The 2nd biggest business mistake I’ve made

by: April 21, 2015

The 3rd biggest business mistake I've made

Making mistakes is an important part of life for those who like to constantly push at the edge of safe. People who rarely make mistakes miss 1000s of opportunities, seldom achieve much and by definition are boring.  I’d prefer to be frequently wrong than often boring.

Learning from one’s mistakes is critical.  Making the same mistake twice is somewhat foolish, and making it three times is downright stupid. Here’s my 2nd biggest business mistake and some lessons learnt from it…

Love of France

I’ve always been a bit of a francophile – I love the way of life, the wine and food, the language and culture. So, with a strong software business in the UK, and fledgling distributors in Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland and South Africa, finding a distributor in France seemed an attractive proposition.

But after six months of searching and failing to find an appropriate partner, the proposition was put to me by a French business that we create a joint venture to market and support our software in France.  One thing led to another and before we knew it, they didn’t have the money to invest and we’d set up a wholly owned French subsidiary. I recruited a General Manager/Sales Manager, and seconded a highly experienced, top quality person from the UK to support him.

What went wrong?

  • Selling a British product into France via a British-owned subsidiary, where there are French competitors is a big challenge.  The French tend to buy French given half a chance.
  • Although I have a strong track record of recruiting great sales people, I made the big mistake of accepting someone who wouldn’t have cut the mustard in the UK.  Why? a) because he was French and ‘maybe his skills are suited to the French way of selling’ and b) because I felt the urgent need to get the show on the road.
  • Up until that point, everything we did had worked really well. The UK business was thriving and our international distributors were beginning to bring in some great clients. So I’d become a bit complacent and ignored the basic rules.

One year on, an enormous amount of management time and £300,000  of costs later, we realised it wasn’t working and closed it down (not an easy process in France).  A big mistake or, as I prefer to positively position it, a very expensive personal development programme.

What did I learn from this?

  1. Never forget the basics.  First things first, research and understand the market.  Keep your ears open for negative feedback, because that’s key information – people will normally tell you what they think you want to hear, so listen very carefully to anything that you can learn from.
  2. Be prepared to change your mind. The French have a saying ‘only a fool never changes his mind’ – so don’t push ahead regardless.  Stop and reconsider properly and take advice from others.
  3. A great sales person transcends international and cultural boundaries. Although style may vary a little, the same critical skill sets apply wherever you are.
  4. Don’t allow your passion to subjugate good sense.
  5. Just because you’ve been successful before, don’t assume that you have the midas touch.


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About Author

Paul is Zonata's founder and MD. He has a true passion for business and is massively excited by the opportunities that Zonata provides for its clients and partners. He loves helping owner-managed businesses be exceptionally successful, and enjoys the phenomenal quality of the people who work with him.

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