In business, there’s one f-word that makes many entrepreneurs nervous: Failure. The truth is, however, failure needn’t be scary. As Robert F. Kennedy famously said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” (Here are some more awesome quotes about failure.)
Failing is inevitable. What sets successful people apart is they don’t let it beat them down, but instead they learn from failure.
To illustrate, I’ve asked a dozen creative entrepreneurs to share a personal story about a time they “failed” and (more importantly) how they took those lemons and made lemonade.
“I had a course launch that totally flopped. Six months of work for three sign ups. My biggest tip is don’t trash everything, and give yourself time. I think when we step back from the failure (whether it’s a course or losing a client), we gain some perspective and clarity around what worked and what didn’t. In that time, you can do surveys, talk to your list, read blogs, do more research, etc.” Jessica Freeman, Jess Creatives
“I work in the legal field. I once made a huge mistake for a client that could have cost me a fortune to fix if not for the manner in which I handled the situation. I admitted the oversight to my client right away, while keeping a positive attitude. Rather than firing me, they forgave me and we fixed the error together. The lesson? Be honest and be kind. You catch more bees with honey than vinegar.” Taryn Cross, TMC Virtual Office
“I moved from the smallest state (Rhode Island) to a big city and went from a full practice to, well, no clients. That really hurts your sense of self, not to mention your bank account. I believed word-of-mouth marketing would work the same in my new setting, but networking was painful and mostly useless. I learned I don’t have to be in the same physical space with a client to make it work. I can give all the support in the world over Skype. I became an online entrepreneur, and now I have clients from California to Dubai.” Marina Darlow, Vision Framework
“Recently, I entered into a trial period with a business I was a VA for. I poured myself into it, and yet because I did not have the tools I needed nor was my other business shut down yet, I got overwhelmed. I ended up stepping away from a great opportunity and wonderful woman because I was too overwhelmed and felt pressure (from myself) to act quickly. Since then, I’ve learned to take my time to research tools to help me work effectively, and cut out aspects of life and business that take away the best me I can be for my business and my family.” Katie Chase, All Seasons Branding
“When I was looking for a publisher for my debut novel, I jumped at the first offer I got from a small press. I didn’t follow up with the other presses I submitted to because I assumed nobody else would publish my book. (I ended up getting three better offers that I had to turn down.) Soon after acquiring my novel, the first press was sold to new owners who stole thousands of dollars in royalties from me and other authors before closing the business. It really sucked, but I learned not to sell myself short.” Missy Wilkinson, Freelance Writer
“I used to work at an agency and it was hard—really hard. There was a huge learning curve and zero margin for error. I’ve always been a straight-A student and high achiever, so when I messed up or made mistakes my anxiety went through the roof and I messed up even more. I learned just because I don’t excel at something doesn’t mean that’s not where I’m meant to be. That job taught me a ton of things I use in my business, and I wouldn’t be excelling now if I hadn’t failed then.” Alexandra Nimmons, Allie Nimmons Creative
“When I first went out on my own as a freelancer, I wanted to position myself as reliable, hardworking and indispensable—someone who would get the job done no matter what, and could get you out of a jam (tight deadlines, scope creep, etc). I thought this position made me look strong and would bring respect, however, it had the opposite effect and I quickly became a pushover. Clients started demanding more work with less budget, and expected instant turnaround. I became a burned-out doormat and had to retrain myself and my clients on how to interact with me. I learned being the ‘Yes Man’ can backfire.” Vanessa Rusu, Web Developer
“As an aspiring blogger, I looked up to successful bloggers with thousands and thousands of followers. The more I looked at their work, the more I tried to become like them. In the end, I was just another wannabe. My takeaway from this hiccup: Don’t try to be like them. People don’t want another copycat, they want YOU!” Maggie Baker, The Everleigh Company
“When launching FineArtSeen, we never expected the business to grow so rapidly in such a short period of time, so we had to quickly adapt and learn on the job as we grew the business and entered new markets. I’ve learned the importance of having a clear strategy prior to launch. This will ensure you direct your energies to projects and tasks that drive your business forward. It’s best to look to the future and ask yourself, “will what I’m doing today help improve my business and achieve my targets a year from now?” Summer Obaid, FineArtSeen
“The other day I decided to count how many times I’ve failed in education or business. The number is 20. That’s about 2.5 failures per year since I’ve legally become an adult. At this rate, Thomas Edison will have to eat my dust as the top failure among elite business owners and innovators. And yes, I do plan on working my way up to business elite status. Am I in love with my failures? No, but they’ve provided me with valuable insight on who I am as a human and a business owner. They remind me the only true failure is to completely give up. As long as you keep moving forward, even if you need some time to stand still, you haven’t really failed. You’re just taking time to appreciate what you won’t do in the future.” Megan Kubasch, Shield Sisters Sanctuary
“When I decided to start a business, I took it in the wrong direction at first. I loved making bath and body items, so I tried to turn that into a profitable business. It never felt right within myself, so I would procrastinate blogging, making products, and really pushing my business forward. When I finally decided to pivot and focus on teaching others how to celebrate special moments with their family, I discovered how satisfying it is to have a business that aligns with my personal values!” Christa Graham, Sweet Olivia Celebrations
“When I found out I was pregnant, I decided to take on a ton of extra work to fund a maternity leave. I misjudged how much I would be able to handle and ended up overpromising and underdelivering to many of my clients. Luckily, they were mostly very understanding, but I learned to set realistic expectations for myself. Also, I discovered the value in asking others for help—it’s not a sign of weakness, but rather a smart and strategic business move.” Becky Mollenkamp, Content Marketing
Think Like a CEO
Tired of checking things off your to-do list, yet feeling totally stalled? Use this checklist to craft meaningful goals that actually move your business forward.