I first learned about excellence from my mother. A strong woman with unrelenting values, she raised me to show pride in my work by never accepting mediocrity. Initially focusing on perfection, I focused on creating work which was flawless and free from error. I soon learned that this approach was both unrealistic and unhealthy. Most importantly, it did not yield results. By focusing on excellence instead of perfection, I remained committed to my work and transformed my challenges into opportunities for learning. I used this model to reach all of my academic and professional goals including my current position as a Director for a large social service agency in New Jersey.
Starting a business isn’t easy. I’ve done it three times now – twice as a sole proprietor, and once as a founding member of the ProjectConnections team. The process is fraught with tension, loaded with exciting opportunities, and rife with chances to make mistakes. Thank goodness! How else would we ever learn what works and what doesn’t?
I can’t claim these are the only three mistakes I’ve made in business. (I’ve made more than that since my first cup of coffee this morning!) But these are the three biggest mistakes I think I’ve made in any of those business start-ups. How many of them are you guilty of?
Mistake #1: Analysis Paralysis. I’m good at research. Really, really good. I actually research things for fun. That makes research a very safe place to run away to when I’m not quite sure what to do next. You get conflicting opinions, really smart people are telling you to make a variety of different choices, and you aren’t quite sure which one feels right. Research it!
Sometimes, we feel so insecure in our own judgment and experience that we spend weeks or even months longer than we should on “getting a little more market intelligence” or whatever we want to call our stalling. It’s the start-up equivalent of forming a committee to investigate options. Used properly, research is absolutely essential to success. Used excessively it will yield even more confusion and insecurity, not to mention lost opportunities because your competitors were out there doing things you were just reading about.
Lesson: When your research stops turning up new insights and information, stop! Adding one more voice to the “me too” stack isn’t going to tell you how you feel about the information you’ve uncovered. You won’t be able to take successful steps forward until you understand that critical piece of information, and you won’t find it in anyone else’s books or blogs. You’ll only find it by being honest with yourself about what you’ve uncovered.
Mistake #2: Not Speaking Up. In my adventures in the business world, I’ve frequently enjoyed the luxury of being in a room full of really smart people. I know just how fortunate this makes me, and I revel in it. But there’s a danger as well. When you’re in a room with that many smart people on a regular basis, it’s easy to be a little intimidated by them. And from there, it’s a small step to suppress your own misgivings when everyone else seems so sure of themselves. There’s a powerful temptation to “go along,” and by doing so to seem wise and well informed. This is understandable.
It is also a mistake. Stifling that little voice, or that feeling in my gut, has cost me precious time, money, effort, and opportunities. No one can see everything, so if one person is holding back, the group is missing valuable information – even if the person holding back is you.
Lesson: That little voice in your ear, or that feeling in your gut, knows more than you give it credit for. I’ve learned to listen and to speak up when it’s bugging me. I’m not always right, of course. Sometimes I just need to hear others address my concerns, and the feeling goes away. But it pays to speak up, even when you don’t have the final say.
Mistake #3: Not Listening. This is the flip side of #2, and it’s an easy and dangerous trap. I usually find myself falling into this mode when I’ve finished a few rounds of “I told you so” in my head. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make proud. Stopping to really listen – to my CEO, my colleagues, my customers, my competitor’s customers – has opened doors that would have remained forever closed if I’d focused on speaking (or worse, on selling).
Lesson: Listen when people talk to you. Don’t spend the time running a script in your head of what you’re going to say in response – you’re throwing away valuable input and connections with others when you shut off like that. Open up, sit back, and really listen to what’s being said. Listen like your business depends on it. It probably does. And note that this is probably a good step to take both before and after speaking your mind.
You may have noticed that all three of these items – communication, intuition, connection – all relate to the so-called “soft skills” (they aren’t necessarily) that women are supposedly so good at (we aren’t necessarily). But as dicey as generalizations can be, I think women who end up in entrepreneurial spaces are often more driven and perfectionistic – and thus more inclined to these particular flaws. Or maybe these flaws are just more visible and damaging in the entrepreneurial space. Either way, they’re mistakes worth looking out for. I continually remind myself to listen to others, speak up about my doubts, and above all to do something! No one was ever successful in business by doing nothing at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
DeAnna Burghart is content editor at ProjectConnections.com. Prior to joining the founding team in 1999, she was a successful software training consultant, and helped launch a web design and SEO firm.