I Made These Mistakes with My Business So You Don’t Have To: Part I

business mistakes pen to ZenWhen you read my stuff here at pen to Zen, I hope you realize we have a lot in common. We are prone to dream, prone to do, and prone to question ourselves.

One question of mine has been am I also prone to succeed, or to forever be trying? (Trying to make a great living, to do what I love, to pay off debt, to help a lot of people, and to one day retire?) Shouldn’t I be further along?

I’ve gotten enough emails to know many of you fall into the comparison trap, like I do. You get stuck on the sad idea that you are doing your best, but it feels like it’s not good enough to ensure your success. You can see those others up ahead of you on the same road. Who are not stuck down in a trap, making comparisons.

That’s a pit I’ve fallen into plenty of times (including this week, as I was writing two other versions of this post, which were bad). It’s super unpleasant.

So, I wondered, are all these traps and pits really necessary? Isn’t it nice when you can get a little warning?

I’m here to tell you my story from up ahead on the same road you’re on now, to help you answer those questions and feel better about your choices. To know you can step around pitfalls, and rebound from mistakes.

Except there are no mistakes, right?


Of course there are mistakes. We don’t do everything perfectly. We aren’t computers playing a game of chess.

Although, life and business can be a bit like a game. Your skills and strategies matter. Same with the competition. We’re supposed to be enjoying ourselves, but also we want to win.

Because we are actually IN the game, counting on our own skills and strategies, investing our time, money and energy, putting our reputations on the line, it makes sense: we don’t want to make mistakes. But we do.

Sometimes they hurt real bad, right away. Other times we don’t even know we are making them. But we are.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I believe in the art of imperfection. I have seriously been saved by the knowledge that our mistakes can become our masterpieces. I admit, I learned that the hard way. But the hard way helped me develop new skills and find better strategies.

So I am grateful for my mistakes, now that I know what to do with them.
As for you…

Hooray, you can avoid my mistakes!

Here are they are, revealing the art of imperfection in all its glory…can you relate?

  • Mistake #1: The one where I do a bunch of stuff I’m not good at
  • Mistake #2: The one where I have a great product but its never reaches its big market
  • Mistake #3: The one where I’m feeling desperate and exhausted so I bail too soon
  • Mistake #4: The one where I start a blog, not a business
  • Mistake #5: The one where I keep thinking my writing/knowledge/skill is enough

Today I’d like to delve a bit deeper into the first business mistake I ever made, and the hardest one for me to learn.

Mistake #1:

The one where I do a bunch of stuff I’m not good at.

The Story: Over 25 years ago, I partnered in a business with my husband and a friend, who had invented a safety baseball, on which we went all in, and that business ended up failing causing us to go personally bankrupt.

What Went Wrong: Here’s your first clue: early on, I learned how to sew a cover on a baseball so we could make prototypes of our invention. (Baseballs are still sewn by hand with two curved needles and a special waxy thread–108 sets of herringbone stitches and you can’t see the beginning or end of them. I did that.)

I also created the poster board display we used at the largest sporting goods trade show in the country. And came up with the idea for the kids’ club. And talked to the importer about having our balls made in Haiti. And then Taiwan. I did all this (and more) while raising little kids and working as a waitress. Oh–and I learned how to write a patent! Though we eventually had to hire a patent attorney when it came to the drawings and claims… which, why do I even know what that is?

Are you getting my point about all the things we entrepreneurs might find ourselves doing? So much. Too much! And it still wasn’t enough, because we had no good way to reach our ideal customers. The most important benefits never made it to potential buyers. We never built an audience.

How to Avoid Making This Mistake: We often fail because we can’t do it all and do it well. And then, truly important stuff may be left undone because it’s just too hard for us. In this baseball business case, we were missing the essential ability to show the thing and sell the thing.

But I will note, our timing was right before the internet. I often think, if only we had a nice little site to extend our reach! To share testimonials. Show happy players in action. Offer samples and advertise sales. I’m not sure if we would have taken proper advantage of it, given our inexperience, but one way you can avoid missing out like we did is to make sure you have the nice little website we didn’t.

Today’s Takeaway: Don’t spend a lot of time and energy on things you’re not good at, at the expense of essential, important stuff such as getting your benefits out in front of all your potential buyers.

Plus, now we know, you need a decent website. :-)

As mentioned, I spent a lot of time learning things the hard way, especially this: your tiny business is at a big disadvantage without a professional-looking presence online. Which I’ve decided we all need to address. But we need a totally simple, truly affordable fix, right?

In my next post, when I cover the other mistakes I made first so you don’t have to, I will tell you about my new project, Make a Tiny Website. My partner Teresa from the simpler web and I (see, I got someone who is good at something I’m not) to co-create this simple, step-by-step guidebook for you to make your own tiny site, on a tiny budget, with a tiny investment of time.

I am sure you’re going to love it!


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