The big, ugly mistakes to avoid when starting a business

If starting a business were easy then easy surely everyone would be doing it, right? Correct. However, there is a big difference between starting a business and building a successful business that lasts. If you want to do the second of the two there are some big, ugly, no-go mistakes that you must avoid at all costs. Sadly, we’ve seen far too many young entrepreneurs fail simply because they committed these big business faux-pas, but if you steer well clear of them, you’ll at least be stacking the odds in your favour when looking to build your own successful business. And of course, Jijali’s online courses and mentorship will steer you clear of these mistakes.

#1 Don’t be in a rush

If you think that you’ll come up with a genius idea, make it happen in a week and then start cashing in the big bucks from the next week, then the reality is going to come and bite you very hard somewhere very painful. Business often takes time, and if you rush it you’re more likely to make mistakes. An infamous scene in the U.S startup comedy series, Silicon Valley sees one of the tech startup’s investors bellow at the entrepreneurs that the goal was to have ‘no revenue’. This is because in the tech startup scene, sometimes potential revenue is as good as – if not better than – actual earned revenue. Put another way, if you have done your homework right, and you’ve researched, built up and identified a market, then you’ve already done a lot of the hard work, but this can take time, so don’t be afraid to put the time in and be patient. You may still need to scrub up on some basic skills, and talk things through with a mentor, and that’s what Jijali is here for.

Check out the courses we’re offering right now that you can sign up for.

Often the largest rewards are reaped when the necessary time is put in, and really, this might be quite some time. The bigger the investment, the bigger the reward, as the saying goes; this doesn’t just ring true when it comes to financial investment, but also time. And you may have periods where things are looking bad and you’re even losing money, but sometimes this is just part of the game you have to play. Being an entrepreneur is nothing short of a rollercoaster, and the ups can come and go as quickly as the downs. The mentors that provide close guidance and advice as part of Jijali’s mentorship program know this only too well, and are ready to share their rich experiences with you so that you can also learn from them, without making the same mistakes they might have made.

#2 Cash in = cash out

OK, it may not always be quite as simple as cash in equals cash out, but the opposite certainly isn’t true. To make money, it’s often necessary to spend money, and more often than not we vastly underestimate the scale of investment that is necessary to start the business we want to. Take a cake business, for example. You may think that baking a cake is pretty cheap: a couple of eggs, a few hundred grams of flour, sugar and butter, and hey presto, a cake! You can double the cost of the raw materials, charge that to your customer, and you’ll be rolling in it.

Whilst the raw ingredients for the cake are decidedly cheap, it’s easy to neglect the other inputs necessary to produce the cake: the electricity to power the oven; the cleaning products and water to clean the cake tins between every bake; the rent on the premises where you do the baking; your time and labour; the salary for your assistant; the box to deliver the cake in, and the stickers with your company logo to adorn the box, not to mention paying the designer who designed logo, and transport fare to go and buy the ingredients to bake the cake...the list goes on. All of these costs add significantly to your business costs, and so when you redo your calculations to include those, you realise that almost all of your margin is gone.

Don’t forget to factor all of your costs in at the beginning, including those all-important startup costs (for example the cake, mixing bowls, and the oven), which you will need to shoulder before you even start generating any revenue. One of those (small) costs might just be a Jijali program! If you do your calculations well then you won’t have any nasty surprises once you’re in the middle of it.

#3 Don’t break the law

Of course, rarely do we intend to break the law, but if we’re not even aware of what the legal requirements are, then we may easily find ourselves on the wrong side of the law, and things can get pretty messy. When it comes to doing business in Kenya, there are a multitude of important legal frameworks that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to be aware of. Some of the more obvious ones include company registration and filing of taxes. However, when you look a little deeper you need to be aware of obligations for filing of VAT, obligations around withholding tax, and depending on what sort of products or services you’re offering you may need specific licenses or certificates to operate legally in a given part of the country. You need to read up on all of these before you get started so that you avoid falling into any traps you didn’t know lay ahead.

Sometimes talking to someone who has done the same sort of business as you can help to avoid making some of those same mistakes, but nothing beats talking to a professional, seeking advice, and doing your own research. That’s one of the things that Jijali’s mentors are here for, and the networking you can do with other Jijiali learners is invaluable.

#4 Don’t copy-paste a business

We all know the story: one person comes up with a great idea, someone sees they’re doing well, tries to do the same thing, and soon you have dozens of copycat businesses all hustling for the same customers, doing the same thing. There are so many problems with this. First, you may not have enough demand to keep up with supply. The first person to have the idea may have done incredibly well because there was a gap in the market, but maybe their business, and the next one or two to get there, filled that gap. By the time the fourth, fifth and sixth copycats get there, there is no longer a gap in the market to be filled, and their businesses flop, even if they did exactly the same as the first, successful business. On the other hand, you may have a case where you attempt to emulate the success of another business but – to put it bluntly – you don’t do it as well. Maybe they planned better, had a better product, or got a great location, and if you don’t have the same luck or skill, your business might fall at the first hurdle, even though the idea was just as good.

It's always important to look at the competitive landscape around you and see what others are doing, but don’t just try and copy a successful business and assume your fate will be the same as theirs.

#5 Don’t forget to Hansel and Gretel yourself

Surely we all know the story of Hansel and Gretel. The only way that they managed to escape an almost certain death was leaving a trail behind them, of white pebbles or breadcrumbs. As a young entrepreneur, you must always leave your own trail of breadcrumbs. Every transaction, every sale, every purchase, needs to be recorded, and ideally, you need to keep a paper trail, through receipts, petty cash slips, or invoices. This links to point #3 about not breaking the law. Sometimes these records can come in very handy to make sure that you’re being compliant, but they’re also of the utmost importance in keeping a credible business, especially once you start to grow. If you can’t prove that a purchase or a sale was made, it might as well not have happened. A basic business course will teach you some of these skills if you don’t have them, so check out Jijali’s courses now to find out more.

These five points are common mistakes that we at Jijali have seen young entrepreneurs make, but they’re certainly not the only ones. Some mistakes are part of the learning process, and may not do much harm along the way. However, if you start by avoiding these five big ugly mistakes from the get-go, then the small mistakes won’t matter so much and you can still continue on your path to building a successful business.