This is Part 4 in a series on Common Business Startup Mistakes. Previous articles in this series are: Lack of VisionPoor Business Startup Preparation and Undercapitalization.

In today’s article, I’ll look at an often overlooked factor that causes startup failure: having a rigid mindset about your business idea.

How a rigid mindset manifests

Here are ways in which this mindset can manifest and some ideas on how to handle it.

1. Falling in love with your business idea

Goal setting experts teach that you should never give up on a goal until you achieve it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always apply in business during the startup period.

Many founders make the mistake of getting so attached to the business idea that they don’t want to consider anything else.

This causes them to:

  • Lose objectivity and start viewing the business as an extension of themselves.
  • Become offended when someone offers constructive criticism or feedback.
  • Ignore warning signs that the business idea may have exhausted it’s lag time (see more on lag time from this article).
  • Ignore looming threats and business weaknesses.
  • Get blind to opportunities that they could take advantage of.

2. Following your business plan rigidly

While having a business plan is an advantage, especially at startup, sticking to it religiously can lead to failure.

A business plan is a guide and not the guide. It gives you an idea of how you should start and grow your business.

Moreover, as most experienced business people will tell you, the business will take its own course. In fact, a lot of businesses rarely end up in the way the founders envisioned at startup.

As you work on your business:

  • Be open to new ideas.
  • Listen to feedback, especially from customers and employees.
  • Identify gaps in the marketplace that your business can address.

How to make the best use of your plan

You don’t have to change your business in response to all the good ideas you get. You also don’t have to implement all the feedback you receive. Any changes you make should move your business forward and make more money.

Also, don’t be tempted to keep going back to the drawing board. You will kill your business if you keep starting from scratch all the time.

Do small tests and see how the market responds to the changes first. If there is a positive response, then you probably have a good idea that can be escalated.

Finally, don’t dump the plan if it doesn’t work out the first time. For one, you may have grossly underestimated the work that needed to be done.

Instead, use the information and experience to update your plan one step at a time. This will help you make money even as you make changes or test new ideas.

Today’s business arena changes very fast. Entrepreneurs who are the most responsive to shifts in the needs of the market make the most money. Startups are well poised to do this because decision-making processes are not bureaucratic as happens in large organizations.

3. Relying too much on intuition

Many successful business people got their breakthroughs as a result of hunches or intuition.

On the other hand, relying on your intuition alone will lead to failure. You need to be more pragmatic and couple your intuition with SWOT analysis or market research.

Also, note that it takes time and experience before your business intuition becomes super powerful. It’s a process of learning through action, success and failure. With time, you will develop a strong intuition that works for you and your business.

4. Wanting to do everything yourself

At startup, most founders end up doing all the work. Many get used to doing things their way and find it hard to let go. There comes a point in every business when you’ll have to let go and outsource some work or hand it over to employees.

Furthermore, letting employees take over some of the work will actually make your business grow. You will have enough time to:

  • market and network.
  • come up with new ideas.
  • check out your competition closely.
  • identify opportunities you’d have overlooked if you were busy doing everything.

You’ll grow as a leader once you have a team. Additionally, you will have more free time as your business will be taken care of by the team.

5. Arrogance

Arrogant founders think they know it all. After all, they came up with the idea, created a powerful business plan, and are taking action on it. What could go wrong?

It’s a huge mistake to expect success simply because of who you are or your business idea. You’ll also find that people get put off by arrogance. They’ll shy away from making suggestions or giving constructive criticism.

Finally, you’ll find yourself alienated in networking groups or events because people don’t want to hang around you.

The solution for this behaviour is simple: be proud of your business, but retain an attitude of humility and respect. While you don’t have to take everyone’s advice to heart, you also don’t have to be overbearing.

My personal experience with a rigid mindset

I smiled a lot as I wrote this article because I can clearly see myself having a rigid mindset now and in the past.

To start with, I tend to fall in love with my ideas. It takes a lot of effort to shift back to objectivity.

In my first business, people (including customers) tried to tell me which direction to take. I was too in love with my ideas to listen.

To tell the truth, I was also quite arrogant in some aspects and rarely took advice, even from seasoned business people.

I remember my landlady taking time to give me business tips. Most of these tips were ignored and I did exactly what she told me not to.

This was a huge mistake because she was a seasoned and highly successful business woman. She never gave up and would give a tip here and there and also take time to find out how I was doing.

Since hindsight is 20/20, I can now clearly ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what she was telling me…years after that business failed.

A huge learning curve

One challenge that I have now (and never had in my first business) is handing over work to employees.

This time, I’ve consciously had to force myself to outsource work. I’ve also had to learn how to teach the people I’m outsourcing to how I want my work done.

In the previous business, delegation was not a problem. I had created systems and handed over specific roles to employees after training them.

Everyone knew what they were there to do and they did it. I also had a great team that would give me feedback from their own observations and interactions with customers.

Being in business has taught me to identify changes in the market and shift quickly to match them. I’ve also learnt to be patient during the shifts and test things out first before going full blast.

Your next step

Here are some questions to help evaluate your mindset:

  • How attached are you to your business idea?
  • Are you able to step aside and look at your business objectively?
  • How well do you handle criticism and advice regarding your business?
  • Are you able to use both your intuition and research when you get great ideas?
  • Are you able to change direction fast when you realize you're heading in the wrong direction?
  • How fast do you make changes when you find an easier or better way of doing things?
  • Do you make decisions based on what you want or what the market wants?
  • How much of your work have you handed over to employees (including outsourcing)? If your business is still very young, when are you planning to hire your first employee or outsource work?
  • Is your business plan cast in stone? Do you allow yourself to deviate from it when you get useful information? (Sometimes deviations bring amazingly positive results).

You can have the best business idea and create award winning business plans and still lose it all if you have a rigid mindset.

Physical challenges, such as lack of money, being in the wrong location, not knowing how to market, etc, can be overcome. A rigid mindset can only be changed by the owner, and that is you.

I’d love to hear from you so please share your experience in the Comments below.

(Image Credit: Stuart Miles at Free Digital Photos)


The complete Common Business Startup Mistakes series is:

  1. Part 1: Lack of Vision.
  2. Part 2: Poor Business Startup Preparation.
  3. Part 3: Under-capitalization.
  4. Part 4: Having a Rigid Mindset.

Starting a business while still employed need not be a hassle. Sign up for this Teleclass with Business Coach Caroline Gikonyo, and find out how you can start your dream business without giving up your job.

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Caroline Gikonyo
Caroline Gikonyo

Caroline Gikonyo created her dream business and ran it as a solopreneur for 6 years. She then teamed up with 2 other coaches and formed Biashara 360 where she is now the Head of Coaching. As a Business Coach, she's been helping professionals start and grow successful businesses while reducing the time they spend working. You can find out more about her work at www.biasharathreesixty.com.