‘The First Business Mistake I Made’

Updated on 23 March 2020

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business partner

We recently took to our Facebook page to find out: “What was the first business mistake you made?” The majority of commenters mentioned choosing the wrong business partner as an early mistake, and how it held them back.

Entrepreneurship can sometimes feel lonely, stressful and unpredictable (tell us about it). You are not alone, online and offline networks offer the opportunity to share experiences, show camaraderie, offer advice and grow together.

This is why we are grateful for our readers who engage with us and other entrepreneurs on a daily basis through our social media platforms and the SME South Africa Forum (sign up for free).

Here are the best responses to the question: 

1. I chose the wrong business partner

– “Taking on a partner that was the wrong fit … I was focused on an urgent need for liquidity and didn’t really think about the kind of value adding skills I really needed. The person who invested, a very decent bloke, wanted to come into the business as a condition. I agreed, but soon realised he was useless operationally. A burden rather than a help. In a relatively short while, I put my foot down, paid him back his loan, and sent him off. We are still friends to this day, by the way. My very important lesson: As a small business, only take on partners who have skills that they can and will apply to the business needs. Otherwise, rather borrow from the bank.” – Kevin Abraham

– “Poor choice of partner, with a very different moral compass. But [I] learned that lesson and have had several good ones since then!” – Francois Burman

– “Trusting my business partner (when I first had one) we didn’t have the same vision … he was holding me back. I’m very well and productive now.” – Nonhlanhla Makhathini

– “Partnering with people that have different business principles [to] me…” – Otto Makara

– “Investing in a business as a silent partner, putting so much trust [in my partner]. Am still paying the price today.” – Busi Ngamlana

2. I didn’t have business policies in place

– “Not creating standards or daily measurable set goals for my employees and [not] having policies and procedures in place. A lot of damage was done, our employees lost confidence [in us], [had] bad vibes among them and lacked confidence in the management, etc. We had to pause operations and behind the scenes create those policies and procedures so that we re-open and start from scratch. We are about to re-open soon.” – Sonwabise Mtwa

business partner

3. I gave over the steering wheel in my business

– “I had all [my] accounts with one bank when they made an error that affected my business. I should have filed for damages. I also used one attorney and you [would] expect that seeing that they are professionals that they will act in your best interest. It is not always the case. I have learned not to give the steering wheel over in my business. I gain some basic knowledge on any situation.” – Charmaine Belinda Godden

4. I mixed my personal and business’ finances

– “Using all the profit I made for both personal and business ventures.” – Mongameli Jaca

5. I didn’t adapt my business plan

– “Having started my first business in 2016 and being in corporate for 18 years, I put all my faith in my business plan and then backed my venture with my pension fund. Recipe for disaster as the business folded in one year. It’s been a long slow learning process since then and trying to get back on my feet. But progress is being made.” – Tyy Ford

APO Group

6. I worked in the business, not on the business

– “Working so hard in the business that I didn’t have time to work on the business. Now, one day a week is [dedicated to] working on the business, marketing, sales, financial, HR, training, etc.” – Mari Lee

7. I didn’t know how to pay myself a salary

– “Not adding my salary as part of operational costs upfront. Still not getting a salary.” – Aldrich Burmeister

8. I hired the wrong people

– “Bringing friends into the business because I thought they would pull their weight and all they want[ed] was a salary…” – Amanda Hamilton-Attwell

9. I trusted the wrong advice

– “Taking advice from coaches, mentors and others that have never been successful starting their own ‘non-coaching’ businesses. Even as a seasoned and successful entrepreneur and investor,  now I take advice and get mentorship from people that are more successful than me or that I look up to. On top of that I’ve read on average two new business books a month for the last 10 years and constantly increase my knowledge through short online courses or knowledge base. What people don’t realise is you don’t need to do things the same as others or take the advice that you are given. Use that advice you get in a way that is aligned with your strategy and vision.” – Denis Fourie

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