Written by: Kate Williams, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
We’ve all heard stories about how some of the most well-known business leaders of our time actively embrace failure. According to Tesla founder Elon Musk, “If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” And Jeff Bezos outwardly proclaims to have “made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com.”
All of that is well and good. In some ways, it can feel comforting to hear stories of failure from industry giants. It validates that, sometimes, it’s OK to fail as a business owner.
But when it comes down to it, none of us likes to fail. I have yet to meet a leader or executive who actively seeks failure. Instead, we all do what we can to mitigate failure. I know I can be risk-averse when making business decisions – the cost of not doing something can seem more manageable than the cost of doing something that doesn’t work.
And then there’s the cost of failure – unless you have the deep pockets of a Musk or a Bezos, failing can be a terrifying prospect. For many businesses, failing can be the difference between making payroll and shutting down. The smaller the company, the scarier the thought of failure.
5 Things to do after a business failure
Unfortunately, some failures signal the end of the line for a company. Others are more of an annoying traffic jam that requires finding a detour and reaching the destination a little later than expected.
In my five years as a business owner, I have learned a thing or two about failing (albeit at a much smaller scale than Musk and Bezos). Here are some things that have helped me rebound from a business failure to find the strength (and cash) to keep going.
1. Take a break
The more stressed I am about something going wrong in my business, the more likely I am to make rash decisions or, in some cases, no decisions at all. I’ve easily wasted hours clicking around my computer in a frantic attempt to fix a problem, only to walk away feeling more exhausted and stressed than ever.
So, when something doesn’t go right and you’re feeling that frantic, “I don’t know what to do, but I feel like I need to do something,” energy, walk away. Do something else. Anything else. It can be walking, going to the gym (a short sweat session often gets my mind in the right place), watching TV, playing with your dog, or playing a video game. Just do something to get your mind off the work problem.
2. Make a plan
Now that you’re in a better headspace, it’s time to start planning how you’re going to get out of whatever mess you’re in. This will require you to reflect on your failure and identify what you can do to prevent it from disrupting your business in the future.
For instance, early on in my business, I had some failures with clients who believed my work was out of line with their expectations. At first, I felt all kinds of negative feelings – anger, frustration, resentment, you name it.
But after walking away for a bit and reflecting, I realized that I was chasing the wrong types of clients. This failure helped me better identify my target market so I could work with clients who aligned with my services and processes. It led me to make a plan for retargeting my efforts and better defining what People First Content is and who it serves.
3. Find support
This can be a challenge for small business owners and solopreneurs, especially. But having support is crucial. That support can come from your spouse, friends, family, former colleagues, neighbors, and people you meet online in virtual networking groups.
Having someone to talk to who can offer advice is helpful. So is having someone you can talk to who will just let you vent for a bit to get it all out.
4. Take accountability
There’s a good chance your failure has impacted somebody else, whether it’s clients, employees, or your family (especially if that failure has affected your cash flow). So, own up to your mistakes. Let others know that you recognize what went wrong and that you are making plans to fix it.
This step can come in at any point, but it can be particularly powerful after you have started planning for the future. Sharing your vision for the future can help rebuild your credibility with clients and employees by demonstrating that you have the self-awareness to recognize how your failure has impacted those around you.
5. Decide if It’s worth trying again
Other articles on failing in business end with an inspirational paragraph about the importance of trying again. But, sometimes, failure shows us what we do (and don’t) want out of life.
I’ve had moments where I considered throwing in the towel and going back to the corporate world. And many people happily take that route, deciding to apply the lessons they have learned from starting a business to another organization.
There’s nothing wrong with taking that approach – as long as it’s what you truly want and need. So, spend some time with your failure. Consider what it is teaching and telling you about your future.
If you decide it’s worth trying again, then move forward with the lessons of your failure fresh in your mind so you can approach your business with more resilience and knowledge.
Kate Williams, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Kate Williams has a PhD in English Language and Literature from the University of Tulsa and has been writing web content for over a decade. She founded People First Content in 2018 as a fractional content team that helps small businesses develop and implement a content strategy. She loves working with business owners and company leaders to develop content strategies that will create a lasting impact without paying for the high overhead of an in-house team.