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[Interview] Patrick Burke, author of “The 10 Biggest Business Mistakes And How To Avoid Them”

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Patrick Burke

Wherever or whatever your business is, there’s one thing all entrepreneurs have in common: making mistakes can hurt. Building a great startup isn’t just about a great a idea — it’s having the savvy to anticipate roadblocks and potential hurdles and having the tools to safely. navigate past them.

In his new book, “The 10 Biggest Business Mistakes And How To Avoid Them“, startup and business advisor Patrick Burke lays out the ten most common errors that business leaders make, such as hiring too fast or two slow, or treating every phase like you’re still a brand-new startup. Burke’s been through many a venture himself — and speaks from the dual perspectives of businessman as well as advisor.

We sat down with him to talk about his own beginnings, his observations helping hundreds of startups, and his view of how to avoid making these common business mistakes. Here is some of our conversation:

1. Talk a bit about yourself and your own career journey.

I was a self-admitted poor employee. At the ripe old age of 28 I decided to leave the CPA firm that I was working for and start my own firm. Because of my experience with finding, servicing, and billing clients at my first firm, it wasn’t much of a stretch to do this on my own. However, I must admit that going on your own with only a few clients and very little money in the bank is a non-optimal way to begin a business. However, I found that fear was a great motivator.

2. What prompted you to write this book in terms of your own experience, particularly advising startups?

I had a strong belief that business is like weekend golf. It is not the player that makes the most spectacular shots that will win the match but rather the player that makes the fewest mistakes. The 10 mistakes I’ve outlined in the book are just the 10 most common I’ve seen in my business experience.

3. What in your own business career has stuck with you as an indelible lesson?

There are two.

1) Be careful who you partner with.

If, at all possible, go on your own. If you must have a partner, then please adhere to the gold standard: someone who has a skill that’s absolutely required for your business and that can not be acquired for money alone.

2) Do not start, buy into, or buy outright a business where you are not the best player at the key position or the second-best player at the rest of the positions.

Adding no value to a business causes you to rely on the skills and dedication of someone else. This is a dangerous combination.

4. How can business leaders and entrepreneurs better position themselves and their teams for success?

This all starts with hiring the right people. It has been my experience that most small to medium size businesses hire too fast and fire too slow. I also believe that entrepreneurs by and large are not very good at recruiting – it takes too much time and they are not good at interviewing because they are not good listeners – their personalities are just too strong. It is better to find someone in the organization who is much better at these softer human resource skills and rely on them to source, train and retain topflight employees.

Once they are in the door be sure they clearly understand the company’s culture, what is expected of them, and how they are going to be measured. Too often, start-up businesses are really a personality cult. The owner can lead this cult up to about 20-30 people and then the lack of culture will begin to show itself. Obviously, it is best to create a positive culture and present and explain it to employees before they begin their careers with the business.

5. Businesses can make so many mistakes along the way. How can they recover after a disastrous decision?

Businesses make disastrous decisions all the time. Kind of like giving up a home run ball if you’re a pitcher or a pick six if you are quarterback. You just need to have a short memory, dust yourself off and keep going. Of course, this assumes that you still have enough gas in your tank and money in the bank. If you are making an existential bet, make sure the odds are highly in your favor.

6. What’s your biggest piece of advice for a young startup just throwing their hat into the ring?

Best piece of advice for a young start-up is two-fold. First understand it’s probably going to take twice as much time and twice as much money as you originally thought. I know that is not scientific, but it has been my experience over the last 40 years that doubling up on both, does not insure success, will insure no early failures.

The second piece is understanding that your business must be your passion. If you are starting the business just to provide yourself a better job… a lifestyle business, it will never be all that it can be. One day you will be sorry you approached it in that way instead of going all in.