The #1 Business Building Mistake (and How To Avoid It)

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If you’ve ever made the #1 business building mistake I’ve seen new businesses make in my years as a graphic and web designer, first of all, I’m so sorry! It’s not you.

You’re probably a wonderful person, with great intentions and big dreams. You probably want more freedom, more time with your family, and more money, just like most people do.

You probably just….didn’t know.

And that’s OK. Mistakes are how we learn.

But I want to save you from this whopper, so you can spend a little less time and a lot less money getting to your goal.

By now you’re probably like “just tell me the #1 business building mistake already girl!”

Alright, here it is:

Not validating your idea before building your business and brand.

I know, it sounds so simple right?! Who would skip that? Of course people want your product! You know it! Of course they need your service! Would you really work on this if you didn’t think anybody was going to buy it?!

You wouldn’t think so right? Until it happens to you.

I’ve seen it play out more times than I’d like to. A client dives right in with a great new business idea. They get excited about the logo, the business cards, the stationary!

And the website.

Ohhhh the website.

They lay down two months worth of mortgage payments with a designer or agency on a brand spanking new website.

Its beautiful, as magical as a unicorn flying through cyberspace, shooting glitter from its bum as it goes.

But then, months begin to pass. Hosting is $100/mo. Email, $10. Plugins for website, $50/mo. These costs stack up. But hey at least the expenses are tax deductible!!

Meanwhile, the client does a few things to tell friends family and colleagues about their new venture. Email. Word of mouth. Maybe some local networking. People say its great!


But back at home, in the deep dark night, reality bites. 

This website and biz have brought in exactly $127.49 over the last six months. $35 of which was from mom.

All those who said it was great, didn’t open their wallet when push came to shove.

Discouraged and convinced there is no other option, the client eventually terminates their website, and folds in their biz. The unicorn lands. The glitter turns to ashes.

What went wrong?! Why didn’t anyone buy?

Of course there are a multitude of small nuances that contribute to the failure of a business idea before it even gets off the ground. They range from unclear messaging and branding failures, to the owner just well, not putting in the effort to market the product or service, and not taking the time to figure it out, or pivot when things don’t work. ( aka quitting too freaking soon)

That last one there is our key #1 business building mistake. Pivoting when things don’t work. 

BEFORE the website, the logo, the biz cards stamped CEO in gold foil, comes validating your idea in the market.

But HOW can you do this? How can you find out if anyone will buy this thing or service WITHOUT maxing out three credit cards? I’ve got a few ideas for ya, courtesy of my story starting THIS very biz.

When I was starting out here at Thirty One Palms after over 7 years of freelance life, I honestly had NO idea if my marketing templates were going to sell. Does anyone really KNOW until they put something out there and try it? Well, no. Can’t know what you don’t know.

So I started my business building small. I started out with 10 Photoshop based logo templates and 2 Photoshop email templates to sell on Etsy. I designed them for photographers, after researching others in that niche, and taking my talents, skills and interests into account.

I designed myself a logo, (yeah I know easy peasy for me, being a graphic designer, but you can easily do the same using Canva for free, and it DOESN’T even have to be that “good”) and named my store.

That was it. Barely any money spent. Not more than 30 minutes setting up any kind of visual brand.

I put my products out there in the world, for millions to see. I didn’t have this website you’re on now. I hadn’t expanded to other marketplaces, like I have now. Just Etsy, and I only spent a few hours of my time on it.

After I put my products up, I basically forgot about them, and I kept on with my regular life. A month later, in the car on the way back from our annual winter move from New England to Florida, I GOT MY FIRST SALE in the parking lot of a Popeyes chicken somewhere off of I-80.

Now, you might think this story has an ending where my Photoshop templates for photographers took off and I ended up expanding and making that my business.


But do you see any Photoshop templates sold here? Hah. No.

Because they kinda….didn’t sell. I asked friends to support me and give them a whirl (embarrassing). Still I really only sold a couple. Yo girl here had big plans to escape the freelance work cycle ( more on that another time) and one or two sales on Etsy was not going to cut it.

So, I went back to the drawing board. I got on a call with an Etsy seller offering consultations to learn what she did. She told me that Photoshop templates honestly were….dying out.

So I did some research at this point on my business building journey. She was kinda….right. I signed up for free trials of Etsy SEO and trend software, like Marmalead and ERank. I spent time stalking other Etsy sellers to the level of creeper.( I mean I found them on LinkedIn to see if this was their full time job, etc. I know. Creepy.)

I discovered Google Trends, which informed me that, yes, Photoshop templates were going the way of the dinosaurs. Trying to break into a dying marketplace suddenly seemed counterproductive.

All of this research lead me to discover social media and marketing templates. 

I took what I was good at and had experience in (graphic design, email marketing campaign design) and used those to create my first couple of templates.

I also examined the ever popular Canva. I started out hating Canva, the typical graphic designer ranting about how it was going to drive them out of business with the ability for people to DIY their design.

But rather than turn up my nose to Canva, I tried it. 

I learned it and examined its features and used what I already knew about design to create some great stuff using it! It isn’t about the tool its about the designer. A designer is a designer no matter the tool.

Some (most) people are not designers. And they don’t want to be. But they want to be able to LOOK like they are without the arduous process of going back and forth with someone and paying for that time.

So I switched my template design software of choice to Canva. 

Not for me, for my customers. Because its FREE to use, and learning curve is more like a gentle slope than Photoshop’s vertical climb.


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After implementing this research, I created new products. The ones you see on this site and in my other stores. And low and behold, people loved them! The market responded well!!

Only AFTER that experience, did I build this website, refine my logo and brand messaging, create more graphics, and finalize my brand, and I will continue to expand upon what works, investing more time and money into that.

I’m still continuing to listen to feedback, and try things to see what works every day while building my buisness.

Let’s recap how you can apply my story to your business building to avoid the #1 Business building Mistke I’ve seen freelance clients make, with some actionable steps for you:

#1: Research your market.

Ask people who are NOT friends and family what they think of your idea. Ask clients, co workers, and strangers who have no emotional investment in you, or your feelings. Conduct a survey. Use tools like Google Trends or SEO software to see what is in right now. Most have free trials.

#2: Test your product AND your brand.

Come out with a prototype or beta version of your product, and put it out into the world. You can start on a platform that will give you traffic (like Etsy, or YouTube for digital video based learning or courses) for a pretty low cost.

If you’re selling a service, visit some networking groups (even virtual ones, thank you COVID) or post your service on some marketplaces. Your goal isn’t to get huge right now, its just to refine your offerings and see what people want.

If you DO consult with a designer or agency and they give you overall feedback, consider their thoughts!! They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t for other people.

Use basic tools to start! 

Use Canva to put together a basic brand. Keep it coherent, but it doesn’t have to sing from the rooftops, until AFTER you really know what your customers resonate with, so you can refine your brand for THEM. It just has to look professional.

If you need a website to even offer up your services, put one together quickly using Squarespace or even yes, Wix. Are you going to stay there forever? NOPE! You’ll outgrow it. But you just want enough here to get started.

#3: Observe your results.

Pretty simple action item here, observe what happens! Does anyone buy? Does the market respond to you? Even if it isn’t how you thought they would? Do people leave awful reviews?

Do they not UNDERSTAND your product and the language you’re using to tell them about it? Do they love your product? Are they asking you if you offer XYZ and if you could add something to your service or product? 

Pro tip: observe bad reviews on competitors products to learn what NOT to do, without actually having to make the mistake yourself.

#4: Implement your findings.

Make those changes and respond! Throw your desires and ego out the door and create for your CLIENTS, not yourself. No matter how much love you put into your product, if no one likes it, let it go. 

Let it go and pivot. Not only is it ok to let go, it is essential to building your business!

Finally, once you nail it, start to invest more heavily in your branding, logo, and yes, website. Now you know WHO you are speaking to. It all becomes so much easier, and you know it will pay dividends and help you avoid the #1 business building mistake.

Remember (and this is one I struggle hard with too) it isn’t YOU that people don’t like. 

It isn’t YOU as a person. It’s not your heart and soul they’re rejecting. It’s your OFFER. You are not your product or service. You are a person.

You can change your offer to one that resonates better for your customers, and still be the same person inside. You’re still worthy no matter what. 

Don’t spend your time trying to push an idea that no one wants. You’ll only burn out, and burn through money on ads, and yes, branding that doesn’t work.

Branding and ads increase connection and exposure on something people already want. But they cannot force people to buy something they never wanted to begin with. And if they do, karma comes around like a hula hoop. Bad reviews will ensue.

Avoid the #1 business building mistake when starting out, and validate your idea BEFORE you invest big dollars in your branding materials and technical goodies.

Only when you strike gold and stick to your business building process, will unicorns lay your business on their backs and fly you into the clouds, glitter and all. You’ll have kicked the #1 business building mistake to the curb once and for all. It’s worth the wait.

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Tamara Morrison

Tamara is a Graphic Design & Brand Building expert that helps entrepreneurs craft the perfect brand. She gets inside your head to bring your dream brand out and to life! She’s been creative since, well, birth, and she spends her time traveling with her race car driver fiancée and she’s obsessed with her cat. 

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