Business Failure in 5 Easy StepsJan 26, 2018
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
It seems like the ultimate dream to turn your passion into a business. Grow your hobby into a successful venture that provides for you and your family. Yes, please! Not only do you get to spend your time doing what you love, people pay you. It seems like such a win-win. What could go wrong? If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life, right?
But what happens when you try and it doesn’t quite turn out as expected? What happens if you turn your passion into a business and you fail? You fail hard. You fail spectacularly.
You do the same thing you do every other time you’ve failed. You learn, you move on and you grow.
My Big Beautiful Failure
In 2000, I was a stay at home mom with two babies under the age of two. I left my position as a manufacturing engineer to stay home and raise my adorable little bundles of joy. It was great…but, I felt like I needed to do something for me. So, I turned to my other joy, photography. I started taking portraits of the kids and sharing them with friends and family. That lead to doing portraits of friends’ kids and before I knew it, my photography hobby had grown into a legit business. I had a studio. I had clients. I had the flexibility to work while also being there for the kiddos. It was great…until it wasn’t.
Fast forward five years. My business had grown. I did shoots most weeknights and weekends. I spent the rest of my time in front of the computer doing post processing. I barely had time for my family. I was stressed. I was in debt. My marriage was in jeopardy. I was defeated. After a tear-filled argument with my husband and then myself, I decided that it was time to close my studio and end my business. I had failed.
5 Lessons I Learned from My Spectacular Failure
Failing sucks. Failing at something you love sucks more. However, you only truly fail if you let it stop you. When you think about it. Failing is the easy part. Anyone can fail. It takes courage and strength to move forward. It’s easy to say that thirteen years removed from my disaster. But today, I am glad things went down the way it did. My success today has been built on my (many) failures of yesterday. You just need to figure out how to take the next step. Here’s what worked for me.
1) Let Yourself Mourn
Give yourself the time and space you need to feel bad. Cry. Yell. Be angry. Be sad. It’s ok. You just dedicated a great deal of time, energy, and money into something you cared about and it didn’t work.
Believe me. After I decided to close my studio, my heart was broken. I felt like I lost a piece of me. To say I was sad is an understatement. I was devastated. Something that brought me such joy betrayed me. (Yes, it is a bit melodramatic but at the time that is how it felt.) It’s ok to feel the feels. Just don’t live there forever. Give yourself some time to get the negative emotions out. It’s the healthy thing to do but then move on. The real failure is not moving forward. So, take a breath. You’ll be ok.
2) Stop Looking at the Big Picture
Now that you’ve cried a bit, it’s time to take a step back and think about what really happened. If you look at the big picture, it’s easy to say this big thing failed. I’m a failure. So, stop looking at the big picture. Every failure or success may seem like one big thing but it is really made up of all the tiny details. Every decision you made was a small step leading you towards success or failure. It’s time to look at all the pieces and analyze what went wrong. If you change your perspective from the macro view to the micro view you can look at each small piece and start to see what worked and what didn’t.
For me, this is where I realized that I didn’t fail because I was a bad photographer. I failed because I made mistakes in managing my business. Looking at what happened through a problem solving lens helped me see that I was not the failure, I made mistakes that made me fail. I didn’t totally suck, just some of my decisions did.
That’s great! Being a failure at something I love was hard to deal with. Making bad decisions that lead to failure…well, I can work with that. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not learning. If we’re not learning, then we’re not growing. That is the true personal failure.
3) Take Inventory
You’ve looked at the pieces. You’ve identified what went wrong. You also identified what went right. Take inventory of those positives. You’ll learn something new about yourself.
So, I already realized that I was good at the photography part. That’s one positive. Through my analysis I also learned there were other aspects of my business I was good at and really enjoyed. I loved working with my clients. I was teaching others about photography and that was awesome. I taught myself how to use technology to create digital art. Cool! I was really creative at using and displaying photography in unique ways. Well, that’s something! (Please do not ask me how many photo purses I have with my children’s smiling mugs on them. It’s embarrassing.)
Taking inventory of the positives helped me see that even though my business failed, I still had a lot to be proud of. I had some mad skills, innovative ideas, and lots to learn. I was feeling much better about myself. Again, I was not a failure just because something I tried failed.
4) Be a Phoenix
Here is your phoenix moment. Through this process you have learned a lot about yourself. What you are good at. What you are not so good at. What you like to do. What you don’t like to do. What you know. What you don’t know. You have all these new bits of information about you. Do something with it.
Armed with this new found information, reinvent yourself. Rise from the ashes to become something new.
Everything I learned about myself through the course of my failure became the foundation for the new me. The fire that fueled my next adventure. I now see that my spectacular failure was not the dead end it felt like at the time but an opportunity to take a new path.
5) The Honest Truth
I wish I could end this by telling you that once you suffer through one spectacular failure you will never ever have to deal with it again. Unfortunately, failure is not like the chicken pox. Just because you did it once doesn’t mean you never have to do it again. You will. I have.
I won’t lie. Failure still sucks. However, you are resilient. Each time you fail, learn something new. Use it as a springboard to launch you into your next big thing.
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