Self-Limiting Habits of Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is hard.

Tell me something I don’t know, right?

But seriously.  This shit’s hard and seems to get harder, even as you reach new levels of success.

There are the external forces that can feel insurmountable sometimes. Like market forces, lack of funding, lack of resources, technical challenges…

But the longer you stay at this, the more you realize this simple truth: Our biggest obstacles are self-created. We limit ourselves, often unknowingly.

I’ve noticed some self-limiting habits that have held me back at times. These also seem to be prevalent among many entrepreneurs I meet.

To varying degrees, I’ve worked to eliminate these habits, but some are ongoing challenges that I still work through.

So here are the 7 self-limiting habits that entrepreneurs like me (and you?) face:

Lack of Urgency

Whether you’re just starting up or you’re in a growth phase, I see a general lack of urgency to hit key milestones and well defined deadlines.

“We ‘validated’ our MVP, so now we can coast until it’s truly ready for prime time.”

“It just needs one more feature before we can start charging for it.”

“We can’t do anything until we redesign our site and that will take months.”

“Our code isn’t built to scale yet.”

Of course, things need to be built, best practices are ideal, and polish makes for a better experience. But nothing matters more than speed. That’s true when you’re starting but just as true when you’re growing.

Speed makes everything better. It keeps the momentum going. Keeps your team engaged. Keeps your customers onboard. Gets you closer to hitting your revenue targets. Gives you space to breathe and keep building.

I try to strike a balance: Aim for 80% perfection, but 100% on time.

Fear of Spending

My business is self-funded and that means I’m constantly focused on cash flow. I’m extremely debt-averse and tend to feel unsteady whenever I get close to feeling over extended.

But making progress often requires spending cash, sometimes in large chunks with a longer than is comfortable lead time before that expenditure might bring a return. That’s scary. But it’s also necessary.

Be prudent. Avoid unnecessary overhead. Keep costs low where you can. But when your business is suffocating from a lack of skills, or low traffic, or an antiquated website… Hire the developer, invest in marketing campaigns, get the new site built… Spend the money, do it fast, and do it decisively.

Valuing revenue over profit

Everybody loves to talk revenue. We even define our businesses by it’s revenue.

“A million dollar business.”

“We passed $50k MRR.”

“We had a $100k launch.”

Those statements don’t tell you much about the businesses they describe. What matters most is net profit.

I’d rather run a $300k/year business that has 50% profit margins than a $600k/year business with 5% profit margins or a $1m/year business that isn’t profitable.

Focusing on profit as the key financial metric helps you get real about what your business truly needs. Often that’s some combination of higher prices, lower costs, more value.

Not marketing soon enough

Marketing is still treated as an afterthought for far too many startups. Maybe that’s because most founders don’t find the work of marketing to be as interesting as working on the product. Or maybe they think they can’t market their product until after it’s launched. Or they think their product will magically market itself because it’s that good.

It’s never too early to work on marketing. You may have proven that a couple people would pay for your MVP. Great. But you haven’t proven that you’ve found the places where many more of those people are. You haven’t proven you can get in front of those people in those places. You haven’t proven you can do that at a cost that is sustainable. There’s a lot to validate besides your product itself. You’d better get to work on that—while you build your product, not after.

Not Working on Strategy

We have these grand visions for the things we want to build. And those visions require an ongoing series of huge, highly complex, projects.

Whether it’s building your sales and marketing funnel, or building a software product, or launching a productized service, or figuring out your internal operations. All of these projects involve hundreds if not thousands of large and small strategic decisions.

But too often, we don’t set aside dedicated time to strategy. Instead, we spend our energy on those strategic decisions while we do the work of executing. Then we wonder why we get stuck, burned out, lose interest, and never ship the thing we envisioned.

The key is to separate strategic planning from execution. I take time write out strategy notes, checklists, milestone dates, and creative direction all before writing any code, designing any web pages, or cracking open any software. This allows me to dedicate full mental energy and bandwidth to that super important work of strategizing and prioritizing. Then when I’m finished, I take a break. Then I can come back to work and focus on execution, simply carrying out the plans and decisions that I’ve already made.

Not taking time away

It’s no secret that most entrepreneurs over work themselves, working crazy amounts of hours and never “turning off”. That in itself isn’t healthy, so it’s important to take time off.

But even if you’re able to unplug and take your much needed time off, are you taking time away? There’s a difference.

If you spend your off-time lounging around the house, going through the motions of your day-to-day routines at home, you’re just not working.

If you spend your off time doing a hobby, playing a sport, traveling, learning something new (that’s not work related), or anything else where you’re actively engaged in something other than your business, then you’re truly taking time away.

That time away not only keeps a healthy work-life balance, but it actually makes you perform better at work. You’re more focused, more creative, and you have more sustained energy because you’ve recharged and flexed your mental and physical muscles in other ways.

This is one habit I need to do a better job of breaking. I take enough time off but not enough time away.

Always improving

None of these self-limiting habits will kill your entrepreneurial journey. But they can slow you down until you find ways to overcome them.

Which habits are limiting your progress? What can you change in order to break them? Like everything else, there are no overnight wins. But being more self aware will help you improve and move faster.

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  • “making progress often requires spending cash, sometimes in large chunks with a longer than is comfortable lead time before that expenditure might bring a return.”

    I struggle with this as well, and I think my businesses suffer because I am so averse to spending money. I’ve seen too many people in my personal life struggle with debt, and I have a hard time separating that from my business life. Something to work on anyways, thanks for the post Brian.

    • Yup, me too. I’m super debt/spend averse, sometimes to a fault.

      One thing that has helped: When you know you have a big expensive thing you want to invest in and launch (like paying a developer to build a software product), before you start, acknowledge the real cost, plan for how you’ll fund it, and if you expect you might hit a limit or use a credit card, write down the dollar amount that you won’t go comfortably go past. Then tell someone else (mastermind group, family member) and ask them to hold you accountable and give you a reality check X months in.

  • Marissa Ryan

    Great post! My issue is with the deadlines – i do set priorities, but certain things end up getting continuously pushed to the backburner and then fall into the “never getting done” category. Creating these deadlines is even tougher because only I can hold myself accountable (and often don’t). Things to work on!