Failure is inevitable in business. The question is, how are your going to handle setbacks?
Setbacks are a natural part of life and often serve as a growing experience. Sometimes these lessons can be painful—especially when you’re running your own business and responsible for, well, everything. Often the last thing that you want to do while concentrating on sales, delighting your customers, managing staff and innovating for the future is to focus on the past instead of moving forward. Below are five ways to help you learn quickly from your setbacks, avoid wallowing and become a more resilient entrepreneur.
1. Hindsight isn’t 20/20.
The cliche that irks me the most is “Hindsight is 20/20.” It’s too easy to look backwards and assume that if you had just zigged instead of zagged, your decision would have resulted in the “perfect” outcome. In reality, you cannot always assume a linear relationship from your actions. Another action could have intervened. For example, let’s say that had you just responded a bit faster to a sales inquiry, or lowered your prices slightly, that dream customer would have been yours. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe if those things had happened you would have had a longer sales cycle that still could have ended in a “No.” Avoid linear thinking. Consider spending five minutes thinking about what you could have done better. Get out your journal (paper or virtual) and write down the lessons. Then resume tackling your to-do list.
2. Know when to cut and run.
Lots of entrepreneurs I know swear by the motto “Take a long time to hire and fire quickly.” This often holds true for employees, contractors, partners and customers. The most difficult thing to do may be to listen to your instincts. Many people (myself included) want to give others numerous chances to perform to expectations. Do this up to a point, but also consider whether the situation is worth the risk.
Take ten seconds to record three things you could do to learn faster the next time. Consult this list frequently.
Several years ago, my team hired an outside coding firm to complete a small proof-of-concept. We loved their marketing pitch and believed in their skills. Two months into the project, they missed repeated deadlines, asked the same questions again and again and tried to convince our team that their off-the-mark quasi-deliverable was the path forward—despite a detailed brief. We wanted to make the relationship work. They asked so many times to keep trying. After three months’ delay, we ultimately hired someone else to complete the work and it yielded a far superior outcome.
The lesson? Your gut may be your most powerful ally. Find someone that can get your job done, so they can hopefully focus on projects that are more likely to be successful. Everyone wins. Staying in the rut is often frustrating, wastes precious time and delays the inevitable.
Just be sure that you are mindful of three key things:
Signed contracts underscoring the relationship
State and federal employment laws, if the individual is an employee
Protecting your confidential information.
In my situation, the coding firm was a third party contractor, not an employee. A contract was in place that required some maneuvering. In these kinds of situations, it may help to look first for a business-minded way to end the relationship that benefits both parties (as contract provisions can be waived or not enforced). Then, if you need to pull out the big guns, you might rely on the legal terms. Contracts serve to frame the relationship to keep everyone on track for sweet and sour times. If you are not sure of your obligations when you want to cut the cord, a local attorney might advise you.
3. Figure out how to learn faster.
Author and Zen strategist Karen Salmonsohn writes a lot about failure really being “fullure,” meaning “full of lessons to learn.” Businesses are not linear; learning often isn’t either. No matter how many books, blogs and news articles you read about running a business, you’re still likely going to make your own missteps. Visit your lesson journal. Take ten seconds to record three things you could do to learn faster the next time. Consult this list frequently. These lessons are your shortcuts.
For example, if you didn’t ask for help quickly enough, you might focus on building your network well in advance to rely on it when you need it. Speak with customers constantly. Research what you don’t know and then find people smarter about it than you to help. Make decisions faster. Correct along the way.
4. Build your personal advisory board.
Surround yourself with people outside of your business who can help see you through the dark times and serve as both champions and critics. This is like creating your own personal board of directors. These gems may be the ones who will tell you it will be OK, verbally slap you across the forehead with a loving “I told you so” and help you get back on your feet. At least one of them should ideally be your cheerleader. Find four people you can trust and share the good, the bad and the ugly details of your business without fear of judgment.
It may help if these are people have different styles and don’t always agree with you. Even better, try to select people with different industry or functional expertise, such as a leadership expert, a marketing expert, an insider in your specific industry and someone you admire from an entirely different field. They can offer helpful guidance, examine the situation with you, provide honest feedback and help you find the path forward. Write down their lessons. Add them to your journal. These are words of wisdom from those who know you best.
5. Focus on the next right thing.
As we all know, every entrepreneur has high days and low days. Not every sting will go away quickly. Instead, consider using that hard moment to focus your energy on the next right thing—whatever that is. The right thing is usually something actionable that will move you and your business forward. Consider channeling that energy to QA your product or brainstorm 10 crazy ways to get more customers. Maybe turn it into an exercise of something fun, inspiring and actionable. (This rule may hold true for your personal life, too. This is how I started to learn French.) The best thing that you can do in this situation is often the next thing that could lead you one step closer to achieving your goals.
Author: Jennifer Hill
Chief Operating Officer, Remedy Analytics