Top Mistakes That Small Businesses Face When Starting Out

Written on June 16, 2021

1. Not Having a Clear Purpose

Chances are that by now, you’ve seen this famous video by Simon Sinek (and if you haven’t, now’s a perfect time to watch it!). 


His presentation concludes that customers don’t buy what you do, rather they buy why you do it. Sinek argues that this approach has contributed to the success of some of the largest and most influential companies in the world – such as Apple. They produce technology products just like many other companies, so what makes them different? People buy into what Apple believes and what they stand for:

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” 

Founders and entrepreneurs are driven by different goals and objectives. Some focus intensely on how to make a profit right from the beginning. Others have a vision for how their product or service can make an impact on society. Regardless of what that goal or objective is, try to take a few steps back and define why your business exists and why you do what you do. Once you define your company’s “why” statement, that can help inform other messaging frameworks around your mission, vision, and value prop.


2. Defining Your Audience and Developing Personas

When first developing a business idea, many business owners forget to identify who their new product or service will stand to benefit. They might have a general idea of the industries they serve or the type of customer they expect to sell to, but they avoid performing a thorough buyer or user persona exercise to truly understand their audience’s habits and perspectives.

The first thing you should do is identify all the primary and secondary stakeholders who could potentially be involved in either purchasing your product/service or using it. For example, a technology solution provider may need to engage with C-suite executives across several departments to sign the contract, but they may also need to engage with several mid-manager to director roles who will act as the end users of the solution. 

Ask yourself:

  • Who needs to be consulted during the buying process?
  • Who is the primary stakeholder in making the decision to purchase our product/service?
  • Who will be using this product/service on a regular basis?

Once you’ve defined the personas, you should take the time to fill out profiles for each of the personas outlining the following:

  • Their typical demographic (ie age, gender, class)
  • What they care about both in their personal and professional lives
  • What they struggle with / common challenges
  • Where they spend their time (ie which social media platforms, other media, hobbies and interests)

Each person has different goals and priorities, and once you’ve defined that then you can finetune your messaging and value prop accordingly to reflect that. 


3. Focusing too much on the solution and not the problem


Many marketers and sales people fall into the trap of focusing too much on the product/service itself in their messaging.

“Our solution has revolutionary x, y, and z features.”

“Our service is award-winning and best-in-class.”

“Our product is the leading platform for _____.”

While it is important to inform customers about how your product/service works and why it’s better than competitors, customers will generally tune this messaging out and view it as being too “sales-y.” 

As an example, some people might perform a google search for “best marketing automation platform” or “leading marketing consulting agency.” But more often than not, the person will likely search for something like “how to improve my marketing strategy.”

Propping up your business on a pedestal does not resonate with customers. Instead, they’re asking the following questions:

  • I’m really struggling, how can I overcome this challenge?
  • What do I need to succeed in my job?
  • What can I do to make certain aspects of my life easier and more streamlined?
  • What’s a better way to do what I’m currently doing, but get better and faster results?

Customers are more focused on their problems, and might not necessarily be aware of all the solutions and services available that can help them address those problems. When working on your messaging and content strategy—always lead with the problem.

  • State the problem and how it’s affecting peers/companies similar to the audience
  • Explain why the problem matters, and what the risk is if the problem is not addressed
  • Explain how how the problem can be addressed with your solution/service


4. Not testing

After doing your research in defining your audience and how your business can bring value to that audience, it’s important to test your messaging out in the field in order to gather data and feedback. 

“In my past experience, I’ve seen x, y, and z work effectively for the goal we’re trying to achieve.”

“I think this messaging will really resonate with our audience.”

“My gut tells me that this approach won’t work.”

Any of these statements sound familiar? Early on, it’s easy to get caught up in assumptions and feelings—especially if you’re collaborating with multiple stakeholders who have strong opinions on how your business should go to market. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a perspective to the table, but you and your team should seek to back up those perspectives with data. A better approach would be:

“I think this messaging will really resonate with our audience. We should test it, and here are a few success metrics we can track to confirm whether or not the messaging is driving engagement and conversions.”

Whenever possible, incorporate A/B or multivariate testing into your strategy to objectively determine what works. There are several free tools to help you A/B test if you’re just starting out, such as MailChimp for email marketing or Google Optimize for websites. 

Avoiding the Common Pitfalls

There are plenty of moving parts when you first start a business, but you can get ahead of critical pain points down the line by investing your time in addressing these areas upfront. Proactively define your business’s “why” statement, define your audience, focus on the problems you’re solving, and don’t forget to test!



Need more help with brand strategy? Reach out to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our team, and we’ll help guide you in the right direction.