Why you should avoid perfectionism in your business

As Voltaire said, perfect is the enemy of good. Not only is this aphorism useful in many areas of life, it highlights how perfectionism can be damaging for business – particularly in today’s ever-changing tech landscape.

I saw perfectionism in action the other week.

I was on a plane and I noticed that one of the passengers spent the whole trip editing and perfecting selfie photos. Removing spots, hair that was out of place, red eyes, bags under the eyes, wrinkles – you name it – it was being erased and modified.

Clearly this passenger was in the pursuit of the perfect photo and in this pursuit they missed meals, inflight entertainment and any views from the plane window.

Many business owners would say that they like to do things well and strive for excellence, but perfectionism takes it to a new level – one which can be detrimental to their business.

What is perfectionism?

A commonly held, psychological definition of perfectionism is a personality trait characterised by striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards.

Does this sound like anyone you know and work with? Perhaps this is how you like to think of your own workplace behaviour? While we might like to think these attributes are a boon in business settings, they may be exactly what’s holding your team back.

Is flawlessness a realistic state in small business?

Running a small business is an imperfect act. We strive, we constantly review our performance and learn from mistakes, look for new efficiencies and improvements but I don’t believe we can ever achieve perfection. I’m not sure that it even exists.

Business owners who strive for the perfect business, customer, product, service, system, website or the perfect marketing system end up in one of two places: bitterly disappointed or hamstrung to the point of inactivity. Neither are a good place for a business owner or manager to be.


4 ways perfectionism will negatively impact your business


1. Not finishing

When you’re striving for perfection, you may find you don’t end up complete anything as everything you attempt never meets your expectations.

You always believe that you can do better, and that means you’re unwilling to take action or launch your product.

Some classic areas in business where this manifests include:

  • Rebranding or branding your business
  • Completing a website
  • Finishing a newsletter or brochure
  • Not completing proposals or tenders

This is highly detrimental to business, as marketing in a draft stage achieves nothing.

By not completing proposals you’ve lost the job before even starting. A bad proposal has more chance than no proposal.

A website can be a big investment in time and money, and of course you want to get it right, but rarely is it perfect upon launch. With technology it can be improved and adjusted easily, and that’s why many businesses consider their website an ongoing, ever-evolving work-in-progress. By contrast, a website that never launches is just a waste of money and opportunity.

2. Not starting or failure to make decisions

Some great businesses and business ideas don’t even make it to market. Potential business owners are looking for the perfect research that will give them the confidence to start.

READ: Analysis paralysis – when too much research is bad for business

Other businesses defer making decisions as they are concerned what others might think if they make a mistake.

Operating a small business successfully is all about making mistakes – that’s how we learn. It’s just important not to make the same ones twice.

We learn and improve through our experience and actions we take. If you’re avoiding taking action you’re not learning.

As a successful business owner, you must develop the ability to make the best decision you can based on the information provided in a timely manner. Perfectionism can get in the way of this.

3. Difficulty with delegation

A perfectionist in business will have difficulty outsourcing or delegating tasks to staff. They believe they’re the best person to do the job (and well they may be) but they’re limiting their business growth. After all, there is only 24 hours in a day and as a business owner you can’t do it all by yourself.

4. Wasted time

You may spend more hours preparing proposals, quotes, reports, email correspondence and marketing materials than is necessary. You’re looking at things through your lens as a perfectionist rather than what your customer is expecting.

The fine detail may not be noticed or indeed valued by your customer and you have invested more time than was necessary. Even worse, you may have missed a deadline putting the final touches on something or through procrastination in the first place.

It’s always better to meet a deadline and save your reputation by sending through a draft proposal or reports. It may be all your customers need.


5 ways to tackle your perfectionism in business


  1. Have an ‘accountability buddy’ that keeps you on track completing tasks
  2. Get a business coach who can help you behave differently in your business
  3. Hire in a consultant with expertise to complete some of the tasks
  4. See a professional counsellor if your perfectionism is impacting your life as well as your business.
  5. Google ‘books on overcoming perfectionism’, choose one and start reading!

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