HomeResourcesBlogThe 5 Biggest Mistakes We Made Early On (And The Big Mistake We’re Still Making Now)

The 5 Biggest Mistakes We Made Early On (And The Big Mistake We’re Still Making Now)

Mistake #1: Not leveraging My Brand For Bizdev

When I first started working with David we had an unwritten agreement. He was going to focus on bizdev and leveraging his network to promote Shortlist, and I was going to focus on internal operations.

And for a while, that worked well. 

I came up with the early services and differentiated them as best I could from other agencies that were out there. I came up with our quality metrics for the sites we were going to work with, as well as the workflow (Trello, Google Sheets, and what SEO tools we were going to use).

David, on the other hand, referred customers regularly. He was actively going to conferences and meeting people and talking about Shortlist. 

That worked well for a few years and really helped us get off the ground, but then things started to change. 

As we grew the team and people became more senior and experienced with how we run things, it wasn’t as necessary for me to oversee the day to day. 

Similarly, David, due to some personal reasons and commitments to other businesses was less able to focus on referring customers to Shortlist. 

I found myself with more time on my hands, and less leads to work with, and that’s a part of why last year was a negative year for growth.

Lately, we’ve started to change this, albeit much later than we should have. 

I now spend less time focusing on processes at Shortlist and more time writing content on the blog, publishing my thoughts on Linkedin, hosting networking events in Philadelphia via Philly Tech Entrepreneurs, and running a podcast where I interview other entrepreneurs. 

It’s definitely not what I’m used to. 

I’ve typically been more of a quiet, behind the scenes operator type, but that’s not what the business needs right now, so I’m hoping this new approach and the seeds were sowing now will eventually blossom into more business to account for the decrease we saw last year.  

Mistake #2: Not Prioritizing Case Studies

People work with a service provider to get a result. Period. 

Of course, it helps to have intangibles. 

It’s helpful if they like you and the brand. Maybe they follow your social media account or your blog. Maybe your prices are more competitive than alternatives. 

But at the end of the day the only reason anyone pulls the figurative trigger to work with someone is because they believe it will get them the results they want. Without that, there’s nothing. 

And an important factor in gauging future success is past success. That’s why reviews on sites are so important and why we’ve done a decent job making sure we have great reviews on sites like TrustPilot and Clutch. 

Nevertheless, we really dropped the ball on case studies. 

Sure, we had a few. For example, this article on comparing 6 different SEO campaigns we ran or this eCommerce case study on generating $41k in sales over a weekend.

But, relative to the amount of successful campaigns we worked on, we were definitely underrepresenting ourselves. 

The fact of the matter is that we were spending so much time on clients and not enough time on ourselves. 

But this year, that’s changed. 


We’ve already come out with 2 new case studies and a 3rd is on the way. 

Mistake #3: Not Taking Roles & Responsibilities Seriously

There’s about 20 or so people working full time at Shortlist. 

Some roles are very clear. For example, if you have a speciality skill like design or development, it’s pretty clear what you do and who you do it for. 

But other roles, specifically in the BizDev department, are a little more grey. 

People in those departments are doing a ton of different things. For example:

  • Managing client relations
  • Handling sales calls & presentations
  • Invoicing
  • Handling outbound campaigns
  • Managing Shortlist inbound campaigns
  • Paying bloggers

And of course even these responsibilities are very high level and just sort of scratch the surface. 

The reality is that several people at the company, even including a few department heads, have somewhat nebulous roles that are not directly connected to KPIs. 

And as the old adage goes, if everyone owns it, no one owns it.

Which is to say that we have been dragging our feet for too long allowing multiple people to have crossover roles without clear delineation. 

We’re working on fixing that this year. It’s going to take time, and maybe even a few more people if we can afford it, but I believe it will give each person ownership, which is an important part of feeling satisfied with your work. 

Mistake #4: Not Delegating Enough Internally

Ironically, I’ve always thought of myself as an excellent delegator. 

After all, I typically skew towards growing relatively large teams (relative to the size of the business that is), and of course, if I have people working with me, I like to use them. 

Nevertheless, after a few years at Shortlist it was clear that too many things relied on me. 

  • I was running too many meetings
  • I was speaking too much at our monthly company standup
  • I was directly managing employees that were supposed to report to department heads

This, of course, wasn’t ideal for me because I need to be focused on the business and not in the business i.e doing more BizDev. 

But it was also robbing senior members of the chance to exercise their seniority. 

Some people have been on the team, 3, 4, even 5 years, and they weren’t running any meetings nor did they really have any direct reports. 

We’ve done a good job over the last few months of breaking that up. The meetings are honestly better than they were before because people with real ownership and a motivation to make them better are in charge. I’m speaking less than ever at monthly meetings and handing over individual segments to various team members to talk about their wins. 

Mistake #5: Not Showcasing All Our Services 

If you first come across Shortlist, you’d think that we pretty much only do backlinking. 

And yes, that is a main service that we offer. In fact, it IS the main service that we offer. 

But we are so much more than just that. 

Over the last few years we have delicately crafted and added services in our various departments; SEO, Content, and Branding. 

And yes, each one has a single page – but the majority of what we offer is not represented there (hence, the big mistake we’re STILL making). 

For example, you would probably never know that Shortlist actively services clients with

  • Technical SEO Audits
  • Competitor Backlink Analysis
  • Keyword Research
  • Link Insertions via Outreach
  • UI/UX Design
  • Brand Books & Style Guidelines
  • Social Media management

Among other things. 

We know this, obviously, and a few clients do, and we forget that many others don’t. They don’t know the full scope of services that Shortlist offers. 

That’s why we’re currently in the process of completely revamping our home page and services pages, which, I expect to be done in a few weeks from publication of this article.  

And when we do, perhaps I’ll remember to update this article!

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