Oh, The Mistakes I've Made

 by Phyllis Sheerin Ross
Phyllis Sheerin Ross

Consultant and Freelance writer

It's time to eat the proverbial humble pie. Under the heading of, "He who forgets his past is doomed to repeat it", I'm going to share the mistakes I've made over a twenty year corporate career. Although these "mistakes" were made in the corporate world, they are all directly applicable to small businesses. I've always felt that I learned more from my failures then from my successes. I'm therefore sharing the following with you in the spirit of supporting your business ventures, and in the hope that you will avoid making the same mistakes.

Underestimating the competition.

Clearly we were better than our competition. We had so much more to offer. And we had been offering it for so long. And clearly the customer recognized this. Wrong! I was so busy resting on our laurels, I didn't put forth the aggressive effort I needed to put forth to win the business. LESSON LEARNED: No matter how many times you've done business with a particular customer, do not assume that the contract has already been won, and not put forth your best effort to woo and pursue the customer.

Not understanding whom I had to please.

I forgot to ask or figure out who the "real boss" was. I worked very hard to please the wrong person. And yes, he was very pleased. But, he was not the one we had to please. And we didn't find out until after the fact, that the "real boss" was not happy with our solution. LESSON LEARNED: Establish up-front who is going to evaluate your work. Don't assume you know who this person is. And when you do find out, check-in frequently for feedback on your work.

Giving up control.

There was the time I listened to an "expert" regarding what I should charge for a project. My gut instincts told me that his calculation were wrong. But then again, he was the expert, and I turned the costing decision over to him. When we lost the business, our "expert" shrugged and admitted that he pretty much pulled the numbers out of the air. LESSON LEARNED: Be in charge. Stay in control. After all, who knows more about your business than you do? Utilize the experts, but don't be intimated by them if their advice doesn't "feel right".

Ignoring problems.

The old adage that problems get worse with age really is true. I was desperate to bring someone on-board to support a project. His credentials looked great on paper. He didn't interview well, but I felt "stuck" due to time constraints. And so I added him to the team. Well, his work was weak and continued to grow worse with the passage of time. Aside from a few mild warnings, I basically looked the other way, and hoped that his work would improve. Finally, my customer told me that my "problem child" had to go, or else she would go. I finally worked up the guts to dismiss him. But, at the price of losing creditability with our customer. LESSON LEARNED: handle problems in a timely manner. They will not go away, nor will they get better on their own.

Not giving the customer what he wants.

Not only did I not listen to the customer, I didn't bother validating his requirements. After all, I had done this very same work dozens of times over the past dozen years. I thought I knew even better than the customer what he really needed. Well, the customer found someone who would give him specifically what he wanted, not what I had decided he needed. LESSON LEARNED: listen to your customer's requirements carefully. If you disagree with his solution, advise him so. If he still disagrees with your proposal, decide whether you can keep your integrity and his business by doing it his way. But, do not ignore the customer's wants and needs.

Counting chickens before they're hatched.

And then there was the time that I announced we had won a piece of business, before the official announcement. The word on the street was that we had won. All signs pointed to our winning. And it was the perfect time to share the good news with my boss. Does it get any more humiliating than to have to tell your business colleagues that you didn't really win? And while my boss was actually very nice about it, I never want to go through that experience again. LESSON LEARNED: wait for "the fat lady to sing" before you make any announcements whether it's about the launching of a new product, or winning a new piece of business.

There, I've gotten my mistakes off my chest. Luckily I made each of these business mistakes just once, and the things I did right helped to ensure a very successful career. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes. I know that I did. And finally, in the words of Winston Churchill, "Eating words have never given me indigestion."

Copyright © 1999 Phyllis S. Ross

Phyllis Sheerin Ross, a Contributing Editor to Idea Site for Business, has over
20 years experience in project management, training and business development for Federal Government and commercial organizations.

Phyllis can be reached by phone at 301-460-3555 or by e-mail at bronx1