How do entrepreneurs deal with failure?

Dear Aunty B,

Last year we launched into a new area of business, which I forecast would grow so fast it might end up as our main new business. All it did was drain resources and cannibalise a small part of our main business.

I have now been forced to close the operation and have had to lay off three staff that I talked into coming across from their safe jobs in the main business.

I feel I have failed them, as these people have worked here for years, and they were wonderful people with families and mortgages. They are annoyed but being nice to me, I suspect so I will give them good references.

I have also been told by my wife to stop feeling sorry for myself when it is others who are worse off.

I am young and accept that things like this will occur to me at other times in my professional life, and I want to know how other entrepreneurs deal with failure.




Dear D,

You have a number of firsts – first big strategic failure, first leadership failure, and first time you have been directly responsible for people losing jobs. The first time any one of those things happens is difficult. To have that all happen at once is a major blow.

Dealing with failure is a skill that entrepreneurs must master. Entrepreneurs take calculated risks when developing strategy. Some will not work. Entrepreneurs are constantly selling – and are often rejected. Entrepreneurs are constantly creating jobs – and moving people on.

The way entrepreneurs deal with constant little failures and the occasional whopper, is to get back on the horse. The first thing they do is accept the fact that they failed. They then reframe the failure into a lesson. “What have I learnt so I never do that again?” is the question they ask. With the answers tucked into the folds of their brain, they quickly move on.

It sounds like you are stuck at the first stage; accepting responsibility for the failure. It is now time to move on.

Do this by focusing very short term for the next few days, writing a list of things that need to be done every day, and working your way through them. You will soon feel strong enough to begin to think strategically again and plan for your next expansion phase.

Lastly, your wife obviously has no idea what you are going through, and her advice is not helpful. Entrepreneurs are different to everyone else, so meet with some fellow entrepreneurs for some “comfort” sessions. Hearing their war stories will be a great tonic. If they can do it, you can too!

Good luck!

Your Aunty B.

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