I have many failed businesses on my entrepreneurial resume.
I have a defunct website design business. I have an Etsy store earning pittances despite five years of painful development. I have a defunct online directory, with an evaporated friendship and any hope of recouping the start-up costs. I have more business failure than I care to admit.
I can’t blame everything on the pandemic. Most of my businesses suffered financial fatality long before the world suffered together. Sometimes I invent a scenario when I could blame all my failures on the global crisis. But alas, I’m the only one to fault for my failures.
There have been many days I’ve sobbed over my business misfortunes. I’ve wondered how I will survive, how I will pick myself off the floor and carry on. I’ve pondered my self-worth, knowing the failure will follow me through every career choice. I will live with this until retirement.
But misery is too easy. It’s far easier to wallow in my failure than focus on everything I achieved. I accomplished so much more than what I failed at. The list of everything I learned and gained is longer than the obsolete businesses.
And when contemplate wallowing, to justify my self-sabotaging, I reflect on my achievements. I look at everything that bolstered my entrepreneurial skills. Though I may not have the business still running, it doesn’t make what I did any less successful. These are my triumphs in business.
I achieved independence
I didn’t wake up one day and decide to become an entrepreneur. But I do remember the moment I was working for someone else and concluded I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was in a meeting with one of my bosses. I was a humble secretary, playing gopher to every whim and fancy my managers needed. In this meeting, they raised the topic of efficiencies. My superiors analysed how to make the call times quicker and more effective. I injected my two cents, sharing my ideas, as I was the one answering the phones in the first place.
My boss looked at me and clicked his tongue. “You need more experience before you can come up with suggestions.” The feeling of complete dejection poured over me. And with that awareness brought emotional fatigue. I couldn’t work in a place where people didn’t listen to me. I couldn’t work for anyone who didn’t value my voice.
But it wasn’t the first time I felt invisible in my workplace. It was then I could recall all the moments someone had belittled my existence. In the weeks after I:
- Developed a business idea I wanted to pursue
- Worked until my enterprise could sustain me full time
- Vowed never to return to an employer full time
- Kept my vow until this very day
The independence I have, my ability to create and shape my business future, I value the most. Whilst there are some downsides to working on my own, those are trivialities compared to the freedom I’ve gained. Whether the business was successful or not is regardless.
I achieved the ultimate freedom of my career.
I achieved the knowledge of basic business principles
All the years working for someone else didn’t teach me how to run a business. I was only ever seeing my slice of the business, the parts they chose to involve me in. I never learned how to manage the entire business from the top. Nor did I learn any skills to run a business independently.
I obtained those skills only once I started running my business. Whilst I know some people learn these skills whilst working for a conventional employer, I wasn’t so fortunate. I had to learn everything from the beginning. I learned:
- How to be my own accountant
- How to market a business from conception to sales
- How to set up a business and meet the legal requirements for trading
- How to handle customer service on an intimate level
- How to juggle business priorities with personal struggles
Whilst learning these skills were valuable to the failed business, I’ve been able to take them to my next business. The joy of this achievement is that once the business closed my skills and knowledge didn’t vanish with it. My business skills strengthened in failure.
It takes more business skills to rebound from a closure than it does to start or run a business.
I achieved financial reward
It’s common for society to associate ‘business failure’ with a lack of financial reward. The problem comes with the definition of failure. If a business closes by choice of the owner, does that make it a failure? If the business doesn’t make as much as it set out to, does that make it a failure? Is it only a failure if it doesn’t make any money?
In my experience, most failed businesses earn something at some point. Usually, the problem is the business isn’t profitable for a sustainable period of time. The other issue comes from the expectation of the business owner. They assume the business is more profitable than it actually is.
I was able to gain financial reward from my business. I didn’t go hungry, I was able to pay the majority of my bills, and I was able to support myself for most of the business operation.
Where my businesses lacked was my ability to scale. I could never grow the business beyond a certain boundary.
I achieved the knowledge of how to master new skills
You’ve heard this one before. You open your own business and you learn new skills to survive. You learn how to be a learner. You learn how to learn everything on the fly. Cliche after cliche.
These cliches aren’t enough to describe the reality of learning new skills under this pressure. It’s a far cry from guided education through an institution. Why?
- You lack the support from teachers and alike personnel
- You have to hunt for education and work with the assumption that it’s accurate.
- When you have to learn new skills for survival, you learn at light speed
- You have to bury any anxiety or hesitation
- There is no time or freedom to second guess yourself.
The experience is not only intense, it’s exponentially more rewarding than you could ever imagine.
And being able to do this is an achievement worth celebrating a thousand times over.
I achieved the ability to spot a success from a mile away
I have a business crystal ball.
Though it may sound like I only have a sob story about my failed businesses, I have success to brag about. I have this wonderful balance of success and failure in my experience, which means I’m an authority on what works in business. And what doesn’t.
I’ve mastered the ability to spot winning and losing business at a glance. Someone can come to me with a pitch and I can provide a confident and accurate assessment of success likelihood. I have learned:
- The signs of failure and success
- When someone is passionate about their ideas
- When someone has the skills to run their own business or learn how to as the needs arise
- When a business isn’t marketable
- When you hear of a product or service, you can identify the winning components
- How to identify the challenges ahead
This is an unreachable skill through conventional education. I only know this now I’m on either side of both success and failure. People can educate on textbook marketing and business principles to the nth degree. And whilst I’m not disparaging this knowledge, it doesn’t always apply to the real world.
Some ideas don’t pan out as they should in textbooks. Some ideas sound like a disaster, yet they end up being the winners.
The joy of success and failures means I’ve ended up with education on both.
Achievements are achievements
Some will say I’m trying to find the silver lining in an otherwise dismal evaluation of my career. I would say you’re somewhat right. Sometimes failure is what it is. And you shouldn’t try to make it something it’s not.
But in my case, the failure of my business was only one small part of what happened to me. They were only a small blemish against the immense achievements I earned. Achievements in life aren’t black and white. It’s not about the have and have not. Achievements aren’t defined by who is holding the most at the end of the day.
We are the gatekeepers of our achievements.
My accomplishments aren’t qualities you receive medals for. They aren’t certificates I can hang on my wall. They aren’t tangible. But that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Nor does it make them any less important in my life.
These achievements have been harder to earn than any dollar I’ve ever made. Which means I will be forever rich in experience, knowledge and courage. And I will forever be successful in life.
So how do you view your failed business as an achievement?
I know all won’t agree with the idea of seeing a defunct business as something to be proud of. There does have to be a want to see the good in a seemingly negative situation. But whether you want to or not, there will be part of your ‘business failure’ that can be considered an achievement.
You just have to look for it.
I found myself making the old pros and cons list when I closed my last business. I wrote down everything I learned, achieved and mastered. And then I put down everything I lost.
And yes, the list of pros was far longer than any of the cons.
If I didn’t make this list, I don’t know how I would have carried on with my ideas. I don’t know how I would have sustained my creativity or motivation for the business ideas I have. Part of finding the achievements from failure is the human way to carry on. If we only focused on everything we didn’t do, I doubt we would ever get out of bed.
There is success in failure. Even if you failed spectacularly, you did something well.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love and relationships by analysing my experiences. Some of the stories are altered to protect the people in my life. But my feelings are never compromised.