a small business owner, don’t forget about IT. They keep you focused and help keep your digital assets safe. Put some time and effort into both.

8. Not getting out to network.

I’ve signed up for so many networking events and then canceled last minute…especially recently because I’m a tired, new mom. It’s too bad because whenever I go, I always end up meeting a new client, a mentor, or just a new friend.Prioritize networking on a monthly basis. It’s good for your business—and it’s good for your mental wellbeing.

9. Not getting business insurance.

What could happen? No one would ever sue me. It turns out, a lot could happen. Someone could accuse me of slander, inaccurate advice, misrepresentation, or negligence. And then, I’d have to deal with the legal fees involved.Don’t forget to protect yourself and your small business by getting the right insurance. You never know what could happen, and protection pays off.

10. Sticking to conventional ideas.

Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to expand my product. Right now I offer marketing content writing. For the most part, it’s what clients need from me.But, I haven’t taken time to think creatively about what else I could offer. What about an online class on writing? An Amazon ebook? An in-person class? These are just early ideas, but I think it’s important to continually brainstorm new ideas and expand what I offer to meet market demand.As you can see, I’ve made a few mistakes in my day. I’m sure I’ll make a few more, too. But here’s the key:“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts.” – Nikki Giovanni, American poet

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Emily Thompson

I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.