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Failing Forward: Learning From Failure

This article was originally published on Forbes.

Once upon a time, I stood in an audience listening to a soon-to-be-friend of mine, Jason Seiden, announce his newest book, called Fail Spectacularly. As I listened to all the stories of missing by a mile or focusing on the wrong thing at the expense of a job, a company or even a relationship, I was happy for him and interested in the premise but didn’t really think it applied to me. After all, I was in my mid-twenties and had turned a failure of a company into something that resembles my career today. I was a post-pivotal moment and felt pretty good about it.

And then everything exploded. The failure I thought I’d parlayed into two new companies (supported by a full-time job) was not sustainable with three young kids and travel. The failure took a toll on my marriage, my new companies and friendships. While I Tarzanned from gig to gig, from travel back to recruiting and HR and my family never went “hungry,” I didn’t feel like a success, I felt like a survivor, which despite the Destiny’s Child song, is not always the best…or should I say only thing to be.

Today, I have a wonderful, modest, ethical, and GOOD agency that is growing in all the right ways. That makes me happy because when I started it, my confidence was not high, my expectations were extremely low and an agency really wasn’t what I wanted to do. What I learned along the way was more valuable than our revenue numbers, employee count or the awards we win.

Failing is normal when creating your own #biz. But, there are also some important lessons to learn: Click To Tweet

Learn humility.

This has been the very hardest lesson for me. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about how smart I was, how experienced I was and how other people were getting opportunities I should have gotten. Learning to be humble has helped ease that (somewhat, competition is in my blood after growing up with four sisters) and it’s given me the ability to ask for help. That’s a crucial skill when up to 90% of startups fail, and of those that do, those with only one founder (AKA me, when I started!!) were most likely. I beat the odds but that doesn’t make me smarter, it makes me lucky.

How Humility Grows Your Business: Humble leaders are more effective because they’re genuinely liked. Why “being liked” isn’t always important to production, it’s important to engagement, and as we know engagement of your workforce is crucial in improving performance. Admit your mistakes, be approachable, and showcase employee strengths to contribute to organizational growth.

Past mistakes are very expensive lessons.

In my last failure, there were lots of things that contributed to it not working but poor communication (due to distance), lack of humility (me again) and lack of a product (not me) were all factors. Now at Red Branch Media, I take those lessons to heart with my employees, my clients, and the products I choose to work on. Why? Because I PAID for them. Just like higher education, failing at a startup, or a job or a business relationship is education you paid for, with the most finite of resources, time.

How Mistakes Grow Your Business: Mistakes give leaders anecdotes to inspire change in teams. They set an example that encourages employees to be resilient and accountable for their own mistakes, and they show your workforce that you are, in fact, human. The next time an employee makes a big mistake, share a time how you solved a similar issue instead of reprimanding them.

@MarenHogan shares her insights on what you can learn from #business failure: Click To Tweet

Not every idea is a good idea.

Not only is this hard to learn for myself, it’s hard to help my people learn. It’s important to know this and to keep it front of mind. For every amazing idea, there will likely be 10 bad ones and as a leader and a business person, you have to focus on the ones that have the best chance of working and those that align with your goals. On average, a person has 35 thoughts per minute, and if you’re a creative many of those will be new ideas! If you run around trying to snag every idea you come up with, you will find yourself depleted of energy, resources and your customers will be upset at the lack of focus. Did you know 80% of small business owners don’t track their business goals?

How Tracking Goals Grow Your Business: Start a document that’s available through a mobile device to track ideas and goals. Evernote and Google Drive are great tools to use because they can be accessed anywhere (except the shower) but don’t worry you can jot down ideas in the shower too with Aqua Notes! Writing down your ideas and goals gives you an 80% higher chance of achieving them and it will help you organize all ideas so the best ones can be prioritized.

You can’t help everyone.

I struggle with this as well. When you have a passion for something (mine is locating the business or revenue model at the heart of an idea) you want to share that gift. When you do, people do begin to devalue it. If someone can’t afford to pay you, unless it’s a really great cause, you need to let them tackle their business needs on their own. Because why take on their business issues when you have your own?

“Share your talents and resources. Generously give your time and attention. But you cannot pour a magical tonic on the wounds of every person walking the planet. It’s not your job. And if it were, it’d be a sucky job because you’d fail at it every single day.” – Annika Martins, (@AnnikaMartins)

How Saying No Helps Your Business: It should be obvious but rarely is, that saying no frees up your time to make better things happen. As my business grew and scaled, I realized that by not saying no, I wasn’t just hurting myself (or overworking myself), I was piling more unpaid work or low paid work onto my staff, costing me money AND overwhelming my people. Your people are your most important asset, protect them.

You will have your own business issues.

Just because you’ve failed once, or many times, doesn’t mean you’ve learned every lesson there is. You’re going to continue to fail, incrementally, as long as you’re in business (google wave anyone?) These lessons aren’t abject failures, so you cannot throw your arms up and walk away. Sometimes you have to work through them, that’s the most important lesson of all. Learn to communicate with those struggling employees, and how to handle difficult clients, or when to confront partners who are trying to swindle you. The most important part of success is learning to identify failure and turn it into a win!