My Biggest Mistake as a Business Owner

My Biggest Mistake as a Business Owner

I know we’re supposed to brag about all of our accomplishments in places like this, but I’m a human who has been a business owner for over a decade. I’m not perfect, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. All of this is completely normal. I would actually worry about working with someone who hasn’t made a mistake or two. It means they don’t take risks in life. What is life without some risks? Pretty boring if you ask me.

The thing about me is that I own any mistake I make. I see them for what they are, and I try to learn from them. I think that’s why I almost always recover from them. Mentally, I might get lost in them for a bit, but I’m even getting better at letting them go.

So what do I consider my biggest mistake?

Putting all of my eggs in one basket

Before the pandemic, ninety percent of my business was coming from the tourism industry. I loved working with these people. They weren’t there for the money, because that didn’t exist. They were there because it was a calling to make people’s lives better through having fun. And in doing so, they were improving their communities with an increased tax base and more projects to make the community a great place to be. Seriously, it’s a great career to be called to do.

And then the pandemic happened. The rug was pulled out from all of us. People had to switch careers, and I was stuck looking at the ruins of my business wondering if I would ever recover. Because of course all of my clients at that point were in the tourism industry.

I didn’t think the good times would ever end, so I went with the simplest solution: Work with the industry and people who seemed to like me the most. I always had new and interesting work coming, and people were always appreciative. It made sense. Until it didn’t.

The mental toll

Imagine having your business go up in flames overnight with no idea what you will do next. That was where I was standing. And at the time, I was married to someone who had been waiting for this and told me that it was time to get a “real job.” Except, at the time, that wasn’t an option either, because no one was hiring for what I do.

I couldn’t see a way forward, so I took it one step at a time. One of those steps? Calling my doctor and asking for a prescription for anti-depressants. I realized I was in a hole and the only way to dig out was with some help. So I asked for it. My doctor was receiving this kind of call a lot and happily obliged where appropriate. I was more than appropriate.

The dig out

When I realized I couldn’t get anyone to pay me for my services at that point, I took a look around for what I could do for free that wouldn’t hurt my earning potential long-term. I created a Facebook group for Ohio tourism professionals who were just as confused as I was. Since I knew so many of them, so I knew moderating a group like that would be a piece of cake.

I also had a lot of marketing friends who were sitting on their hands wondering what they could do next. So I started calling in favors. I asked them if they would take about an hour of their time and talk with people from our Facebook group over Zoom. I had no shame at this point since we were all in the same point. So I asked everyone I could. Shockingly, all of my top people said yes, and we ended up with way more great chats than I had anticipated.

So even though I didn’t have paying work, I had things that kept me busy and engaged. And all of it could potentially lead to paying work in the future.

The rebuild

And it did. Because I did everything I could to help myself and others during my abundance of free time, I was back working at full capacity within six months after the start of the pandemic. By the start of the new year, my income had returned to previous levels. My clients were more diverse, and I was feeling fulfilled with my new slate of clients.

That is, of course, not to say I didn’t still miss my tourism clients who had spent that time rebuilding as well. But this new normal with nonprofits and small businesses also worked for me.

So in the end, my biggest mistake as a business owner was devastatingly hard, and I hope I never end up in that place again. But it was good for me, and it helped me build a stronger business for the long-term. Diversifying my clients will never quite be my strong suit, because when I like a certain kind of client, I tend to double down. But at least I’m more aware of that tendency and address it a little better.

What has been your biggest mistake? What have you done to address it? 

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