onyourplateSmall business owners do it all—from creating business plans, to marketing, sales, billing, customer management, and even sweeping the floors. Unfortunately, part of doing it all is making do with what you can do, because you simply can’t be an expert in everything. And while it would be nice to hire an expert to take care of business-critical functions like the design, content, and optimization of your website and the crafting of your sales messages and presentations; in many cases (particularly when the business is just starting up), it is simply not economically feasible. So, like the entrepreneur you are—you simply jump in and do it.

Even if you are a fast learner with a can-do attitude, you are bound to make some novice mistakes along the way. While there is no substitute for the experience you will gain as you experiment with different designs and messages, there is also no reason not to seek out the advice of experts who already know where beginners often falter. To that end, the following resources highlight common design and content mistakes beginners typically make, and provide examples of the right way to do things.


Website Design

Your business is one of a kind, so it deserves a professional yet unique website that truly expresses your mission and your brand. Thus, it is surprising that so many do-it-yourselfers succumb to the common pitfalls of using a dated site template, fake-looking stock images, and overly complex (or conversely, totally haphazard) navigation schemes. If you don’t have much web design experience, and you can’t afford to hire an expert, the best thing to do is keep it simple and to the point. The following resources outline many common web design mistakes and how to correct and avoid them.

  • My Biggest Web Design Mistakes And How To Avoid Them, from designer Rob Cubbon. In this post, Cubbon talks about what he has learned from “banging my head against a brick wall” so that you don’t have to go through the same pain.
  • Beginner Web Design Mistakes You Should Avoid highlights some very basic design errors, along with exceptions for when they are acceptable and alternatives that will make your site better.
  • 27 Cringe Worthy Website Design Mistakes to Avoid provides screen captures of websites doing it wrong, and provides advice on how you should do it right.
  • Mobile is here to stay, so your website needs to function on mobile devices. Don’t make the mistake of sending visitors away with a non-compatible message if your site is not perfectly formatted for mobile. Any interaction with your company on mobile is better than none. Mobile Web Problems and How to Avoid Them provides best-practice advice.
  • Error pages are just as important to your site as content pages. If someone gets an error page, you need to immediately re-engage them or you may lose them forever. This post provides some examples of 404 error pages that do just that.
  • 165 Mortal Sins That Will Send Your Site to Web Design Hell is a checklist of what you shouldn’t do on your website. This list is broken into categories including first impression/big picture, text and links, graphics/video/audio, navigation and ecommerce. 83 Potential Mortal Sins is another checklist of potential mistakes, not quite as detrimental as the first.


Search Engine Optimization

While it may seem like dark magic to some, search engine optimization (SEO) is nothing more than making sure that your website is saying what you want it to say in a way that search engines can understand. There are many tools available to help you, including a great set of free tools from Google itself. However, it is easy to shoot yourself in the foot if SEO goes awry and you end up keyword stuffing, buying links from link farms, or making any of the other common mistakes highlighted in the following posts.

  • The Top Five SEO Mistakes According To Google’s Matt Cutts. Cutts is Google’s head of search spam, and in this video he provides very specific advice on how to correct SEO done wrong. For example, he suggests that you word your pages the way your customers would search for them. So, instead of optimizing around “Mt. Everest Height” you should use, “How high is Mt. Everest?” because that is how people search.
  • 25 Super Common SEO Mistakes from the Search Engine Land blog not only covers common mistakes, but also provides advice on where to focus your SEO efforts.


Content Creation

When crafting the content for your website, landing pages and other sales and marketing materials, a very common mistake is to get so wrapped up in the features and functions of your products and services that you forget about your customer entirely. While enthusiasm about what you offer is fine, remember that an effective marketing message is all about your customers and what you can do for them: how you can make their lives easier; how you can solve their problems; how you can alleviate their pain. These posts provide great advice for creating customer-centric content that sells.

The best way to ruin a great massage message is with typos, poor grammar, auto-correct mishaps, and other consequences of poor or non-existent proofreading. The best case scenario is for a reader to laugh with you at your mistakes, the worst case is for them to form a negative opinion of you and your company. In either case, they are concentrating on your errors and not your content—which is never a good thing. The following posts provide examples of content gone awry.

Of course, for every rule there is the exception. This post highlights some cases where breaking grammar rules in website content can actually help your message. (But don’t take it too far or you’ll just look silly, as the April Fools part two of the post illustrates.)



If you’ve ever received an email with the wrong name in the greeting, referencing a purchase you didn’t make, from a no-reply email address, or containing nothing but outlines of missing graphics, you may have discarded it as spam—though in fact it may have been a legitimate marketing email gone awry. Another amateur mistake that really annoys me is when the sender loads my address, along with hundreds of others, into the email CC field, instead of using a group list, or even the BCC field, to keep from giving my email address to everyone else on their mailing list. The following posts provide help on how to avoid common email mistakes that will land your messages in the trash bin, cause massive unsubscribes, or worse.


Logo Design

Your logo is probably the single most important branding element for your company. So, doing it right the first time is important, and if there is one place to find the money for an expert—this is it. However if you must do it yourself, 6 Common Mistakes in Logo Design will help you avoid common pitfalls.


Photoshop and Image Editing

Image editing software used to be expensive and a tool reserved for professionals. Today, it is readily available and anyone can enhance and manipulate images. (Free online tools such as Adobe Express Editor and SumoPaint provide functionality that would have cost thousands of dollars 10 years ago.) However, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The following posts provide examples of photo-editing gone awry—note the many problems with hands…


PowerPoint Presentations

PowerPoint has become the ubiquitous business application, thus it is surprising that so many people use it so poorly. If you’ve ever been in an interminable PowerPoint presentation, then you’ve probably experienced these Top 12 Most Annoying PowerPoint Presentation Mistakes.

The one I find most annoying isn’t in the post—standing up and reading your slides. PowerPoint slides should enhance your presentation, not be your presentation—I guarantee that I can read the slide to myself faster than you can read it to me. If all you have to say is printed on your slides, then send me the presentation and save us both a bunch of time!


After reading about all of the potential mistakes you can make, it can be easy to become discouraged or simply overwhelmed by everything you need to know to effectively launch and market your small business. Don’t be! The very worst mistake you can make is doing nothing at all.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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