Entrepreneurial Mistakes: Are You Procrastinating Under The Guise Of Doing Work?

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The other day, a friend of mine called to let me know that after a year of dragging her feet, she finally decided to take action on launching an online store. And I was ecstatic!

One of the reasons I was so excited was that her story was so similar to ours when my wife and I first started out with our online business.

Her goal was to start a family, quit her job and stay at home with her child without sacrificing her income. An online business would be perfect!

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As we spoke on the phone, I became completely engulfed by her enthusiasm and her energy. And after about 5 minutes, she made me genuinely excited about her products which she wants to sell to the baby boomer market.

Oh Steve!! The best part is that I’ve made sooo much progress already these past few months.

And when I asked her about all of the things she’d accomplished so far, this is what she told me.

Friend: Well first and foremost, I registered my LLC. The baby market can be very litigious so I want to protect myself from any liability. Oh and I got business cards. They were only 5 bucks for a thousand.

I marked off a portion of my house dedicated to the business so that I can take the home business deduction. I got a new computer and printer. Still debating whether I should get an IPad too. Got a business bank account and a UPS Store address.

Finally, I looked up all the rules and regulations involving selling baby products. It’s official, I’m ready to go!

Me: Cool. Have you thought about how you are going to setup your website yet? Which domain and platform you are going to use?

Friend: Um..no. You know me. I’m not tech saavy at all so I’m saving that for later.

Me: Did you figure out how you are going to get your products made?

Friend: Not yet. Not sure where to start with that one so I figured I’d get everything else setup first.

Me: Do you have any idea how you are going to market your products and your online store?

Friend: Well, I don’t have a website up yet so I figure I’d do all that after I launch.

After talking with her on the phone some more, I started shaking my head. Sure, she was taking action on things that would eventually need to get done. But had she done anything yet to help her core business?

Human Tendencies

I can’t really make fun of my friend here because my wife and I fell into the same trap. We started doing all of the mundane and easy business tasks first while leaving the hard stuff for later.

The problem that most new and experienced entrepreneurs make is that they tend to stick with the known and what they are comfortable doing.

The business needs liability protection right? May as well pay the $800 dollar LLC fee and get that out of the way. I need a comfortable office and a computer. May as well go shopping. I need to get the word out about my business. May as well get those business cards made ASAP.

However at the end of the day, what have you really accomplished? In the case of my friend, why the heck did she need liability protection right away when she’s not even selling anything yet?

In California, forming an LLC costs 800 dollars. Was that really necessary? The only thing that forming an LLC did was to make herself “feel” better that her company was “official” and that she had accomplished something.

She acted based on “how she felt” instead of acting based on what was necessary to get her business off the ground. Technically, she made some progress but in reality she was just procrastinating by putting off the hard stuff.

Work On The Hard Stuff First

So it’s easy to say “Do The Hard Stuff First”, but it really is as simple as that. What are the riskiest parts about your execution plan?

There’s no point in going any further with your business until you’ve identified your weak points and can formulate a strategy to overcome them.

Using my friend as an example, she should have first focused on how to obtain the products she wants to sell. After all without a product, there is no business. Where is she going to source her merchandise?

If she wants to dropship her stuff, she can find many drop ship vendors on Worldwide Brands.

If she wants to have her stuff manufactured, she could have joined my wife and I on our trip to the Canton Import Export Fair

After nailing down her product sourcing strategy, she should look for a nice place to host her ecommerce website. Since she doesn’t know a lick about computers and programming, I would recommend her to go with a fully hosted ecommerce solution like Big Commerce.

Finally after getting those big pieces out of the way, she should focus all of her remaining efforts on her marketing strategy. After all, marketing should be her value add.

What is special about her company? Why does she sell the products that she does? Why would anyone want to buy them?

The Proper Mindset

The reality is that anyone can do the easy stuff. Anyone can set up an office. Anyone can get business cards. Anyone who can read is capable of setting up a corporate structure. After all, all of these rules and regulations are well documented on the government websites.

But what happens when things aren’t documented? What most people can’t do very easily is to tackle the unknown. When you open an online store or any other business, there are no rules. You have to be willing to make and define them yourself.

The key is to discover the hardest aspects of your business first and attack them right away. Ironically, human nature tries its best to hide the hard parts from you so I want to offer you a little trick I always use to identify what I “should” be working on.

If I feel a sick sensation in my stomach when I think of an issue, it’s hard. If I feel nervous, scared and doubtful, it’s hard. If I try and block a particular aspect of my business out of my mind and rationalize to myself that “I’ll figure it out later”, then it’s hard.

Defining the hard parts of your business is half the battle. The other half is pushing through even though you are terrified.

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30 thoughts on “Entrepreneurial Mistakes: Are You Procrastinating Under The Guise Of Doing Work?”

  1. Fabulous article, Steve! One question I always ask my clients is: “Will this activity lead directly to creating revenue?”

    It’s funny how we entrepreneurs often engage with every OTHER activity except for the ones where we ask our customers for money! That moment, where we give customers the opportunity to vote with their check book, to recognize the value of what we offer, to say “yes” … we so often avoid that moment.

    Of course, what we’re scared of is that our customers won’t open their check books, will ignore our value, and say “no.” But in business, THAT is sometimes the most valuable experience we’re going to have, because it teaches us what will work in our business and what won’t.

    Until we engage with our customers and revenue, we don’t have a business. We have an expensive hobby. Getting into revenue as quickly as possible is the key!


    1. @Andrea
      Long time no talk! How are you doing Andrea? I’m so glad you stopped by. Absolutely. That is an excellent question to ask. Is what you are doing going to get you from point A to B faster or is it something that you can do at any time at your leisure. Asking your customers for money applies more to freelance work but the same principles can be applied to an ecommerce store as well. Good to hear from you again

  2. Great post!

    I agree that staying focused on the important parts of the business especially the things we don’t enjoy or aren’t good at. I have a tech background so my distraction is usually tweaking my site. I am slow at the content so that is what I really have to focus on since it is the core of what I’m doing at this time. If anyone is interested I recently wrote the following post on building a website: http://www.debtfreestartups.com/five-steps-to-building-a-kickin-website-for-under-12

    Hope you don’t mind!

    1. @Nate
      I can completely relate. I wasted so much time tweaking the website that I put off working on our marketing plan for a long time.

  3. Absolutely. It is always difficult to get out of one’s comfort zone and it is easy to procrastinate by finding other things that we prefer to do. This isn’t just true in business, but also in life. I hate painting, but sometimes it just has to be done. I’ll find a million other things to do first though. Great article.

  4. Tareq says:

    What a great article!

    Your advice isn’t just applicable to people who want to start a business. It can be applied to procrastination in general.

    A few days ago, I decided to start exercising and get in shape. But I was spending too much time on the easy parts. I was checking which fitness program would give me the best results, which exercise equipment to buy and from which vendor. I was reading a lot of reviews and making a lot of comparisons. I realized now, after reading your article, that what I was doing was the same as what your friend did, doing the easy stuff and procrastinating the actual hard work that would give me the results I want.

    Thank you very much for that article. It’s a wake-up call.

    1. @Tareq
      Absolutely. People tend to procrastinate all the time by doing little things that make them feel better. It’s a mental game that you need to force yourself to overcome.

  5. I do think it is OK to be kind to yourself and take small easy steps – as long as you are dealing with the blocks.

    1. @Evan
      Everyone is different, If not making any progress on a hard task at all is going to frustrate you to the point of giving up, then procrastinating in the guise of doing work might help some people. As you mentioned, baby steps are the way to go.

  6. I think I can relate to your story too – for I have a friend who’d been postponing a project for the long-time running that I wonder if it will ever push through. Maybe, it’s not only procrastination, but fear. Many wannabe-entrepreneurs would have gotten success if only they face their fears and took that risk. Then, there are those who would love to taste the icing on top of their cakes ( doing the easy things first and saving the hardest for last ). What you wrote here can help these people get their focus back so they can organize their priorities. Cheers!

    1. @Ajeva
      For me at least it’s not so much fear anymore as it is getting through the frustration of learning something that I have absolutely no background in. Becoming a master at any skill requires time and patience for things to sink in. Perseverance is definitely a must have trait for entrepreneurs.

  7. Thank you. Excellent post. Something to think about when starting a business. Right now, I’m reading many business books but you’re right a plan needs to be established when launching a business and attack the hard parts first. Again, thanks!

  8. Great stuff here. I think I fall into this one way too often. I’m ready for changes, yet I might be spending more time on the things I already have than tackling the new or making the changes. Lots of reasons to procrastinate, all of them bad.

  9. I think when people make a decision such as starting a business, they kind of do the easier stuff first because they may see it as a ‘safety net’. If they haven’t made any ‘real’ investments such as securing products or flying to China to hire staff, then it’s “harder” for them to fail.

    I also think having a plan is hard for many people because they want to see results right away. I am a victim of that as well. It’s taken me a long time to learn the value of patience. If you put forth effort into something, you just have to surrender the result and wait to see what happens. Many people read success stories on the internet and in books and that’s great, but they only see the result and not the process. I’m inspired by success stories like yours but I know that if I’m going to get my business off the ground it’ll take a lot of work. Some people aren’t necessarily ready or willing to do that.

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