Lessons learned: businesses share their worst mistakes

Anna Isaac
Slip-ups and blunders Business blunders can be tough to take, but they offer useful lessons for those involved - Transportimage Picture Library/Alamy

Simple mistakes can be costly to small businesses that refuse to listen to advice and don’t double-check their online sales process.

Have your sales ever fallen off a cliff? Has a meeting suddenly gone from plain sailing to elaborate torture?

Business blunders can be excruciating, but they offer useful lessons for those involved. Namely, you learn to check – and check again (each decimal point) every attendee’s name, and hold back on those grandiose statements. What can you learn from these hard-won lessons of the Small Business Connect community?

Really know your audience

In a business meeting, it pays to know to whom you’re speaking.

It’s the best way to make your contributions relevant and insightful. But there are other reasons too. Very few investment pitches can avoid a discussion about what makes your enterprise better than another, and that’s important too.

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Five years ago, Kevin McCrystle, chief operating officer at marketing agency, KAX Media, was in a funding meeting with venture capitalists. During the meeting, a woman entered the room. She sat in on the discussion with no introduction.

“Everything was going well,” Mr McCrystle remembers. “At some point, we began discussing another company, which more or less had done what we intended to do and had proved the model successful.

“Successful that is until it hired a new chief executive who basically killed the company by pivoting it in the wrong direction, when no change was needed. My business partner even made a few colourful remarks about the CEO's role in hurting the business.”

The atmosphere in the room swiftly changed from positive to distinctly awkward, he explains. It turned out that the woman who had walked into the meeting late was, in fact, the very CEO to whom Mr McCrystle and his partner were referring. “We had basically just called them an idiot,” he adds.

Stop and think of your customers’ ability to find you before setting your sights on a brand

Pamela Evans, Maisie-Jane

It’s often difficult to reel in your passion when explaining how your operation will be better run or more effective than others, but as Mr McCrystle learned, it’s seldom wise to rubbish other companies in the course of making your own business case.

Don’t put style over function

For any business, being invisible on search engines is bad news, particularly if that’s the most important route for customer or stockists to discover it. A URL slip-up meant that Pamela Evans struggled to make headway when launching her business online.

“I launched my company last year. The URL that I wanted for my website wasn't available, so I went with a quirky spelling, dropping the first ‘i’ to make MasieJane.com,” she says. “The issue was that no one could find us, because Google kept auto-correcting it to ‘Maisie
Jane’ – and no matter how much word was spreading, the spelling kept taking customers to an organic wholefoods company in the US.”

Despite feedback from friends and family that the spelling was causing confusion, Ms Evans decided to stick to her guns. “I was a bit belligerent to begin with. Ikept defending the name, saying that they were spelling it wrongly,” she says.

Finally, she gave in to a rebrand as Maisie-Jane.com. Every single photograph on the website had to be reshot, new branding brought in, social media updated and old URLs redirected, she explains.

Ms Evans’s advice for other business owners is simple: “Stop and think of your customers’ ability to find you before you set your sights on a brand.”

Mysteries often have simple answers

Brotherly love was nearly broken when Luke Hall noticed that sales had dried up for his brother’s business, Custom Logo Shop.

“Last year, my brother and I were working on his business. We were doing quite well, gradually building on sales each week, until one week I realised that we weren't getting any sales at all,” he explains.  

Mr Hall scoured the website, trying to work out what had happened.
“I optimised the site it in case it was too slow. Eventually I just desperately made changes to it, to see if business would come back.”

After two weeks of despair, Mr Hall noticed a tiny setting on the website. He had left his checkout function in test mode, so customers couldn’t actually process any orders.

“Although I was happy that I had discovered what caused the drought, my brother definitely was not,” he remembers. Starting from the source of the problem – sales – and working through the user experience on the site with a dummy sale might have saved him some sleepless nights (and kept his brother onside).


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