How every small business can learn from failure

By Chris Smith

In life and in media there is a lot of talk about and a lot of focus on success, but little attention is paid to the importance of failure. Failure is one the best ways to learn in life, and our innate human desire to avoid it at all costs means we will want to do our absolute best not to repeat what caused us to fail in the first place. However, identifying exactly where things went wrong and how we failed – especially in business – isn’t always the easiest thing to do. When feeling disheartened and demoralized after failure, it can be hard to look back over where we went wrong and learn from it, but there are a few key tips to think about that might just help you along the way.

Re-evaluate Your Business Plan

There is no better place to start than at the beginning. When your business idea didn’t work at all, or, simply, a new project your business has taken on hasn’t worked, going back to your business plan can be a great way to learn where you may have gone wrong. You put your business plan together when your company was in its infancy and when your enthusiasm and excitement would have been at an all-time high. Was your plan too ambitious? Did you set appropriate and realistic goals for yourself? Did you overlook issues within your business idea? Did you properly consider your competition? Looking back at what you planned your company to be and to achieve can highlight decisions you may have made along the way that led to these not coming to fruition. Understanding what you should have considered and planned for at the beginning is a valuable lesson that can set you up for success the next time around.

Examine Your Goals

Setting clear targets and goals for yourself is crucial when starting out as they allow you to measure your progress against where you wanted and hoped to be. Examining these goals and targets after experiencing failure should provide insight into where you went wrong. When analyzing the goals you set for yourself and whether you met them or not, consider why you set these goals in the first place, why you thought these were achievable and think about the decisions you made that led to the goals not being reached. Remember that your goals themselves may not need to be changed, just the way you tried to achieve them. Looking at why you didn’t achieve your goals can be eye-opening and can reveal issues in your business you didn’t notice originally.

You’re Not Always Right

Knowing your industry inside out when starting a business isn’t always going to guarantee success. Business ideas you thought were great or marketing strategies you though were innovative may have – when actioned – turned out to be complete non-starters. Failure is, by its very nature, a humbling experience, but this can often be a good thing. Learning that your ideas aren’t always great and that no one person can be an expert in all areas of a business, is a great platform for the future from which you can identify the areas you need help when starting again. Knowing that you don’t know everything and not all your ideas are going to be revolutionary will mean that going forward you are much more likely to be the right amount of cautious and do more research – research your potential audience, research your competitors and fully research and understand your product and service.

Improve What’s in Your Control

You can’t influence what your competitors are doing and you can’t change the entire economy, but there many areas of business in which you do have full control. Try not to focus on how any outside influences added to your failure, but, instead, work on everything you do have control over. Identifying the areas you have total control of and how these could have been improved to prevent failure will be an important learning curve for the future. Dig into your metrics, pick apart your marketing strategy – what worked and what didn’t work, examine your expenses, which parts of your product/service were successful – just look at everything you has a say over and drill into that until you see things you wish you had done differently as well as areas which proved successful. Having a list of what worked for you and what didn’t will be incredibly useful for any future business plan and attempt at entrepreneurship.

Consider Mentors

If you didn’t the first time around, it’s time to consider business mentors. Mentors should be experts in your field – preferably with their own experience in business – who can provide an outsider’s perspective on your business plan and business in general. A business mentor will not only be able to help you identify where you went wrong previously, but help you see through to completion any new business project and identify areas of weakness in your new plan. A mentor will make you much more likely to succeed, will share what they’ve learned from their own mistakes and be a sounding board for new ideas, issues and concerns. The beauty of a mentor is that they can refocus your attention, guiding you towards areas you easily overlooked when starting out such as pension considerations, protecting your business, permits, taxes and employee expenses. Consider your mentor as important as a co-founder and as such, make a concerted effort to the find the best person for you; join networking groups, mentorship programs and talk to those already in the industry to help find the kind of mentor you need.

Above All Else, Learn

Failure can be humiliating, humbling, destructive, demoralizing – you name it and it can probably be associated with failure in some way. However, there will always be some good to be found in failure if you look hard enough. It might not seem it at the time, but failure can set you up for success in the future and, in fact, is often a stepping stone on the way to building a successful company. To make the most of your failure and to find the value in it, make sure you learn from it. Follow these key steps and do what you feel is necessary to take the most value you can away from the experience.

Chris Smith is an independent writer and blogger at Spend It Like Beckham