My Six Biggest Business Mistakes (And What I Learned)

My Six Biggest Business Mistakes (And What I Learned)

Yes, we've done a lot of things right at Nine Lives Media (now a division of Penton). But people who truly know me have witnessed plenty of mistakes, failures and goof ups. I typically don't dwell on those mistakes. But I certainly learn a lot from them. Here are some of the biggest blunders in my career and what I ultimately learned.

1. Chasing the Dollar: I once left a job I loved simply to earn a bigger salary. Within five days of that career move, I knew I had made a serious mistake. I was a fish out of water in the new position. And I desperately missed my old position. Within three months I jumped back into the career path I loved best -- and took a serious pay cut to do so. I was happy again.

Lesson for MSPs: Don't chase dollars. Do chase dreams.

2. Ignoring Macro Economic Trends: I was once asked to redesign and reposition a magazine. I came up with a killer business plan (at least in my mind...). Yes, it certainly was killer: The magazine died within four months of implementing that business plan. One of my huge mistakes: At the time, the Internet wave was starting to build. I knew nothing about the Net. I should have hired or delegated the Net strategy to someone fast. I had foolishly ignored my own blind spot.

Lesson for MSPs: If your industry is shrinking, find a growing one. Fast.

3. Signing Away My Rights: I once signed an employment contract simply because it came with a great title. Even as I placed my signature on the page, I knew it was a mistake. These days, I don't sign any business documents if I have even the slightest hesitation or concern.

Lesson for MSPs: If it doesn't feel right then it isn't right.

4. Pleasing the Bosses, But Not the Staff: Yes, I've always networked with my bosses. And yes, I always network with staff members. But I've also dropped the ball in some areas. For instance, when an editor on my staff a few years ago had a baby I failed to send a card and gift. I'm not sure how she ever forgave me. I was so wrapped up in audience development and the next big business move I failed to acknowledge one of the most important events in life. Not cool. (Miraculously, that editor and I are still close friends.)

Lesson for MSPs: Focus on life-work balance... for everyone.

5. Hanging On Too Long: Sometimes I won't give up on an idea. In some cases that's fantastic. My "overnight" transition from magazine editor to online blogger and community builder was an eight-year journey. Eight. Freakin. Years. Plus, the small miracle of combining forces with Amy Katz to launch Nine Lives.

But sometimes, my stubborn commitment to ideas is a burden. A case in point: Nine Lives had a website called WorksWithU (1998-2010). It covered Ubuntu Linux. Traffic was huge. The site was marginally profitable. The business market for Ubuntu didn't materialize the way I had expected. I should have admitted -- far sooner -- that my commitment to the site was a distraction we couldn't afford. We finally pulled the plug in October 2010 or so. I miss the site on some days. But I know I should have conceded to Amy -- far earlier -- that my vision was wrong on that one.

Lesson for MSPs: Kill marginal businesses faster, and try to pursue at least one new growth idea every six to 12 months.

6. Failing to Delegate: There are lots of examples. But let me give you just one. I love the creative process. I'm still asked  -- all the time -- how the heck we came up with our FastChat video format. It required a lot of hacking and sleepless nights on my part. Fast forward two years, and I've maintained a tight grip on the FastChat video process here at Nine Lives. Foolish. There's no magic in the process. The solution is built, but I've been sitting in the way as a bottleneck. So, we're finally delegating the process. I should have let go sooner.

Lesson for MSPs: You're simply not that important. Many of the tasks "only you can handle" can actually be managed by those around you. Empower those who want to help you.

Bottom Line: I make a ton of mistakes. But you'll never see me standing still. Never. Each time I blow something up it's likely because there's a rather interesting experiment going on behind the curtains. Stay tuned for more explosions...

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.