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Why you should admit it, fix it and move on

Linda Whitney talks to entrepreneurs about their biggest mistakes and what they learnt from them Why you should admit it, fix it and move on

Making mistakes is part of being in business. Everyone knows this at an intellectual level, but it doesn’t stop you feeling like a total idiot when you make one yourself.

The important thing to remember when you’re sitting with your head in your hands wondering how could you have possibly been so stupid is that every mistake is a learning opportunity. It may not seem like it at the time, but one day you will look back and realise that what feels like a complete business disaster has taught you a valuable lesson.

Recruiting disasters

Rachel Clacher, co-founder of outsourced communications company Moneypenny, says: “In the early days, we made a few errors with recruitment. Dazzled by sparkling CVs, we tended to ignore our gut feelings about people.

“One candidate had an amazing CV, but once recruited she constantly slurped from a can of Diet Coke. She kept burping down the phone when speaking to customers. We had to ask her to leave.

“Ever since, we have based our recruitment strategy on attitude rather than aptitude.”

Attention to detail

Ed Reeves, Rachel’s brother and co-founder, also remembers a lesson learnt: “When we commissioned someone to create our bespoke software, we didn’t ensure that in the contract we owned the intellectual property. In the end, we had to pay an additional fee to buy the IP.

“Now, as technology is such a key part of our business, we ensure we own the IP to all the software we are developing. We always remember to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”

No one to fall back on

Carol Rawson, now the managing director of tailoring franchise Suit the City, says: “I’ve been in business for myself for over 30 years, so I’ve made all kinds of mistakes. But the worst was having no one to fall back on.”

Early on, Carol started a business on her own. “It was successful, with 50 employees, but I had no business partner or trusted second in command,” she says.

“Then my mum was diagnosed with cancer. My dad was a lot older than her and they needed my help. I had no choice - I closed the business and laid off 50 people. It was the worst time of my life.

“The next business I started up with a business partner. You must ensure you have some support, so everything is not dependent on you. You can have an employee you rely on, but they may leave, get headhunted or retire.

“I prefer to have a business partner with a financial and emotional stake in the business, so you’re not solely responsible for all the decisions and they will challenge your decisions in a way that few employees would.”

Carol also favours the franchise model for the same reason: “If as a franchisee you’re temporarily unable to operate the business for some reason, the franchisor can help by putting someone in to replace you for a while.”

Financial over-optimism

Tim Campbell won the first series of The Apprentice and a job with Sir Alan Sugar at Amstrad. While there, he successfully launched its women’s cosmetics business, inspiring Tim to quit the £100,000 a year job to start his own men’s cosmetics business.

“It failed,” he says. “I didn’t do enough research. I soon realised that the budget required to compete in the cosmetics business was more than I had available.”

He closed the business after losing £50,000, but says: “If you make a mistake, admit it and fix it. It also taught me not to be arrogant, the importance of knowing everything possible about your market and to ask for advice.”

How to deal with a mistake

It’s tempting to lie low after you’ve made a mistake in business, to try to hide it and move on hoping no one notices. But actually that’s a wasted opportunity not only to learn, but to connect with customers.

Ian Christelow, co-founder of business coaching franchise ActionCOACH, advises: “Admit your mistakes, apologise to whoever has suffered as a result and try to make things better as soon as possible.”

If customers complain because of your mistake, don’t ignore them, he says: “Ensure all complaints get an individual response and use it to develop your relationship with that customer.

“Dealing with a complaint well can make the customer feel more positively about you than they would have had there been no complaint at all, so some of your best customer relationships can start as a result of complaints.”

The worst mistake

Carol says: “The worst mistake of all in business is to ignore your mistakes. If you don’t acknowledge them, you cannot learn from them and then the person who suffers most as a result will be you.” Read more like this

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