We’ve talked about building the perfect team. We’ve talked about how to be a better volunteer and volunteer leader. While these tools will help you succeed in your business or projects moving forward, you can’t succeed all the time. This week on the agenda is failure. Failure is a scary word and often carries with it negative connotations. However, I have learned that failure is not an option. It is a necessity.
I read a comment on a board in our co-working facility recently. It said “Failure is the compost in which our successes grow.” I had to sit with that a bit, but as I did I realized--whoever said that was exactly right. (By the way I did try to find out who should get the credit for this quote, but had no luck. If you know, please share.) If you are attempting pretty much anything you may not get it right the first time. You may, and likely will, fail to some extent with your first attempt or two, or three. That’s okay. It is okay so long as you learn from the failure(s) and try again until you get it right.
I kind of consider myself a failure expert. Gosh, that sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be. In my almost 49 years on this planet, I have failed much and at a great many things. I even failed at failing successfully until recent years--meaning that if I failed at something, I was apt to just not try doing it again. It wasn’t until I met someone who helped me understand the success of my failures that I learned to fail successfully. That someone happens to be my husband who is not only my spouse, but my best friend and one outstanding mentor. When he helped me start my first business, a community and online presence for local crafters and artisans, I didn’t know anything about running a business. I had always worked FOR other people. Having never been a business owner, I found myself bumping around in the dark quite a bit. I misstepped. I spent entirely too much money on many wrong marketing strategies. I built the business I thought everyone would want rather than the thing everyone actually wanted or needed. What happened? I had a small business that didn’t make money. (It even lost money.) However, I also had a small business that created an amazing community of creative people. I helped launch several cottage industry businesses. I learned to network and build valuable community relationships.I even had a great deal of fun. The business, by monetary standards, was not a success. What came out of it were valuable lessons and many other types of success.
Helping the cottage industry businesses was a challenge. These were folks that had unique hand-made products and they were trying to get their products in the hands of customers. Some were doing it for a full-time livelihood, others were doing it to make ends meet. Regardless of the reason, they were passionate about what they were doing and needed help. Some things I learned and use in helping my clients today: Ask questions--don’t assume you know the answer. Ask more questions and dig deep for what motivates a person and to find what their limits are in terms of what they are willing to do to make their business a success. Provide a plan and clear map of next steps. Be ready for Plan A to fail and always have a Plan B handy.
With my second business, I built something that I knew people needed, because I had customers before I had a business. I used the lessons about where to spend money and not to spend money to save unnecessary spending. I used the relationships I built with the first business to grow the new business. I still didn’t make a lot of money. That was because I had much to learn about valuing and pricing my services. That is a lesson I am taking into future ventures, including this one.
While neither of these businesses made large amounts of money, they were successes by my standards. My husband helped me realize that in the absence of financial success lay the successes of my relationships in the community, the understanding I have gained and the experience I bring to the table when consulting with prospective new entrepreneurs or business owners who are stuck and need new perspective. It is my job now to take these failures, turn them into lessons and share them with all of you.
Look, if you don’t get the results you wanted from a particular activity, project or business. It may be a failure. The question is, can you possibly plan for failure? Once you recognize it can you avoid it? If you can’t avoid it, can you recover from it? The answer to these questions is "Yes." Planning for failure can be as basic as a Plan B. If it looks like Plan A isn’t going to pan out, how can you pivot to salvage what is going right and fix what isnt? If you can’t avoid it and the plan goes off in the ditch, you can dig out. I am going to give you a big tool and insider secret right now. Are you listening? You will seldom be able to dig out of the ditch alone. You need someone or even more than someone in your corner. When you are in “it”, it is difficult to see what has gone or is going wrong. It is also often difficult to be honest with yourself about what your role was in causing it to go off track. Having someone that will be honest with you about what went wrong and then help you dig out of it is so very important. Perhaps even consider a professional such as myself to get into the ditch and help you navigate out.
Simply, failure is not a game ender, just a game changer. It is how you identify, navigate and recover from failure that matters.
What failures have you experienced? Did they remain failures or become future successes? What did you learn and do differently the next time? I hope you will share your experiences. Together we learn and do much.