I've made more mistakes than I care to count, but I rarely make the same one twice. My career expos originally ran from 10am to 6pm. I figured that by spending more than $2,000 a pop for a recruiting booth, HR reps would expect an eight-hour expo to get their money's worth. What I found, however, was that by about 3pm, the pace of arrivals among job-seekers had come to a complete stop, and the ballroom was dead for the remainder of the afternoon, which meant events ended on a downer. Not a good thing. But I worried about reducing the hours without having to reduce the cost to employers. Ultimately, I realized that cutting back hours delivered the same number of candidates, but more efficiently. The events now wrap at 2pm and my booth rates are the same.
I also wasted time and money on event booklets for attendees. My mom and I worked hours and hours at Kinko's, formatting ads from each participating employer, trying to get them all just right. Since neither of us is a graphic designer, or familiar with how to do this on a computer, it was difficult and stressful. Worse, nobody seemed to read our fancy handouts. Today, we print a short paragraph on each employer in a Word document. It works just fine.
The majority of my early mistakes are more universal to most small business owners: inefficient bookkeeping and poor hiring decisions, probably because I wasn't good at or interested in those things. My passion was (and still is) focused on women's career issues, not the nitty-gritty of running a business. I learned to get help in those areas where I knew I lacked the necessary knowledge, and I forced myself to get skilled in finances since it became essential to growing the business.
I first met Michael Alter, president of SurePayroll.com, as a client. His company is the leading online payroll services company and serves Women For Hire and more than thirty-five thousand other small businesses. I got to know Michael better because his company sponsors Spark & Hustle conferences, where he has shared with my attendees lessons on business success and failure.
"Mistakes are the tuition you pay for success," he says. In fact, SurePayroll gives out a "Best New Mistake Award" to an employee annually because Michael believes that fear of making a mistake is the same as fear of success. No risk, no reward. (There's no award at SurePayroll for making the same mistake twice.)
Michael says fear of making a mistake will halt your vision and your company's progress. "The longer you wait to try some- thing new, the longer you'll wait to learn something your competitors might already know." Learn from it, correct it quickly and move on.
To illustrate his point, Michael talks about teaching his kids to walk. All of them fell, bumped their head and got bruised. One even made a trip to the emergency room. But they survived and today Michael is proud to say all three of his kids walk perfectly.
Getting a handle on what it takes to run your business will mean you stumble from time to time. Get up, dust yourself off and find your way.
As the workplace contributor on ABC's Good Morning America, I once did a story on a woman whose fear paralyzed her job search. She met with a coach who showed her a Harley-Davidson motor- cycle ad that read: