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Running a business

Business lessons from Milo the Puppy—Lesson Three: Common mistakes new owners make

In June, I made a big decision and brought home a precocious eight-week-old Miniature Australian Shepherd puppy named Milo.

Since then, I’ve noticed many parallels between raising a new puppy and starting a new business—specifically a brewery business, as that’s my area of expertise in the accounting world.

Last month, I covered finding buried bones and hidden treasures. This month, I’m talking about the common mistakes I see new owners make—both when it comes to either owning a new puppy or starting a new business.

If you’re a bookkeeping or accounting professional, you’ve probably seen your new business owner clients make at least one of these mistakes. Read on to see how you might be able to help your current and future clients avoid a few of the most common, but serious blunders.

Common new owner mistake: Not doing enough research 

Not all dogs are the same. Australian Shepherds like Milo are known for being intelligent, active, and playful (meaning they need a lot of attention), while pugs or beagles are often more like couch potatoes. It’s important for new dog owners to do their due diligence before choosing a breed to ensure they’re able to give their dog the care and time it needs.

Without adequate research, you might bring home a puppy that is very cute, but they may not be the best fit for your lifestyle, leading to stress (for both owner or dog), or even the need to rehome.

Similarly, not doing enough research before jumping into opening a new business can lead to frustration, stress, and possible failure. The first few years of a business’ life are integral to its overall success. Business owners will be best prepared if they do the research beforehand on things like market share, competitors, budget, and any opportunities and threats to their operations.

The most common mistake I see with brewery owners is not being prepared for all the regulatory authorities they have to deal with now, such as payroll, tips, fees, and getting excise bonds.

Of course, it’s important to note that life is unpredictable (I mean seriously, who could have predicted a global pandemic?). Just like you can’t predict each individual puppy’s personality, your clients can’t predict every possible scenario that could impact their business. But, doing your research in all areas, and having some plans in place, could be the difference between success and failure.

Common new owner mistake: Not setting realistic expectations

It’s easy to forget that a new puppy doesn’t come with all the training that an older dog might. Because he was just 8 weeks when I brought him home, I knew Milo would require more attention and patience, and I secretly hoped he would learn a lot from big sister Violet.

When it comes to business, new owners often fail to set realistic expectations for their startup. The fact is, not everything is going to go as smoothly as you hope, especially when you’re just starting out. One of the first lessons Milo taught me was patience. Whether it was potty training or teaching him basic manners, I was reminded that progress wasn’t going to happen overnight.

Similarly, building a successful business takes time. Remind your clients to be patient and to expect some setbacks on their path to success. Just like accidents happen along the road to a potty-trained puppy, new businesses will experience ups and downs.

Having realistic goals can help business owners stay on track and remain confident that they’re heading in the right direction. As a member of their professional team, you can help them prepare for what this looks like.

Common new owner mistake: Not accounting for initial costs

When I started looking for my new puppy, I had a budget in mind for the initial costs, mainly the cost to purchase and register the puppy. What I’d forgotten about, as it’s been a while since I was a new puppy owner, was all the other costs!

The first year of a puppy’s life is always a big financial hit from the vet bills alone, with three sets of shots and getting neutered, and, of course, we had a couple of extra visits due to Milo getting sick. Then, there’s the new food bowls, collars and leashes, a bed and crate (he won’t sleep in), car seat protection, obedience training … the list goes on and on! It’s amazing the “stuff” you can get for dogs these days. No matter how many dogs you’ve had in the past, there’s always something new and pricey that you MUST have for your puppy (cough, cough, automated water dish).

Similarly, new business owners often forget to take into account all the startup costs they’ll incur before they get into a monthly groove. For new brewery business owners, there are so many additional costs to get up and running after the initial build. For example, there’s the equipment you feel that you can put off for a year or two, and then realize you need it now.

Even if your clients are in different fields, when startup costs don’t include physical locations and large brewing equipment, it’s important to emphasize the one-time upfront costs they may be overlooking. Accounting for these is key to successfully managing cash flow from the start.

Common new owner mistake: Over-indulging in new toys and gadgets

For Milo, it seems no matter how many new training or teething toys I buy him (I have a whole bucket of them), he prefers to stick to one or two of his favorites. I’ve found there’s no need to overspend on the newest toys when he doesn’t need them, and they don’t add any value to his play time. You did see that bucket of bones he found, right? He’s got bones to chew on for a very long time!

The same is true when starting a new business. My background in the craft brewery industry helps me recommend tech to support my clients and their unique business needs, assisting them on decisions where they avoid spending money.

As an accounting or bookkeeping professional, you should be able to provide your clients with a list of the best tech options for their industry, especially when it comes to managing their finances. If you haven’t already, start a list of the products and solutions that you feel every one of your clients should have to make their lives easier, so that you can easily give them this guidance and help them avoid overspending on frivolous “toys.” 

Common new owner mistake: Thinking you can (or have to) do it alone

Most dog owners don’t do everything on their own. As experienced as I thought I was having had other dogs before Milo, I still needed help from groomers, vets, and trainers to help Milo grow up happy and healthy. My many years of owning a dog have taught me that every dog is different, and it’s okay to ask for help where you need it. Asking for help is also an important lesson.

A new business is the same—sure you could do it alone, and may have some business experience previously, but technologies and industries change, and the learning curve becomes a lot shorter when you have a strong team to lean on. More importantly, new business owners often overestimate their bandwidth and get overwhelmed trying to wear every hat.

It’s always good for new business owners to seek guidance from professionals with deep industry-specific knowledge. You wouldn’t take a chihuahua to a groomer who specializes in cutting poodle hair, so don’t let your clients seek advice from a professional with no experience in their industry.

No matter what kind of business your client is in, there are professionals who specialize in helping them. As a bookkeeping or accounting professional, you may be one of the first members of your clients’ new business team. This gives you an opportunity to show the value of hiring professionals with niche industry expertise, and you may be able to refer other professionals within your network to better assist your clients.

Help your clients avoid common business owner mistakes

No matter how prepared we feel, or how much research we do, all new puppy owners and new business owners will make mistakes here and there. My biggest mistake, to date, has been allowing Milo to sleep on the bed, instead of in his crate. Now, it’s taking a lot more work to try and train him to even go in the crate.

Don’t forget, mistakes are excellent learning opportunities. Learning from failure is often the key to success. By getting things wrong, your client will improve their skills and grow in various ways. But if you can help your client to minimize mistakes by making them aware of common pitfalls, it helps them to make better business choices. We all know that learning from other people’s mistakes and successes (aka experience) is more efficient than figuring things out on our own.

With that said, not all help is helpful! Next month, I’ll continue this series with lessons on who not to take advice from as a new (business or puppy) owner.

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