Are past mistakes holding your business back?

By: Fiona Humberstone

Date: 9 January 2012

I have a theory that each of us makes at least one big mistake when they start their businesses. The trick is to not let that mistake overshadow your entire business but learn from your mistakes and move on.

I've spoken to too many business owners recently who have spent scary amounts of money on ineffective websites or logos only to be too afraid to create something that is going to work because they've "had their fingers burnt" in the past and are worried about the same happening again.

Let me tell you about my fingers burning story.

When I started my business in 2005 I did my own books because I was advised that I should. I was told not to waste money on a book keeper, that I needed to know what was going on in my business and that it was easy. Well it might be for some, but it crippled me. I do not have a logical mind and it absolutely knocked me sideways. In fact, I got into such a mess that by October (four months into my business) my accountant advised me to get some professional help. To be fair, he did suggest that I get myself a book keeper who would be cheaper, but for some reason I persevered with him. I paid an accountant £80 an hour to sort out four months of bad book keeping.

£4,500 later (I seem to remember it was £4,500 + VAT?), as I handed over the last cheque he told me it "probably would have been cheaper to have just started again". Clearly this was just what I needed to hear, money well spent.

I couldn't let my mistake hold me back

I had made a huge mistake, and I needed to take responsibility for it. A good book keeper probably would have charged me a fraction of what this accountant did and I'd certainly had my fingers very badly burnt.

But did this mean I would never use an accountant again? Absolutely not! Accountancy and book keeping isn't strength of mine and I knew I needed to use a professional to help me in my business. If I'd buried my head in the sand and sworn never to use an accountant again I probably wouldn't have a business left. I have always used a book keeper to do the detail in my business and I review the monthly (as well as daily and weekly) figures but I don't ever put myself through the torturous process of doing the books because I know it's not helpful.

Are you letting a similar mistake hold you back?

Fortunately I've never met anyone who has spent quite such an eye-watering amount of money on 4 months' worth of trading history books. But I do meet business owners time and again who realise they are losing opportunities through an ineffective website. They spend days and hours debating what they might do if they had the chance to change their website but they feel paralysed to do anything about it because they've already spent so much on something that clearly doesn't work.

Hanging on to something ineffective for the sake of "getting value out of your mistake" just doesn't make sense. For many of us, our websites are our shop windows: they have to be right. And if that means facing up to the fact you've made a mistake, perhaps that's what needs to happen for the sake of growing your business?

If past mistakes are holding your business back, ask yourself: What can I learn from this and how can I move on?

Fiona Humberstone, Managing Director of Flourish studios

Read more of Fiona's advice and thoughts about running a small business on her blog site.

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