Not every enterprise is meant to succeed. One of the unspoken truths about becoming an entrepreneur is that failure is a core part of the experience of striking out on one’s own. Each year, about 6 million new businesses launch new enterprises and in just a few years, half of them are history. When we talk about entrepreneurship, the authentic emotions of pain and shame that arise from failure are only discussed in passing as a learning experience in the wake of subsequent success. We cheer on the launch of a startup business but we leave the element of failure undiscussed until the entrepreneur has proven their mettle with another successful venture. Then, that failure becomes part of the entrepreneur’s creation myth and championed as just another part of the journey that made them the success they are today. In point of fact, failure is something that should be faced when it actually happens so that its lessons can make a more immediate impact on where we are today.
We cannot recognize entrepreneurial failure unless we define what success looks like from the get-go. One of the primary questions that entrepreneurs need to ask themselves is what success might look like three months from the launch of their new initiative. The answers should be measurable and quantitative, such as a definable number of customers or a significant increase in revenue.
The expectation gap between entrepreneurs and investors can also be a significant factor. Often a check-in meeting will find that an entrepreneur believes their business has succeeded well beyond their wildest expectations while investors feel the project has not met expectations in any way. By pre-defining benchmarks and milestones, everyone involved in the entrepreneurial mission shares a common set of milestones and benchmarks so that successes can truly be celebrated and failures dissected and analyzed for lessons on how to do better in the future.
Not to rely too heavily on sports clichés, but the best teams change up their game at half-time. That’s why quantitative data is so important. You can only adjust your tactics and strategy on the fly if you have enough information with which to work. That means having systems in place to measure your small business in order to find out what is going wrong and to make the right adjustments at the right time. Marketing, customer acquisition, inventory and pricing can all be factors where small changes might mean big differences in the success of your business.
While it might be emotionally painful, taking a good hard look at failure is important. That’s why it’s crucial to immediately do a post-mortem in the wake of failure. Make a list to figure out all of the things that might have gone wrong—whether they were your fault or not. By looking at your list the next time things aren’t going great, you will have a better sense of when things are going wrong because you’ve learned to recognize your pain points.
If you’ve failed in launching or running a business enterprise, you can leverage that experience to not only recover fully from failure but to help motivate you in the future. Failure is often an unrecognized platform for personal growth. Failure isn’t an ending unless you give up. Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you. If you still believe in your entrepreneurial spirit, you can use failure to become a better version of your future self.