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5 idiotic mistakes I made in my first year of business

A year on from launching his business, marketing entrepreneur Nate Chai reflects on where he went wrong so you don't make the same mistakes

Nate Chai

Nate Chai

Now that we’re firmly in the opening chapters of 2017, I’ve been feeling nostalgic for its prequel. 2016 was – by any account – a strange year. Not least because last year, I started my content marketing business.

Everyone knows that running a business is hard, right? I cockily slipped into the role of CEO of Incoming Thought without a care in the world, and slowly the enormity of my title started to weigh down on me. Left, right, and centre I would mess up.

What I want to share with you guys are the five most idiotic business mistakes I made last year and how you can avoid them:

1. I focused too much on product development

Before we freak out, yes, I know Elon Musk said “Will this activity result in a better product? If not, stop those efforts.” One aspect of this that I feel is overlooked is that your product isn’t just the thing you sell to people, or the service that you offer… it’s the entire experience.

When I first started this business, I spent 90% of my time writing books. That was my initial business idea, I would write books and build a business around owning the rights to a lot of books (now I help others write books).

However, I spent practically all my time on improving the books and developing them that I neglected almost all other aspects of the business.

From how your customers and clients hear about you, to what they hear/read/see about your business, to the overall buying process. All of these aspects are part of your actual product. Instead of “Will this activity result in a better product?” Ask yourself “Will this activity result in a better customer experience?”

2. I didn’t price my products properly

A few months after I’d learnt I had spent too much time on product development, I pivoted to helping other people produce content by writing, making videos, recording audio etc. Then… disaster!

A huge, massive, nigh-catastrophic error was literally guessing how much it would cost to help someone write a book and/or effectively market their business. This may seem like an idiotic mistake but there were a ton of things that I didn’t consider when I was building my pricing strategy, for example:

  • How much profit the business needed to earn from each sale
  • How much each sale would cost to get (marketing, time sales person spent getting the sale, VAT)
  • How much to pay the person that performed the service (i.e. me)

Palm meet face. Face meet palm.

The worst part is that I didn’t even realise I should’ve been asking those questions, until my sister and I sat down and she asked me to take her through my business.

Not only was that conversation hugely beneficial to my pricing strategy but caused a huge turning point in mindset from “everything will be fine” to “everything will be fine if I know the numbers”.

3. I only used my home office

The mistake that truly took me by surprise was how lonely starting a business is. In my first year, it was just me in my home office, five days a week.

I’d talk to about 10 people on the phone each day, and that was all the human contact I’d have.

When my business won a contract producing content for one of the UK’s largest property investment training companies, I worked flat out for two weeks, and didn’t talk to anyone.

At the weekends my friends would all comment on how tired and stressed I seemed, on reflection it was the lack of meaningful human interaction that caused that.

To fix that, I started working from my local coffee shop for a few afternoons a week. Being around the hustle and bustle of people and experiencing the loud murmur of a coffee shop picked up my mood considerably.

Strangely enough, when I started implementing “human contact” time I realised another idiotic mistake I’d made…

4. I was scared to leverage my existing contact base

I started this business when I was 24 and I started working in editorial and marketing departments when I was 19. So, I had about five years' of contacts from my days writing, producing videos, and recording podcasts.

Who did I contact to ask for help/work/partnerships? No one.

Surprise, surprise, as soon as I started talking about my business and work, people started coming out of the woodwork offering to help/buy/promote my services and my business.

Your network is far larger than you know so remember that it’s not just who you know, it’s who you know knows.

I was actually shocked at how nervous I was when it came to talking about my business. I was scared of people laughing at me, I was scared of people telling me that I’d fail, and I was absolutely terrified that people would think that I was “just” trying to sell them something.

All these fears lead me to my worst mistake…

5. I was hesitant to invest money in my business

I took me a whole month to move a website to an upgraded hosting package (so it ran faster and smoother)… that cost £60. It took me another month to buy some business cards…costing £15. These things are essential to a new business – trust me, if you’re a rookie, you need a business card – and as a business owner, you need to learn to get used to paying for things.

Obviously, I’m not saying that frivolous spending is the way forward. However, your mindset needs to shift and you should start seeing money as a time-saving tool. Look at how much time paying for something will save you vs doing it yourself.

Similarly, don’t waste time contemplating if a purchase is necessary. I think about my hourly rate and base the speed I can make decisions on that, for example:

  • Anything under £100: I put a less than an one hour's thought into it
  • £100 to £500: I’ll spend between an hour and half a day thinking about the investment
  • £1,000+: I’ll budget a day to decide if/why the business needs it.

Ultimately, the real reason I would waste time on meaningless decisions is the same as why I was scared to talk to my network: I thought I would fail.

Going forward

I previously read this book – which I've since forgotten the name of – that was built around the idea of “continuous failure”.

Basically, when learning how to do anything (drive a car, learn the piano, run a business) you need to continually make mistakes and then not make them again.

These were my biggest mistakes that I made last year and if you've found value in these words then please share this article.

Nate Chai is CEO and lead writer of Incoming Thought. Incoming Thought specialises in helping businesses become the authority of their sector through results-driven multi-media marketing. Send an email to to see how quickly Incoming Thought can help your business grow.


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