Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a ‘To-Don’t’ List

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Anyone can make a to-do list. The smart entrepreneur will make — and follow — a list of things you should never do.


5 min read

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Too many entrepreneurs rush headlong into the business world armed with a to-do list and a host of expectations. What they lack is a companion “to-don’t” list to guide their decisions. In other words, they know where they want to go, but they haven’t considered how to circumvent expected or potential pitfalls throughout the journey.

Instead of rushing forward, protect yourself. Having goals is essential, but so is knowing how to sidestep mistakes. Plus, it enables you to stay on track and meet your objectives faster.

Although your list of things you should avoid at all costs will no doubt include specific items pertinent to your industry, a few items are relevant across the board and can set a strong foundation for your list. Start your “to-don’t” manifesto with the following suggestions, then expand as needed.

1. Don’t expect marketers to get you your first customers.

Think that your initial buyers will come courtesy of a marketing campaign? You need to face reality and engage in what Jon Brody, co-founder and CEO at growth technology company Ladder, called “hand-to-hand combat” in an article for Business.

According to Brody, you must unearth your inaugural purchasers. “Track them down and talk to them in person,” he recommends, calling this “the right approach for building an initial customer base off of nothing.” Research outlined in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology supports his claim, suggesting that face-to-face discussions are 34 times more successful than email blasts.

Related: How Do You Find Your First Customers?

2. Don’t believe raising money is the be-all, end-all.

Money’s important, but it’s not an elixir for all entrepreneurial pains. All the dollars in the world won’t save a lousy business plan that lacks the right mix of foundational elements. Before assuming that you need more investment bucks in the bank to rev up your growth or boost profits, reassess your strategies.

For instance, many people ask for investments before honestly evaluating whether their product is worthy. Maybe your concept sounds amazing on paper but doesn’t solve an actual problem. Alternatively, it might create additional issues you haven’t thought out. While the majority of startups may be doomed, often it’s lack of self-awareness and not lack of money that sends companies to the graveyard.

3. Don’t dwell on the close-but-no-cigar moments.

No one cares about the opportunity that got away, so stop harping on your “I coulda been a contender” moments. This “second-place” effect, documented by psychologists from Cornell University and the University of Toledo, simply holds you back and takes away your initiative.

Charlotte Blank, chief behavioral officer at Maritz, explained in an Entrepreneur piece that it’s all about reducing your counterfactual thoughts. “In business, this might mean you can’t accept anything other than first place,” she explains, adding that focusing on what could have been “only diminishes your achievements and slows your progress, further benefiting your competitors.”

Instead of worrying about why you’re not always No. 1, focus on what you’ve achieved thus far. Be sure to remember that your journey is a team effort, not one that represents your solo success or failure. It’s important to understand not only what you bring to the table as an individual, but what the group has done and can do together.

4. Don’t talk so much that you fail to listen.

Always trying to prove yourself? Remember the old-fashioned adage that you have one mouth and two ears. In other words, listen twice as much as you jabber so you can learn what you don’t know. And be open to asking questions.

If you don’t have mentors, find them to practice the art of taking advice. 

Related: Understanding the Other Person’s Perspective Will Radically Increase Your Success

5. Don’t rush growth.

If you’re hyperfocused on scaling as soon as possible, you’re opening the door to mistakes. Yes, scaling’s important in any business, but it’s not an overnight tactic. Make sure you’re setting a strong foundation and gearing up for a marathon, not a sprint.

When you put growth above all else, you set yourself up for failure. Before scaling, be sure that you have the right people in place, the right processes in line, and a strategy for fostering loyal customer relationships. Discover some missing parts in the equation? Fix them before expanding your company.

Related: How to Avoid the Premature Scaling Death Trap

When beginning your startup’s journey, be sure to put your “to-don’t” list alongside your to-do one. That way, you can move forward knowing what you need to do to avoid foreseeable entrepreneurial potholes.



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