Failure and How to Keep Going

Failure is a set back and often hurts, not just financially.  To some degree you get used to it.  It is perhaps best not to become too used to it because if you make a habit of failure, complacency is perhaps not the right response (see my post next Wednesday).

But if this is your first failure, how do you handle it?

Review Your Failure

First, ask yourself: Why did this happen?  Here are some possible answers, not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • It is possible the failure is to some degree your fault. Don’t assume you are the only reason.  You need to learn lessons and so if you failed to notice something that jeopardised your business, you understand it now!  A lot of personal failure happens through lack of attention to what’s happening around you.  If you are not aware of your environment, you will continue to fail!
  • Someone else made a mistake. Usually mistakes are accidental.  The main question here is: what can be done to minimise the chances of the mistake happening again?  This means you need to discuss it and together work out a strategy in response to lessons learned.
  • Wrong time and place – this can be getting seasonal markets wrong or simply launching at inappropriate times.  Is it possible the physical location if your business is a problem?  I know of one business that failed when the Council painted double yellow lines outside their shop.
  • Insufficient information means you failed to notice some important issue. Lack of information such as management accounts is a serious lack of accountability and can have devastating consequences.
  • Acts of God have nothing to do with God – it simply refers to some accident that comes out of nowhere and has no connection with any action you have taken or failed to take. No-one can predict such events but make sure it really was totally unforeseeable. Why was your business vulnerable to this type of event.

Learn the Lessons

I’ve already referred to this in the list of possible causes.  Spend time considering what the lessons actually are.  Sometimes there’s more than one lesson.  What happened and what steps did you take to prevent it?  Were they effective?  If not, why not?

How you respond to them depends on exactly what the problem was.  If it was bad management, then usually it is possible to learn from it and try again, somewhat wiser.  Sometimes though, it is because you have an offer that is not viable.  This can be difficult.

Imagine an author whose manuscript is rejected.  The manuscript could be awful and the rejection perfectly rational.  The author may not agree but is it because they are over-rating their own work or because it is so innovative, publishers cannot see its worth?  There are stories of the latter.

Now apply that to your own offer.  You believe in it but is rejection because it doesn’t fit your market or because you are not marketing it appropriately?  Do you need to scrap it and start over, re-package it or market it differently?  Or any combination thereof?

This can become frustrating, so perhaps a way forward is to use failure creatively.  Is there some way you can build the lessons into your business and monetise them?  If it is possible many people encounter the same problem, you may be able to offer a solution.

Move on

Don’t dwell on it.  If you become risk averse, you will find endless tasks to carry out short of actively marketing your business.  You have had a setback, a setback that could have improved your offer.  So, get back in the driving seat and drive!

This doesn’t mean you forget it; all experience is valuable and you may be able to draw on it at some stage in the future.  Business can be frustrating, especially if you keep making the same mistakes.  So, we’ll look at that next time.

Please share stories of failure and your creative response to it.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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