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Mistakes Made in Growing Your Business, Part 3

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

In the two previous blog posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I listed the “dirty dozen” common mistakes made in growing your talent development business. But, I guess I lied . . . or at least underestimated the number of critical mistakes I’ve observed over the years. So, here are a few extras that have surfaced.

13. Dreaming too big.

I could have incorporated this mistake into the dreaming too small category but they are different. While it is important not to sell yourself short, you also want to ensure you aren’t kidding yourself. Not fully understanding your current capabilities individually or collectively; reaching beyond your means, financially or otherwise; and even convincing yourself you know what you’re doing even though deep down you realize this isn’t the case can certainly result in a doomsday scenario. You need to thoroughly understand the industry’s current dynamics, its future trends, what is needed to satisfy both, what you believe is missing, and how you plan to fill the holes. This may be a sobering process, but without such a reality check you are much more likely than not to pursue an impossible dream. There is a fine line between dreaming too small and too big. Find that line and be sure to cross it only when you are confident with what is on the other side.

14. Keeping bad customers.

Of course this sounds like heresy in that if the customer is always right, how could they be bad? The truth is the customer is always the customer but isn’t necessarily always right. Hanging on to unproductive customers who create chaos with your business is costly and disruptive. The fact is, there are good customers who are relatively easy to deal with, supportive of your efforts, and think and act like partners for mutual benefit. There are also customers who suck the life out of you, your business, and your employees. You need to fire them—or at a minimum have a heart-to-heart discussion indicating why the relationship isn’t working and how it could improve going forward. Failure to get positive movement with your customers is grounds for severing your relationship (professionally of course) and moving on to serve those customers worthy of what you offer.

15. Believing your own press.

In any professional industry you are bound to find numerous theorists, advocates, educators, authors, speakers, and consultants. Whether part of a one-person band or large organization, founder, partner, or simply practitioner, these people have based their business on their ability to create and apply their intellectual property and prowess to solving business challenges. It is reasonably easy to get a swelled head when you’re constantly called upon to “save the day” (and get paid handsomely for doing so). True, there are relatively few rock stars in any industry, but even the opening acts are front and center when called upon to assist. The challenge is accepting you don’t have all the answers.

16. Making false promises.

A mistake that can often follow number 15 is believing so deeply in your own press that you take on assignments in which you have no expertise or experience. One of two situations can contribute to this potentially fatal mistake. Either you talk yourself into believing you owe it to your client to solve all their challenges, so when they ask you to step out of your knowledge boundary you go where you shouldn’t; or, you simply need the business so much that you will do anything to get it. After all, you are smart enough, know the client organization, don’t want the client to engage another potentially competitive consultant, and believe you are better than anyone else. Either of these rationales are likely to lead to the common mistake of overpromising and underdelivering—a surefire path to a short-term client relationship.

17. Putting your head in the sand.

In a similar vein as numbers 15 and 16 is the mistake of not listening to or accepting the reality of the situation. This is where you see all the necessary cues but ignore them because they don’t line up with your thinking or beliefs. You reject what is obvious and deny what is true. Examples in our industry include rejecting research that contradicts your favorite practices; refusing to listen to your direct reports who collectively inform you of the dysfunctional behavior of others; blaming others for your own or your business’s poor performance; accepting repugnant behavior from your client because you don’t want to lose the business; and refusing to accept the technological changes taking place in the industry because they would require you to alter your delivery process. Such refusals to acknowledge and react appropriately to the facts before you are likely to result in undermining your success over time (if not immediately).

18. Not keeping up.

This is something of an expansion on number 17 in that it implies an unwillingness or inability to be in step with not only the changes taking place in the industry but also the vast amounts of knowledge accumulated in your own area of expertise. Sticking with the tried-and-true is surely a safe approach—until it becomes tired and false. Staying up to date is often what clients are depending on you to do for them: bring forth new tools, research, and methodologies that can better serve them.

As you have read through these additional common mistakes, which do you think you are making? How can you remedy these quickly and efficiently?


For more insight, check out my book The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

About the Author

Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His latest book is The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

He can be reached at: 952-942-7291 or [email protected] or at his website:

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