Most of us keep to-do lists. But you'd be a fool to underestimate the importance of what you don't do. With that in mind, we asked 16 business leaders and experts to share their own don't-do lists—the things they assiduously avoid doing or saying when going on sales calls, planning business lunches, motivating employees, and more. There's a lot to learn here ("Don't trust your gut" when designing a logo, for instance). And plenty to argue with ("Do not be afraid to recommend someone else's business or product" to a prospective client. Really?). Our two cents: Don't not read this story.
What Not to Do When You Decide It's Time to Step Aside
After serving as CEO of Salt Lake City-based retailer Backcountry.com for 14 years, Jim Holland, the co-founder, handed over control of the business in 2011 to a successor, longtime employee Jill Layfield.
1. Don't assume that it's a matter of finding another you.
I'm still plugged in and own a significant piece of the company, but I encourage Jill to think for herself. Because my experience is relevant and valued, Jill regularly asks what I think, but I usually pass it back to her to make the call.
2. Don't underestimate the talent under your nose.
Often, people get wowed by the shiny resumés of rock-star outside candidates. As a result, they fail to see the value of the people they have. Because you know your own people so well, you might focus too much on their faults. But the reality is, everyone has faults—and there's only so much you can learn about an outside candidate in a couple of interviews.
Three Things You Never Want to Do—If You Want to Close
John ("Grizz") Deal, co-founder of Denver-based Hyperion Power, is a salesman's salesman. During his career, he has gone on thousands of calls, hawking products as diverse as software and satellite imaging and nuclear power generators.
1. Do not dump your marbles on the table.
When you go into a meeting, you've got two guys staring at you with an empty pad of paper. It's intimidating. The natural inclination is to get it all out, because you're afraid they're going to walk out of the room. Don't go into a meeting immediately saying, "Here's what I'm selling." Don't just re-create what is on a brochure. Introduce yourself, and listen and figure out why they think they're there and why you're there. I've seen great salespeople turn into infomercial guys. They get a patter down, a standup routine, and create a one-sided conversation. By just getting people talking, I've seen sales calls turn into partner meetings and turn into investor meetings.
2. Do not work so hard closing that you close the door.
There are lots of reasons a deal might not close. Some people may be excited about your product, but they may not be able to afford it, or the timing might not be right. Some salespeople just dump them and move on. I categorize those people as advocates, as opposed to potential customers. I send them Christmas cards and ask them if they want to receive our newsletter. You're making them part of your team instead of being a customer.
3. Do not be afraid to recommend someone else's business or product.
As much as one-third of the time, I recommend someone else's product because we don't fit their needs. You could try to push them through the sales process, but eventually they're going to figure out you're not a good fit. This way, you make friends in the industry. I say, "You tell them that I sent you." Maybe your competition will do the same for you. If you put the best interest of your customer first, you'll make money.
How to Bring Ideas to Life
Not sure if your new business idea will fly? Be sure to avoid these don'ts when starting a business. Find out what not to do when bringing an idea to life.
What not to do when designing a logo
Milton Glaser is one of the most celebrated American graphic designers. Most famous for his "I ♥ NY" logo, the New York City-based designer has spent decades creating logos and developing corporate identities for hundreds of businesses, large and small.
1. Don't trust your gut. Everyone is an expert. They don't like blue, or they want fatter letters. It's hard when you have a manufacturer who's been making something for 50 years and thinks he understands the subject—but designing logos, he doesn't know anything about anything. I try to convince clients there's a rational process involved.
2. Don't focus-group it to death. It's a nightmare presenting a logo to a board of eight people and trying to find consensus. It's amazing how much mediocre work there is, even in the face of so much collective energy and marketing groups. At the end, you have something that is weak and ineffective and looks like 100 other things.
3. Don't just do it. The worst trend is the Nike swoosh. So many clients and designers think of a logo as being a peculiar kind of shape that stands out from others. But there has to be a fundamental editorial proposition behind the logo.
How to Turn a Social Network Into Your Network
Andy Dunn, founder and CEO of the New York City-based menswear manufacturer Bonobos.com, owes it all to Facebook and Twitter. The social networking sites bring in a third of Bonobos's customers and helped push sales to $9 million last year.
1. Don't be a wimp.
People avoid Twitter and Facebook because they don't understand it. That's a little bit like 90 years ago saying, "I don't get this telephone thing."
2. Don't hide from unhappy customers.
If someone complains, don't duck. We have the equivalent of three full-time people who handle customer service through Facebook and Twitter, and we aim to close 95 percent of those tickets within two hours. We call our customer service people Ninjas and have made customer service a salaried job with an equity stake and hired energetic and empathetic college graduates. They work in our New York City headquarters just down the hall from the people who are designing the products.
3. Don't blather about yourself.
If you're self-serving, you miss the point of what social media is about. About 80 percent of what we say on Twitter and Facebook isn't self-promotional. We do quizzes; we ask questions, things like, "What's your favorite summer music memory?" or "What's your response when someone says, 'Nice pants'?" Be irreverent. There's more to having a conversation than just promoting your product.
How to Delegate Everything
Master the art of the handoff. Learn the 5 things you shouldn't do when delegating work.
What Not to Do If You Want to Avoid a Lawsuit
When Silicon Valley players need legal advice, they turn to Ted Wang. A partner at Fenwick & West in Mountain View, California, Wang counsels venture capitalists, investment banks, and businesses that range from emerging start-ups to some of the biggest names on the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter.
1. Don't do a handshake deal.
As soon as you can, you want to establish agreements with everyone working on a project. Get in writing who gets what and how long they have to stay to get it.
2. Don't forget about the consultants.
You need to set expectations with anyone doing any kind of work that has an intellectual-property element. Any software or aspect of a business plan—you need to get the rights to it. The best choice is to have a lawyer document everything; the next best is to get it written in a basic way that everything anyone does for the company is owned by the company.
3. Don't sugarcoat things for potential investors.
The personality type that starts a business is optimistic. But you're not doing yourself a favor by saying this is a sure thing. Most new companies fail. Sometimes, when I circulate an investor questionnaire, I put in bold, all caps, YOU COULD LOSE ALL YOUR MONEY. If people are not comfortable with that, they should not invest.
How to Make the Most of Your Moment in the Spotlight
In a media-saturated world, it's bound to happen. Here's what not to do when you're invited to appear on television. Learn how to make the most of your moment in the spotlight.
How Not to Crowdsource
In crowdsourcing, businesses take advantage of their most precious resource, their customers, by exploiting their passion, wisdom, and creativity to come up with new and innovative products. The Vancouver, British Columbia, footwear brand John Fluevog is a master of the technique. It has used crowdsourcing to design shoes and advertising campaigns. Stephen Bailey, the company's chief marketing officer, talks about what he has learned the hard way.
1. Don't go halfway. Everyone has to be on board. There can't be a "we'll see what happens" attitude. If the crowd makes a decision, you have to follow through with it.
2. Don't bother if you lack an energized customer base. If you launch a crowdsourcing initiative and no one enters, it looks terrible, because it's public. Talk to customers, people inside the company, and people on Facebook and Twitter to get a read on whether crowdsourcing makes sense.
3. Don't bet the farm. Opening yourself up to the will of your customers can be overwhelming, so start with decisions that are not make or break for the company.
What Not to Do When Motivating Employees
Here's an idea: Stop being a jerk. 4 things you shouldn't ever do when managing employees.
How to Stop Giving Terrible Presentations
Step one: Ditch the PowerPoint. View our other tips on giving good presentations here.
Four Steps to the Perfect Power Lunch
Julian Niccolini, co-owner of the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City, has been in the restaurant business since 1977. Among his regular clients: Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, Barry Diller, and Mort Zuckerman. Use these four tips to have the perfect power lunch.
What Not to Do When Your Co-founder Is Also Your Spouse
Soon after co-founding their event-planning website, Eventbrite.com, in 2006, Kevin and Julia Hartz tied the knot. They're still hitched—with a daughter and a baby on the way—and their San Francisco business is as successful as their union. To make it work, they've come up with their own special marital work rules.
1. Do not overlap.
JULIA: Divide and conquer is our No. 1 rule. There's clear delineation in the business. I am focused on people, culture, hiring, and retention.
KEVIN: I am focused on product and operations.
JULIA: We broke the rule once last year, when we were looking for new office space.
KEVIN: We were doubling up on work and not communicating. It created unnecessary strife.
2. Do not throw your spouse under the bus.
JULIA: That means no secrets. We don't keep any secrets from each other personally or professionally.
KEVIN: So if Julia is coaching an employee and she tells me, I cannot betray that trust and meddle. We're also publicly supportive of each other. When your spouse makes a decision, you support that. There is a fine line between challenging ideas and undermining decisions.
3. Do not downplay your marriage.
JULIA: We are a husband-and-wife team, and it's widely known among our customers, competitors, and investors. It's part of our story.
KEVIN: There are always challenges with brother-brother, brother-sister, wife-husband teams. Teams like that will often downplay the situation, but we always bring it up and discuss it with investors. We've raised $80 million.
4. Do not leave your marriage at home.
JULIA: A lot of couples act one way at work and another way at home, but we don't have two different modes. We announced my pregnancy at an all-hands meeting with 150 people.
KEVIN: That's the tone we've chosen to set.
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