In business the old adage: Try and try until you succeed couldn’t be more relatable. For many entrepreneurs failure often comes before success. Many entrepreneurs will admit that it was the third or fourth business that made them successful. For others, it was a pivot from an original business plan that made the difference. Whatever the case, keep heart – many of today’s successful business icons failed before they succeeded.
With a net worth of approximately $80 billion, Bill Gates has clearly enjoyed more wins than failures. When he dropped out of Harvard in 1975, his parents saw him as a failure. They had no idea that unimaginable success would come to him with his co-founding of Microsoft Corporation with Paul Allen. Gates wasn’t failing, just playing by his own rules.
The growth of Microsoft was marked by a number of poor decisions shared by Gates and Allen. Those missteps prompted Gates to say years later, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it’s more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Here are eight lessons to learn from failure in business:
Always be ready and learn how to make a successful pivot quickly. In business and in life, external events can quickly and unexpectedly conspire to change the rules, without consulting you. All you can do is take nothing for granted and figure out ways to better manage similar events next time. Learning that your original purpose for the business isn’t always how it will work out will allow you to be open to a necessary pivot and look out for opportunities rather than dwell on failure.
Focus on your customer and not the product. So many times as entrepreneurs we focus on building a perfect product. We build several iterations and test each one and really never manage to consult with the very customers who will eventually buy the product. Let the customers decide on the features of the product. Make sure its relevant for them and that they would be willing to buy the product at the price you’re looking for. Nothing fuels failure more than wrong product-market fit.
Always sign a contract. Failure to get a contract in writing can lead to a waste of valuable resources and time. There are clients who will promise verbally to buy your product or use your service and you start the work only to find out that they never intended to pay. Always get it in writing and take it a step further and get a deposit.
Manage expectations and don’t just give your talent away. Seeking people’s approval in order to win and keep their business is not the same thing as giving them professional value. I felt that it was important for me to constantly go above and beyond what was agreed to ensure clients would hire me again. This devalued my professional brand and made redefining the terms of engagement very difficult once I had set a precedent.
Stop thinking about what others will say. When we fail, we are often embarrassed to tell others what has happened. Even before they ask, we are running through scenarios in our head about the excuses we will give for our change in circumstances. Learn to conserve your physical and mental energy by essentially not anticipating other people’s reactions when things didn’t work out.
Be Optimistic. Its normal to think more about what could go wrong than what is going right. This stems from the fact that there is a lot financially and emotionally invested in a business not to mention our own egos. On the flip-side, failing can open your eyes to the fact that for you, this is not a permanent state of being. It can help to accentuate all that you have accomplished and build on it with confidence.
Choose your team wisely. Always be selective when choosing employees to work in your business. Your employees are your best asset. In order to have a successful business you need to attract and retain top talent. Always look out for team-payers. Its no use having a skilfull engineer that no one can work with. People skills are just as important and will ensure that you have a successful and highly motivated team.
Second chances are abundant. Failure certainly does not mean the end. Count all the small wins along the way and remember the successful business icons that came before you that failed and are now successful.