Why mistakes make, not break, businesses

Entrepreneur Mike Odysseas discusses how he made the mistake of only focusing on the bottom line in the early stages of his business.

In business, as in life, no matter how careful you are, how knowledgeable you are or how focused you are, you will make mistakes – it’s pretty much inevitable.

Every successful person has failed at some point in their career and many will admit that sometimes it’s what you get wrong, rather than what you get right, that ultimately makes you a winner.

The key to dealing with failure is to treat it as an opportunity to learn. Avoid knee-jerk reactions – analysing what went wrong and why is a far more effective approach than apportioning blame or getting upset. Remember, not even hugely successful entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson always got it right first time. Self awareness and humility will also go a long way to helping you regroup following a mistake.

As an entrepreneur, I think I have probably made every mistake possible – and am still making them. One of my first major errors ended up being a real blessing in disguise, as it taught me that prioritising customer service is the key to success and longevity in business. Ensuring you are one step ahead of your competitors in that area ensures you have a unique selling point which will maximise your chances of repeat custom – something I failed to understand when I first started out.

When I set up my first business, I only looked at the bottom line and focused on being the cheapest. Everything was streamlined around that – staff were low-paid, we had very basic marketing and cheap premises, but this is very difficult to sustain and any idiot can undercut you on price.

What I learned is that providing exceptional service enables you to compete with anyone at any level and is also more rewarding and more viable in the long term. Price is always going to be important but your integrity, reputation and service ethos can outweigh any price issue, to the point where clients will favour a more expensive company which provides consistently excellent service over a cheaper quotation from someone without the same track record for quality.

Part of good customer service, and, in my view, the backbone of a good business, is being utterly reliable and able to deliver what your customers want, when they want it.

This was really emphasised to me when I was on a trip to Berlin. Arriving at my hotel in the middle of the night, I called room service at 4am, fully expecting some lazy response and very little chance of getting my fairly exacting order anytime before sunrise, if at all.

To my surprise, I got a very authoritative German lady on the line who repeated my order precisely to the letter and stated very firmly, “I vill do it.” Not only did my food arrive just ten minutes later, it was exactly what I’d ordered. Never underestimate the value of this type of dedication to your customers – it is what will make your business memorable, and ultimately, what will keep your customers coming back.

Further reading on business mistakes

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