Fail List (part 3): Just Plain Business (Start-Up Edition)

Sign-Error-iconAnother part in the fail list saga is simple business. I am not talking about running a successful business – although I can mention a lot of fails in that from personal experiences (so if you have a ‘success list’ for me, don’t forget to send it to me) – but plain ‘you-and-I-work-every-day’ kind of business. And I know that one list of six items is by far not covering everything. See it as a part 1 of many more to come in the future.

Fail #1: Know how to write a cover letter

I tend to ignore sent in resume’s that don’t come with a cover letter, or not even with an attached message in an email. I think it is one of two things; people don’t care about making a good impression anymore, or secondly; they just don’t care. The cover letter is simply a thing of respect; you understand that you are asking someone in some level of power for a job, treat him or her that way. Even if someone might send me the perfect resume, I will not even open it if it doesn’t come with a message.

Not only is that form of respect something that is important, it is also a good way of checking how someone communicates, if that person takes care of his or her own writing and whatever he or she produces. Having a job is an important thing for both employer and employee. Especially in a small company where money is not lying around; it cuts deep in a employers wallet to have someone on staff. Especially with the first few employees, the employer is taking a good pay-cut in having someone work for him or her. And the employer would like to be respected for that.

But also for the employer his- or herself; if they are sending out a resume that somehow presents them with the best of their abilities; why not present it in that way? A Ferrari or Lamborghini is also not sold as if it is a Kia.

So, in other words, a good cover letter plays a very important role in an interview process. Also, since so little amount of other people are doing that right, it is easy to stand out in a crowd, even if your resume itself is not great (yet).

Fail #2: Interview with an attitude

Although it might not sound like it, but this one is actually directed at the employer. Sure, a job-seeker comes in, has an attitude during the interview; you kick him or her out. Simple. You don’t have to deal with that as an employer. But, I see it too often that a company shows the attitude. Enjoying their feeling of power over someone’s life right there and then. An employer knows that someone needs a job, needs the experience and needs the money. The employer can deliver, but now, has to see what candidate bows the deepest… no way!

Especially when you are still a small company, keep in mind, you have to prove yourself in the world too. A bit of experienced job-seeker might understand that a small company also carries a huge risk; it might not be in business forever, or even for a few years. So, lose the attitude. If you do grow out to be a big corporation one day, keep in mind you also owe it in a great part to your first and loyal employees. Respect them too. Especially because you might not have a backup for this person once they are fed up with your attitude. You want these people working with you… so keep in mind, you need the good ones as much as they need you. There is no need for any kind of attitude here.

So, lose the ego… if you did not need the job applicant, you would not have him or her coming in for an interview. You both need each other, and pay respect to each other’s roles in your future business.

Fail #3: Someone needs to sell

This one has cost us our company in the late nineties, and had us paying off our debts for over 10 years simply because we did not want to go bankrupt. Oh, we knew everything around running an IT and media production company. Even when it was during the internet bubble, we actually had a very strong team of 9. Two content creators and editors, two designers, 3 web developers, and one sales person. Well, that sales person was about coming on board, but was not on board yet. In the end, we had everything going on; and building rich internet applications in the late nineties, while the whole concept became mainstream in the early 2000’s was a good and interesting business.

But, you can build the most wonderful things; if you can’t sell it, it is not worth anything. Isn’t it simple economics? If no one wants to pay money for it, the worth is absolutely nothing? Well, how can someone wants to pay money for something if people do not even know about it.

And here was the kicker; it is not the quality of your product that counts. We had an amazing product, well reviewed and well received. But no sales… because… well… no one was selling. If you have a mediocre product that simply does what it needs to do, but it is sold properly, you can always increase the quality. But it needs to sell first to make you earn the money that can afford your quality upgrades.

This might sound like business 101, and it is. But just like me, a lot of self-starters experience these things too late. And that is a costly mistake.

So, Don’t mind the initial quality, or just live on building demo’s of what you are going to produce; but get someone out there selling it…. and fast!

Fail #4: What you don’t see might be the most important

I deal a lot with IT companies, and also a lot of smaller companies. And due to pure experience with working with ISP’s, major internationals, but also with small start-ups there is one thing in common; it is hard to sell something that you cannot prove, or cannot show until it is too late.

Internet security, for example, is such one. Getting everyone to confirm to an online policy, having good firewalls at work, and a way of handling anti-virus software and anti-malware software running from a server to all the workstations is a costly thing; but oh so needed. Or the upgrade to a new server, a new UPS, or even the redesign of a complete network might run into the high 5, maybe even 6 digit numbers. But not having it when it is oh so needed is a lot more costly. It is like buying some sort of armor. Yes, it is a pain to wear it all the time, but won’t you be a happy camper when you even need it once and it saves your life. Remember all the rambling about me and my car, while people around me start asking when I am going to replace it? Simple, it saved my life two times simply by taking care of it and spending some extra money on it. Sure, it costs me more to keep it up, but it has proven itself.

For companies it is good to have them being advised on these kind of things, and let someone who really understands what they are doing take care of it. Yes, it will be costly, and yes, if this person does its job well you actually will never notice a thing. That is the weird part and why a lot of employers are hesitant in investing; if they do the best of their work securing and doing their job – you will never notice the difference.

So, some things in your business need to keep running. Invest in this, even if investing in it means you do not see improvement, but simply might prevent you from a costly failure.

Fail #5: Internet is so very important

No, it is not. If you build online products, of course internet is important. If you sell stuff online, it is absolutely important. But most companies are being told to invest thousands and thousands of dollars because they hear that they need to be online.

Is it important to be available online? Sure it is. I would always recommend building a website or having someone build it for you. Heck, it is still what I make a bit of money with every time. But it is important to know that it is an absolute fabrication of web builders that you need the most sophisticated website that runs you into the $5k plus. I would advice any company who does not have a major online business going on for themselves; to set up an investment of a max of $2.5k to invest in a website.

When my car window was shattered yesterday because of a lightning strike only feet away, I needed to have it replaced. Checking online I was not looking at who had the best sites. Not even who had the best price. There were sites of companies who did this work, and clearly had their information, what they would do, what they would charge. That is all I needed. If there were any kind of badges like AAA connected to it, or even BBB, it only made me happier.

You don’t always need a major design plan, or a 10 page site. Don’t start talking about your history, how grandfather had started the business (unless this brings some extra value to the table for the customer). Just say what you do, how you do it, and how to contact you in a couple of words. That will suffice for most small start-ups.

It is not about what you want to tell, it is what for potential customers is important to know before they decide to pick you as their service or product provider.

Knowing this, if you dare to let go of the idea you want to be in control of every bit of design and lettering; you can be perfectly well online under a $1k for start-up, and not more than about $250 a year if you have someone who charges you a lot. You don’t need a server, don’t fall for that.

But do make sure, once you are online, that you hook up to sites that actually list companies and services like your own. Have someone maintain your Facebook page if you don’t do it yourself, or a twitter account. Don’t worry about it too much, but it simply puts your name out there in some way, shape or form.

So, yes, of course being online with your business is important, but don’t fall for the ‘you need to be the best’ trick that IT companies sell you. If you are not relying on the internet for providing products or services, you can be online, well done, even with a tight budget.  Have someone you trust take care of this for you, and you’ll be fine.

Fail #6: Design is just mark-up.

Design is everything! Especially when you are a simple start-up, design is the thing that can make you look like an established company. There is a reason why the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ exists; because people are easily influenced by appearance. Be it that you dress up in a nice suit and tie during your interview, even if you do not have a dime to spend, the same thing goes for a start up company that has not yet anything to show for it. Looks can be deceiving; use that to your advantage.

I personally noticed it when starting up out photography studio. While being part of many social networking sites featuring models and photographers, it was hard to stand out or get bookings, even though the work we produced often had been runner up or winner of photo contests and highly rated in reviews. It was when we simply decided to go for a very simplistic but corporate and classy design that we suddenly got one model registration after another, with one resume being sent in after the other from people wanting to work with us. And the only difference; the design.

Design also helps you establish your identity. That is not only by its looks, but by the feeling people have seeing your design. If you want to appear local because you are a local business; keep the design simple, not expensive looking. Somehow, people have the ideas that local mom and pop stores are literally that; no expensive feeling, but people trying to make money providing services and goods to the community. And designs can set the tone for that. You do not always want to most beautiful, or the most artistic design. You need a design that gets you into your clients’ doors, that does half of the talking.

Design doesn’t mean it has to be amazing; sometimes the best designs are the ones that are tuned towards the audience.

So, design establishes your identity. Change your design too often, and people will doubt your company’s identity. Don’t spend any time on your design; it will reflect like that on your company in your potential clients’ minds.


These were of course just a handful of fails but they are ones I often see. In the future I will write one about corporations too, and most likely, both the start-up and corporate edition will receive sequels to spare.


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