In this post I'll go through a few of the many business mistakes I've made since starting WPStrands.  And, of course, how I learned from them.

Learning Independence

a well-equipped kayak

Image: Laura Lefurgey Smith via Unsplash

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I was 16 years old when, on a freezing February morning, I showed up for my kayaking leadership exam, blissfully and utterly unaware that I had already made a huge mistake that guaranteed I wouldn't pass.

At 16 one tends to trust older, more experienced adults; this was my awakening to the fact that these older, more experienced adults don’t always get it right.  The mistake I’d made was relying on my club instructor to tell me everything I needed to know for the exam.

The instructor hadn’t got it right and I was about to fail.

The equipment inspection began before hitting the water.  As soon as it began I realised my mistake with a sinking stomach. The examiner smiled, shook his head and made loud tut-tutting sounds as he strolled merrily round the boat, clipboard in hand and making ticks on his sheet, clearly delighted to be ruining my day; my life even!

I had no tow-ropes on the kayak.  I had no local river maps.  I had no rations for an emergency.  

I clearly had no clue.  These were the basic, common mistakes of the clueless beginner!

I had had no idea what to expect and so I relied on someone else to prepare for me.  As it turned out, the instructor didn't really know what to expect either ...

I almost feel sorry for the boy I was when I think back to that day but it served as a hugely valuable lesson. I promised myself I would never make the mistake of leaving no stone unturned again.  

What I should have done was to talk to the course organisers beforehand and found out for myself what was involved in the exam.  Or to talk with others who had already done the course​.  There was no internet back then but there were still lots of ways I could have researched what I needed to avoid the common mistakes others had made before me.

I still remember standing dejected and shivering in the frost on that riverbank.  Watching the slabs of river ice floating downstream, I had a sense that I was​ really not going to enjoy the next three hours of tests ...


There aren’t many guarantees in life and even fewer guarantees when starting your own business. Especially when doing it on your own with no outside funding.

​But I can give you one 100% guarantee:

You will make mistakes.​

If you think about it you'll see this is a terrific guarantee to have!  If you can recognise your mistakes and take a good look at how they happened you will learn something.

Guaranteed learning ... !  Who doesn’t want that kind of certainty?

“Feeling lost, crazy and desperate belongs to a good life as much as optimism, certainty and reason.”

alain de botton

Alain de Botton

WPStrands hasn't been around for very long at all but I’ve already learned plenty!  That means, of course, that I’ve already made plenty of mistakes.  

Below are just a few of them: ...

Mistake #1: Going It Alone​

As mentioned in last week's post about getting starting with WPStrands, I want to​ do this by myself so that I can maximise what I learn.

But there's a fine line between being independent and stubbornly resisting that all-important ask for help.

Learning exclusively through your own experience - while incredibly valuable - is a far from optimal way to do anything.  It sounds pretty obvious now but I waited a long time before asking for help and thus spent a lot of that time reinventing the wheel and learning from scratch what someone could have taught me much more quickly.  

For a reasonably smart guy it took me a surprisingly long time to get this!

Learning from your own mistakes inevitably means progress will be slowed down.  A much better way is to learn from others' mistakes and experience.  

A great way to benefit from their experience is probably the simplest:

  1. Seek out lots of people who are ahead of you on this journey
  2. Ask them lots of questions​

That's it.

wpstrands ask more questions

There is absolutely no reason NOT to do this and it has never been easier to do it: blogs and social media allow a two-way conversation between you and any ​other person using that channel.  Use them.

Mistake #2: Giving Instead of Asking

This was one of the biggest time-wasting mistakes I made in my first few months when I needed some test customers to get things going.

Armed with a burning desire to help everyone and with the belief that I should be incredibly generous with my time and knowledge, I gave as much help as I could in WordPress-related Facebook groups for free.  But I went overboard.  At one point I had 30 customers, none of whom were paying me!

It accomplished what I wanted - some of those I helped agreed to sign up to WPStrands for free.  I found and fixed a few early problems with the WPStrands service early on.

But this type of customer has a big shortcoming - most of them aren’t invested in your service because they’ve paid nothing; they perceive very little value in it.​

I spent a lot of time on a lot of work for a lot of people who really didn’t care one way or the other.

This was detrimental in a few ways:

  • it was demoralising for me
  • it did very little to spread word about the business
  • it attracted my less-than-ideal customer
  • it distracted me from what I should have been doing - making sales and growing the business.

Being helpful to others is admirable; just always keep in mind that this is a business and your time is limited! Choose carefully where you pass that time and who you pass it with.

Mistake #3: Asking Instead of Giving

It seems paradoxical that I could have made this mistake as well as the first one above, but... I managed it!

When I realised I needed to reach out to others for advice and/or help I made the fatal mistake of asking complete strangers for something for nothing.

wpstrands mistakes

These were people I admired and followed online but who knew nothing about me.  The stupid part was that I knew the rules - relationship before asking.  Yet I still made the mistake.  I’m not sure how I didn’t realise that's what I was doing at the time.  I was giving nothing to them and so got nothing in return in most cases.

If you respect someone enough to follow their newsletter, blog, social media channels or in any other respect, you should respect them enough to build a meaningful relationship with them.

I've found two great ways to do this:

  1. Offer them useful and relevant​ help whenever and wherever you can.  You know this one!
  2. Ask them "who do you think could help me with ... [something you'd like to know]".  When they answer, tell them you'll let them know how it went with that person.  This gets them involved to a small degree in your quest for answers and is a great way to start building a real relationship.  (This excellent tip comes from Gary Bartlett at Prodsol and really works wonders!)

Mistake #4: Wrong Market Focus

I thought it would be smart to begin locally and make a name for myself here in Switzerland.  Dominate the Swiss market, then gradually and steadily expand into world domination.  

So I focused on building up a customer base here in Switzerland. Although I approached it methodically and diligently, this was a big mistake that cost a lot of my time.

I compiled a list of 200 people to contact - web development agencies, ISPs etc., anyone I thought would genuinely benefit from the WPStrand's service.  I systematically went through the list and composed an individual email to each person or company saying something like "You provide WordPress services, so do I.  Maybe we could do something together?"  This was wrong on many levels.  

Switzerland is famously conservative.  The online industry in Switzerland is not-so-famously also extremely conservative.  It is far behind other parts of the online world in many ways, not least because most small businesses don’t yet fully appreciate the value of their website and the efforts needed to make that site work for their business. This isn’t a complaint, it’s just how it is here. (Many, many other aspects of my adopted home are among the best in the world, of course!)

Also, and maybe even more crucial, was that by not beginning with a global view I was severely limiting my own vision for what I want WPStrands to become.  I was simply aiming too small.

wpstrands what are you aiming at?

Image: Andrew Yardley via Unsplash

What are you aiming for?

The outcome was that I got very few responses to my inquiries and became demoralised. Time spent on learning this lesson about my market?  From September to December last year - 3 months!  

A positive outcome was that I learned a lot about my local market which should be useful later (markets as well as other things don't often change very quickly here!)

While I have done A LOT of research into the Swiss online market, I could certainly​ have reduced the time I spent on this step by paying a VA to do it for me.

Mistake #5: Feeling Entitled

I haven't seen this mistake come up in any lists I've read but since seeing it in myself I've noticed it's a lot more prevalent than I imagined...

I’m a nice guy, I work hard, I'm really brave to have quit my career to do this so I deserve a break!  That was my thinking.  Naive of me, maybe, but I honestly believed I was working hard enough, smart enough and that I deserved some returns for my efforts!  

I’m a nice guy, I work hard, I'm really brave to have quit my career to start a business so I deserve a break!

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And yes, I’ve read the books; Think and Grow Rich, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People etc.  Don't they all warn about this?

What none of the books really taught me about, though, was the lag time.  There's a time delay between the effort put in and the rewards being reaped.  As a country boy who grew up on and around farms I should have known this; crops are sown and preparation is made so that the bountiful harvest can be reaped when that work pays off.  I think it's called patience ...

Missing this meant I was frustrated at the lack of rewards from my efforts, became even more demoralised and lost motivation many times. ​

Also, while I was putting in so much effort, I lost track of something that was really beneficial to me - my early morning routine where I got up early for a run, felt grateful and planned my day. Instead of this I started going to the office (5 minutes walk from my home) really early and simply skipping the routine that had benefited me for years.

I don’t want this post to become yet another treatise on the benefits of a sound morning routine.  Suffice to say I got grounded in reality again by getting back into good old simple daily habits.  The lucky event that spurred this change was when I won Craig Ballantyne’s book "The Perfect Day Formula" in a competition of his.  This coupled with getting back into meditation helped me to start my days well and get focused on more of the right things.  This will always be a work in progress.

And There's More ...

But that's enough for now.  I've spent enough time this week going over these so it's time to take a break and dwell on better things to come. There's no benefit from focusing continuously on your mistakes; learn and move on.

Here's yet another guarantee: someone has already made these mistakes before you came along.​

Clearly many of my mistakes were things I'd read about already yet I went ahead and did them anyway!​  A lot of them could have been avoided by a little self-awareness and understanding myself a bit more. A little mindfulness goes a long way.

While trading entrepreneur stories over a coffee with a colleague earlier this week I realised that I've actually made​ way more mistakes along the way!  So more mistakes coming next week ...​

What do you think?  Do any of these ring true for you?  Want to share some mistakes you’ve made?  Be brave and share in the comments below!

Follow the WPStrands Journey to 100 Customers


I'll be sharing what I learn as the orange grows.

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Silver Huang - 16th July 2017 Reply

One of my biggest mistakes was the other way around—I started asking people early but because at the time, I didn’t know that I was neurosocially different (gifted and autistic) and didn’t factor in that my multiple invisible disabilities would require my entrepreneurial journey to be built very different, all the people I spoke to didn’t resonate with me (nor I with them) and none of their advice ever applied effectively. I hadn’t come to a practical acceptance of myself at the time. I was an invisibly disabled person trying to appear and function like a non-disabled person. Simply doesn’t work. Wasted years of my time because most of my concept and target audience design (wrong market focus) were skewed for similar reasons.

And due to my ignorance of my autism, though I understood the principle of building relationships, I had no idea why I continuously failed in that regard. I simply could not do social networking, it just never happened, though I invested hundreds of hours and worked so hard to improve. Everything only made sense once I received my diagnosis.

Thankfully, today I’m far better equipped and though I still occasionally sigh at the time wasted, at least I no longer struggle in those same areas. At least the struggle has moved on, and that’s when one knows one is making progress at last.

Love the quote by Alain de Botton, so true. Wonderful post, thanks!

    Seán - 17th July 2017 Reply

    Hi Silver,

    I think self-awareness is a hugely overlooked aspect that simply isn’t acknowledged by most of the advice-givers when it comes to online business. I’ve found being authentic is by far the best way to go, though it also took me a long time to get there …

    Thanks for the comment and great to hear you’re on your way at last!

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