As a young entrepreneur, one of the major challenges of scaling a startup is finding the time to handle all of the important tasks and responsibilities you face. Unfortunately, a lot of entrepreneurs waste their time on unimportant distractions and don’t have enough time at the end of the day to take care of the things that really matter.
Startups, Failure, and the Pursuit of Success
If you study the trends and statistics regarding startups and small businesses over the years, success and failure rates have remained remarkably consistent. Regardless of the state of the economy and other factors, roughly 20 percent of startups fail within the first year of operation. Only half of all startups make it past the five-year mark, while less than one-third survive long enough to celebrate a 10-year anniversary.
Over the years, entrepreneurs, investors, and astute business owners have taken the time to delineate some of the major causes of startup failure. Common culprits include a lack of focus, poor motivation, an unwillingness to take advice from others, a lack of guidance, a lack of business knowledge, and cash flow problems.
But when you look at failure from the opposite angle – i.e. success – there is one common thread. Almost without exception, every successful business is highly focused. And the more you study and realize this fact, the more it becomes apparent that unsuccessful startups focus their time and energy on the wrong things. They let distractions get the best of them, which results in poor allocation of time, effort, and money.
5 Distractions That Often Precede Failure
Every startup deals with distractions. The key is to identify these distractions and eliminate them before they become debilitating problems that limit growth and erode the integrity of your businesses from the inside out.
Interestingly, the distractions that lead startups astray tend to be pretty common across the board. It doesn’t matter if you’re in tech, healthcare, retail, ecommerce, or some other industry, the following distractions are costly and frequently precede failure:
- Needy Clients
In the very early days, startups take what they can get. There’s no such thing as turning customers away. But every company eventually reaches a point where they need to decide which customers are worth their time and which ones aren’t. This means identifying needy clients and either saying goodbye or figuring out a way to commit less time and fewer resources to them.
Serviced-based businesses are a good example. In these companies, one of the biggest pain points involves appointments and scheduling. If you aren’t careful, issues in this area can totally derail your focus. You need to find a hands-off solution.
“The less effort you need to spend reminding your clients about their upcoming appointments, the more time you can spend focusing on your clients during their appointments,” explains Arash Asli of Yocale, a leading appointment scheduling software.
“Whether your business is a nail salon, chiropractor’s office or automobile mechanic, sending appointment reminders to your clients will free-up time for you and your clients so you can focus on customer relations and your money making responsibilities.”
It makes no sense to continue pouring resources into low-returning customers. Instead, you should put your focus on the clients who respect your time and shows signs of sticking around for the long haul.
- Pursuing Learning Over Application
If you study successful entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs, you’ll notice that almost every single one commits time each week (and usually each day) to reading. They understand the value in learning and know there are lessons to be gleaned from other successful companies.
The problem occurs when you spend all of your time learning and no time applying. This leads to book smarts with no practical skills.
This is a concept that entrepreneur and startup consultant Markita Samuel has learned over her career and continues to deal with today.
“Let me start by saying that I’m the biggest fan of learning. Two degrees, weekly audio books, magazines, and podcasts have turned me into a walking encyclopedia, but even I have to know when to call it and get to work,” Samuel says.
“We’re generally only capable of being either in a ‘thinking’ mindset or a ‘doing’ mindset, so before you purchase your next course or attend that next webinar, make sure you apply what you’ve been learning and give yourself enough time to make traction.”
If you read a book from a successful entrepreneur and it’s all about how to make your business leaner, don’t just close the book and pick up the next one.
Actually apply some of the lean principles you learned and work on them for a few months. Learning without application is useless. In fact, it’s actually a distraction. The sooner you realize this, the better off you’ll be.
- Create the Perfect Website and Logo
There are certain parts of building a business that are fun and other parts that are meticulous, boring, and draining. In the early days of your startup, it’s easy to focus on the fun aspects, while putting the boring parts off until later.
The problem is that the fun parts tend to be somewhat trivial, while the boring parts are often critically important. (This isn’t always the case, but the principle is generally proven right.)
Logo and web design is the perfect example of this. Most entrepreneurs have a creative gene in them and enjoy the process of working with a designer to develop creative elements for their brand. There’s nothing wrong with this.
However, it becomes problematic when all of your time is going into designing a logo, finding the perfect website color scheme, and getting marketing materials jut right.
Logo and web design matter, but they aren’t going to make or break your startup. Do you know what will? Things like product development, sales, and customer service. If you’re spending all of your time on logo design and putting forth no effort in these areas, then you’re clearly distracted and need to shift your perspective.
- Worrying About Issues Before They Arise
As an entrepreneur, it’s impossible not to have one eye looking towards the future. In fact, it’s smart to be thinking a couple steps ahead so you can put yourself in a position to be successful. But if you’re spending all of your time worrying about issues before they arise, you have your priorities in the wrong place.
Being distracted by the possibility of things that could happen down the road is something that entrepreneur Stella Garber sees a lot. As she explains, “Instead of focusing on creating substantial value for customers, they focus on future problems contingent on their success.”
Garber uses the example of a first-time entrepreneur who came to her asking for advice about revenue sharing agreements among business partners. When she pressed him for details, she discovered that the company wasn’t actually generating any revenue at the moment.
They didn’t even have a product! They were so distracted by something that may become an issue in a year or two that they weren’t able to focus on the things that actually mattered in the present.
- Unnecessary Meetings
Meetings, meetings, and more meetings. If there’s one thing startups like, it’s meetings. There are brainstorming meetings, sales meetings, investor meetings, and even meetings to plan meetings. And while there are some valuable meetings, the majority do little more than distract your team from doing the things they need to be doing.
If you’re honest with yourself, you call meetings because they’re comforting – not because they’re valuable. There’s something nice about having everyone in the same room and verbalizing ideas.
But the reality is that every minute your startup team is in the conference room is another minute that they’re distracted from fulfilling their duties (i.e. sales, marketing, or product development). Try figuring out your calendar for greater productivity.
Focus on the Tasks and Responsibilities That Matter
Startups and their founders often get caught up by the notion that they need to act a certain way. They’ve spent time studying successful organizations – typically of the IBM, Google, or Apple variety – and seem to think that they must emulate them in order to be successful. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work.
As a startup, you have to learn how to tune out the noise and zero in on what really matters to your company at your current stage of growth. Scaling prematurely or trying to be a brand you aren’t is dangerous and costly.
The failure rate for startups is high, but let these statistics focus you – not deter you. Instead of making you feel inadequate and hopeless, these abysmal numbers should help you understand that there’s more to success than trying to raise capital and scale as quickly as possible.
What you really need to do is focus on the things that matter and block out the distractions. If you can do this, you’ll have far greater results than you could ever imagine.
This post was originally written by Peter Daisyme on Startup Grind, the global entrepreneurship community. Startup Grind is a Silicon Valley-based organization that educates and mentors entrepreneurs through monthly business events and speaking series in cities across the globe