10 Common Mistakes Service Business Owners Make (and How to Avoid Them)
Every single day I see business owners that are struggling to make their business work. They’re stuck. They’re stressed. They are capital F frustrated with how hard they’re working and how they aren’t getting where they want to go.
On one hand, it’s heartbreaking. Watching people, particularly women, going for “it” but their falling short hurts my heart. I truly want them to succeed.
I know how hard it can be to go out on your own and start a business in the first place. Then to be faced with the reality of not accomplishing your goals? Even harder.
But here’s the thing. I want you to succeed. I want you to reach your goals. And most of all, I want to share some of the mistakes I’ve made — and that I see too many service business owners make — in building a business.
The reality of running a business is SO different than the glossy, shiny version online marketers are selling us. And while you may know that on some level, it’s easy to be convinced otherwise.
If you want to succeed as a boss, here are 10 mistakes you may be making and ways you can avoid them.
Mistake #1: Being a Jack of All Trades
For most of us that own a business, we’re really good at multiple things. But you know that saying “jack of all trades, master of none”? That’s all too true in our business. When you do ALL the things, it’s really hard for your clients to know what you’re good at.
This usually shows up for us in several ways. First, we may say yes to doing things that we can do — even though we don’t want to — as we want to make our client happy or we simply want the cash.
Or we do so many things that we’re all over the place, and it’s incredibly challenging for people to know what they should hire us for.
The key is mastering a core set of skills and creating packages around them. Then people know exactly what we can do for them and how we can help. For example, if you’re a virtual assistant (VA), maybe you offer operational and tech support. As a potential client, it may be hard to believe you do all of these things well. But if you’re the go-to for operations support, I may be more apt to hire you.
Think about your current business and how you can demonstrate mastery in what you do. Over time, that may evolve or change, but get really good at a few things versus being a generalist. Which brings me to my next point.
Mistake #2: Needlessly Niching
I’m willing to bet that somewhere along the line you’ve been given the advice that you must niche if you’re going to succeed in your business.
Niching is very different than the above point about mastery. Mastery is about your service or skills while niching is usually around a specific industry, such as SaaS companies or female coaches.
I’d be a very wealthy woman if I had $100 bucks for every time I answer this question from service business owners who think they MUST niche if they’re going to be successful.
My answer is that you don’t need to niche. In fact, for many businesses, I believe it to be completely unnecessary. It’s generalized business advice that can be harmful to many business owners.
Why? Niching forces your business into a box, and if you’re not 100% clear on that niche and try to force it, you may find yourself stuck.
I personally have chosen our niche for Scoop Studios to be around content marketing for small-to-midsize businesses. We work with a variety of industries, which hasn’t limited growth in any way as the niche is really about the type of content we create and the approach we take.
Mistake #3: Mistaking Fame for Success
When it comes to being business famous, there are typically three types of people I encounter.
Camp #1 are the fame seekers. You know the kind. They’re driven by ego and a need to be seen — and they go after it shamelessly. It’s more than wanting to be good at what they do; it’s about being famous and known in a big way.
Camp #2 are the avoiders. They hate the limelight and don’t want to be seen. This often holds their business back as they sabotage themselves and prevent anyone from knowing about them.
The problem with both of these camps is that they’re missing the point. None of this has to do with fame. If you’re seeking it or avoiding it, you’re hurting your business.
Which is why you need to find the middle ground. (And if you’re a fame seeker, you may want to throat punch me in a moment, but I’m pretty sure fame seekers wouldn’t read this far.) Strive to be in camp #3.
Camp #3 is not driven by a mega ego, narcissism, or fear of being seen, but rather understanding that you’re really good at what you do. For the right people to find you and for you to be of the greatest service with your gifts, you need to be seen as a master of your craft.
Fame isn’t the point, so don’t get caught up in ego-driven numbers of how many followers you have or views you’re getting. Fame alone doesn’t pay the mortgage and many times those numbers don’t equal income for your business.
Your goal should be to become known as a by-product of doing what you do really well and being recognized for it by the right people.
Mistake #4: Believing the Hype
Buckle up bosses, I’m gonna get a little fired up!
I know you know that people aren’t always what they seem online, but I want to really dig into what goes on with the hype.
What I call the hype cycle in online business goes a little like this:
Someone comes out of nowhere and seems to have the answers to all of your problems. They suddenly seem to have amazing success with big revenue growth, and you want a piece of the puzzle. You think that they MUST be legit as you see how fast they’re growing and how all of your friends are jumping on the bandwagon.
This hype cycle is dangerous for us as business owners because our FOMO is real. We worry that this new wunderkind is sharing the SECRET to success and that we better get in on the action or be left behind.
Having seen this cycle time and time again (and been sucked into it myself), I can tell you a few things. It’s important to note that these people don’t necessarily have strong business fundamentals or the type of business you want to be running. Yes, they’re great marketers but many times are downright crappy at what they do.
I know that sounds negative, but it’s true. It’s up to us as bosses to look long and hard at who we let influence us and shape our business direction. If it’s their style that appeals to you, take a second and look for their substance. The only success they point to shouldn’t be their own ever-growing income but that of their clients/customers and a track record of success.
Mistake #5: Borrowing Other People’s Dreams
When you start a business, you have a lot of ideas and dreams about what it’s going to be like. Then, along the way, things can become warped as we’re consuming a steady diet of messaging and marketing that tells us we’re not good enough.
I’ve lived this one more times than I care to count, where my vision and goals became a case of the “shoulds” or what other people wanted for me. And let me tell you, the results when I borrowed other people’s dreams wasn’t pretty and definitely didn’t serve me.
Spending time on your vision, values, and goals is essential to you becoming clear on what YOU want. Not what a Facebook ad, your coach, or your biz BFFs think you should want. The stronger this becomes, the easier it is for you to discern if that’s what you truly want — or if it’s simply a distraction.
Mistake #6: Getting Stuck in Busy Work
Have you ever got to the end of the week and wondered what you actually accomplished? Sure, you did a number of things for your clients and crossed items off your to-do list, but you don’t feel that your time was well spent.
This mistake is particularly common for service business owners as your clients take up a major chunk of your days. The fact is when you work with clients, how you manage your time has to be different, and you need to maximize the time you do have to work ON the business.
When you work for clients, you’re working IN the business, but when you fixate on strategies or tactics to help you achieve your goals, you’re working ON the business.
With a services business, the strategies and tactics for working ON the business should concentrate on one of three key areas: marketing (finding clients), sales (booking clients), or service (wowing clients). If you invest your time here, this is what drives real growth. Yet, many times, we decide to create opt-ins, tweak our website or do other marketing/tech items that don’t move us ahead.
Look at what tasks you’re committed to for working ON the business, and determine if they’re going to move the business ahead in the next 30 to 60 days. If not, they may be busy work, and your time will be better spent on income producing activities.
Mistake #7: Being Fractured
Are you a multitasker? Do you pride yourself on how many tasks you can do at once? Then mistake #7 is for you! (And a good reminder for the rest of you.)
Listen, I know when you work with clients there are a lot of things sucking up your time. There are deadlines, endless emails, and “emergencies” that result in you needing to do many tasks all at once.
This multitasking results in us wasting valuable time and being fractured as we jump between tasks. This act of context switching results in us losing up to 30% of our day as we need to refocus between tasks.
Imagine if you recovered even 20% of the time in your day. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
To do that, look at how you structure your days. Do you spend all day popping into your inbox and refreshing? Do you have set times for your inbox, client communications, and project management? Do you block out time for highly concentrated tasks for your clients?
If not, start by time blocking your days, so you have set times that you dig into specific tasks, and set aside time for bigger client priorities.
And if you’re already doing these things, look for where you get triggered and fall back into your multitasking ways. For me, this is a work in progress, and I’ve learned to quickly correct myself when I start with the multitasking Olympics.
Mistake #8: Over Investing in Your Business
We’re all familiar with the idea of “investing” in your business so you can grow. And while it’s valid, it’s a little misunderstood and we end up spending WAY too much money.
All those things we’re investing in are also an expenditure. We make an investment thinking it will deliver ROI, when many times that ROI is not realistic or simply a pipe dream. So when we spend that money, it’s a choice to give someone else our money.
The mistake comes when we over invest in our business. When we’re spending and spending on courses and coaches without thinking about the impact of those decisions. And, many times, it results in us paying everyone else before we pay ourselves.
Now, there are times when these investments are warranted, but they should be planned and strategic. Not a FOMO decision we’re making on the fly because this may be the THING that changes everything.
If you’re constantly investing in your business at the expense of paying yourself, or you don’t have a budget for expenditures in your business, take some time, and look at how you’re spending your money in more detail.
Mistake #9: Hiring at the Wrong Time
Want to uplevel your business and really feel like a boss? Hire a VA or assistance, and you’ll be on your way to baller status.
Yeah, not really. That’s a common thought in the online business world, and it’s a big mistake for many business owners.
I’m a huge advocate for hiring in your business, as to grow there will be tasks that you need to get off your plate. But hiring too soon can mean you’re making the wrong hires or spending money you simply don’t have.
Plus, the default of hiring a VA isn’t the right choice for every business. You may be better off hiring a billable subcontractor or a different role in the business.
Hiring shouldn’t be a badge of honor, but something you do because you have a real need in your business. For example, if you’re so busy with client work that you have a real need for support with managing client projects, that makes complete sense. However, if you’re struggling to figure out what this magical hire should do for you, or you’re doing it at the expense of your salary, I’d encourage you to think about WHY you want to hire.
Mistake #10: Avoiding Income Producing Activities
Last but not least is a mistake that’s really easy to make as a business owner. It’s doing anything and everything but what the #1 focus should be for you as a boss that works with clients — which is finding more clients.
This one usually manifests in different ways. It may be hiding out online and waiting for clients to come to us. Or it may be being so “busy” with client work that we drop our marketing activities that help us find clients.
Neither scenario is good for business. When you work with clients, you need to consistently be doing a baseline set of activities week in, week out to ensure that we’re top of mind with our potential clients.
And here’s what I don’t mean. For most of us, creating a new opt-in or designing a big old funnel isn’t what will result in clients in the next 90 days. The emphasis should be on one-to-one activities that can turn into closed clients, such as referrals, collaborations, networking and more.
If you’ve been making any of these mistakes, don’t worry! I’ve made all of them, and each and every single one can be handled to help get you back on track.