In Starting Out, Know What You Don't Know


Many entrepreneurs start out getting tripped up by lack of planning. But for those who have done the research, pulled together the PowerPoint, and created an ironclad business plan, there's another trap lurking–"expert mind." That's the term consultant Pamela Slim coined for small-business owners who start out with the attitude that they know everything.

Slim, who coaches people looking to make the leap from the corporate world into their own business, says most clients come to her because they are terrified of the unknown. But in the years she has been consulting small businesses, she says she also sees entrepreneurs who seem overconfident. "They assume things in the entrepreneurial world are going to be similar to corporate life," she says. "So they focus on title and experience and feel like they are going to be shown as weak if they ask a question." One marketer she worked with "felt like she missed the boat" when she set up her own company, because she assumed selling her product to corporations wouldn't be that different from selling to other small businesses.

So Slim preaches a philosophy of "beginner mind" to clients. That means getting over cockiness to embrace curiosity. She suggests not worrying about how experienced others perceive you as being. Instead, start with a blank slate when you talk with customers and other small-business owners. Be a listener; absorb their comments. That frame of mind helps small-business owners recover from missteps more quickly. "When you are trying things that are new, you are not going to have it all figured out," says Slim.