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The Common Mistakes Entrepreneurs Should Avoid

There are common mistakes entrepreneurs commit or priorities they neglect that are correlated to their success or failure. Most often great ideas are not materialized simply because the entrepreneur is not well versed with the skills and knowledge of starting a business. In the journey of entrepreneurship, doing the right things is important. However, not doing the wrong things is equally important. The ecosystem in Afghanistan is very challenging and contemporary entrepreneurship is slowly taking shape. Although culturally and historically Afghans are entrepreneurial by nature, it is crucial that they adopt modern concepts of business and entrepreneurship. This will help them become competitive in an emerging market and survive the challenges of an uncertain economy.

As such, avoiding these simple mistakes can help an entrepreneur to go a long way:

1. Don’t be in the business for the sake of business

Lately, entrepreneurship has become a fashion and a buzz word. In an emerging market like Afghanistan where socioeconomic conditions are dire and the society faces numerous challenges, one does not need to be in the biz for the buzz. It is both morally and materially rewarding to identify problems in the society and to find entrepreneurial ways to address them. An entrepreneur should also be a change maker! Afghan entrepreneurs should explore and see whether their idea or business can also solve a social problem or bring a positive change.

2. Don’t spend too much time on a perfect plan

Planning and strategizing has been overrated. Small businesses don’t have much time or resources to invest in developing a perfect plan. Execution is more important than piling on paper works and trying to foresee everything in a plan. Planning is good but spending too much time to build a perfect plan can be counterproductive. A successful entrepreneur constantly learns and adapts to an ever-changing market. An entrepreneur should seek new information about the market and its customers and update their plan accordingly. As soon as there is a minimum viable product, go ahead and start.

3. Don’t spend before earning!

An entrepreneur is not an investor. The difference is that an entrepreneur creates value for which people would pay. Some resources such as co-working spaces and shared offices are available for minimal cost. It is not necessary to immediately build a website or spend money on branding, design, brochures, business cards or hiring of personnel. Instead, spend time to learn about the business and the market. Ask friends for help and try to expand your network of support. Use what is called the invisible resources. Ask friends for help if you need to do budgeting, for instance. If you are good at accounting, help someone with accounting so they can help you with IT problems and vice versa. Before investment, determine if your venture and product are viable or not.

4. Don’t jump into finding a partner yet, if you haven’t already!

Partnership is like marriage; you need to feel comfortable with your partner. Partners should complement each other and bring a set of skills, knowledge and resources that the other partner doesn’t have. Don’t partner with someone because he/she can invest money. A partner is different from an investor. Start with doing small projects together and see if you can get along well. At times of difficulty, a partner’s support can come handy for your startup’s survival. A startup will not succeed if the partners engage in blame games whenever they face a challenge.

5. Don’t start building a perfect product

Having an idea is different from having a product that is ready for the market. Unless you are confident about what your customers want, don’t spend time or money to build your final product. Learn about prototyping! Before building a final product, test it in the market with real customers. Learn what features need to be added or removed from your product before it hits the market. Producing can be costly and you may be investing in a product that the market might eventually reject. There are organizations in Kabul and online resources where entrepreneurs can learn how to prototype different products and services.

6. Don’t neglect your customers

Entrepreneurs should spend time discovering their customers. Ignoring customers means ignoring the business altogether. Customer discovery is a continuous process; it starts with the prototyping or even before that and continues throughout the phases of product development and market test. Customer discovery is different from market research. Initially entrepreneurs should identify their potential customers and then learn about them. The more information a customer provides, the better a business will be positioned to serve them. When meeting potential customers, don’t just talk about the product or service or engage in sales, but listen to their feedback. More importantly, be receptive to change based on the feedback received.

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7. Don’t just follow the crowd but differentiate

As the old saying goes, Differentiate or Die. However, just being different does not mean your product or service is better. Differentiation is the set of values a product brings to the market that the competitors don’t or can’t. Ask yourself, what makes you unique vs. others in the market? Price shouldn’t be the only differentiation factor though; win something special in the customers’ hearts and minds. In a competitive market, being good is no longer enough. Be innovative and creative using the information you receive from customers in order to set yourself apart from the crowd.

8. Don’t hide behind computers

Woody Allen said “80 percent of success is just showing up”. Don’t hide behind emails and phone calls. Be personally visible and share your business story with passion. It isn’t necessary to run an expensive ad on a major TV channel for thousands of Afghanis. Rather be active in the communities you serve. Your customers should easily be able to find you. Don’t hide your business idea for the fear of someone stealing or copying it. Learn what can be shared and what can’t. Networking is one of the best outreach tools for a startup and referrals are more powerful than advertisement.

“You do not need to be in the biz for the buzz.”

These are simple steps that can give an entrepreneur a general idea of what to do and what not to do, but these are not the only steps. Your journey as an entrepreneur should be a learning process combined with constant feedback process from your customers. ♦

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