Whelp, that didn’t go as planned.
After more than a year of business, I finally had my first real setback. How real, you ask? Well, is $35k real enough for ya?
Because, let me tell you, it’s real as hell to me.
But let’s be honest, you’re not here to listen to me rant about my failures, you’re here because you have failures of your own. And that’s just the thing: we all do. Failure is an inevitability of running your own business.
So hop on the fail train and let’s figure out how to keep going after a $35k punch in the face.
1. Let yourself be upset
Oh yeah-- the self pity step.
Listen, as much as I want to jump right into the inspiration, that’s not the first step. If you’re the kind of person who thinks the first thing to do after a massive failure is “look on the bright side,” you can kindly f-ck off.
No, we’re real humans here, and real humans are allowed to be upset when things go wrong.
You’re allowed to be demotivated and frustrated and dejected. That’s ok.
Taking care of yourself means giving yourself what you need. And sometimes, what you need is to curl up on the couch in the fetal position and cry into your popcorn because your proposal didn’t get approved.
Not speaking from personal experience or anything…
But! (you should’ve known there’d be a but…) that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to give up. Yes, you can be really f-cking sad about this, but no, you can’t use it as a “sign” you shouldn’t be doing this and give up completely.
Setbacks are part of business. If you’ve never had a failure in your business, it means you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. This is normal and it will pass.
So have your cry, eat your popcorn (and your ice cream, and your chips, and your chocolate) and then pull yourself off the floor and keep going.
2. Stop beating yourself up about it
We’ll call it the Stages of Failure. First, you’re disappointed and angry at the situation. Then, that disappointment and anger finds another target:
Which is why we’re nipping that in the bud immediately.
Sure, you could’ve probably done things differently, and we’ll get to that. But now’s not the time to focus on what you did wrong. Not while it’s so fresh and certainly not while you’re still alone on your couch with your popcorn.
Believe me, I know that spiral of self-loathing well: “That was a failure. This whole thing’s a failure. I’M a failure.” Therapy helps, I promise.
But what also helps is stopping that shit right this second and moving on to the next step.
2. Get support (from the right people)
Remember when I said we all fail? I mean it. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who’s never made a misstep.
Sure, you hear about these “overnight successes” who made a million in their first 6 months and do the podcast circuit saying things like, “I couldn’t believe it-- my business just took off right away!”
Those people are unicorns and that’s not real life for most of us. No, most of us are down here, riding the real entrepreneurship rollercoaster of elated success and crushing disappointment, usually in the same day.
So believe me, you are not alone-- and you shouldn’t try to get through this alone.
Call one of your biz-owner friends and vent. Hop into a Facebook group with people you trust and share what you’re going through. Talk to your mastermind group or your business coach and get the support you need.
But don’t-- I repeat-- DON’T vent to just anyone.
Avoid the “I told you so” naysayers at all costs. Ditto for anyone who’s ever asked when you’re going to get a “real job.”
You’re in a vulnerable place as it is-- don’t let that additional negativity in.
With so many positive resources at your fingertips there’s simply no reason to open yourself up to more doubt by talking to people who have no intention of helping you move forward.
4. Look for the silver lining
I know. I KNOW! I’m going there. Just hear me out, ok?
I’m not saying there’s a reason for everything (god, I hate when people say there’s a reason for everything). I’m not saying you’re better off that things didn’t go your way. If you can’t pay your bills because you didn’t get a contract you were expecting, the last thing you need to hear is that you should look on the bright side.
So that’s not what this is.
This is simply a check point to get honest with yourself and see if there’s any upside to this shitty situation.
Because often when we want something, we only see the good side of it. We can be so blinded by desire for a certain outcome that we ignore certain red flags. We don’t let ourselves see what’s in the shadows-- simply because we don’t want to.
Take my situation for example. I wanted that contract. I’d be set up financially for the year with that contract. I wouldn’t have to do any business development until 2018. No downside, right?
Well, not quite.
Once I got honest with myself, I realized that it was way too much work. I wouldn’t be able to take on any other clients for the rest of the year-- which means I wouldn’t be building my skills and experience with diverse clients and projects.
I’d essentially be giving up on the freedom and excitement of consulting for a steady paycheck. Sounds a whole lot like the 9-5 I was trying to get away from, doesn’t it?
So again, I’m not belittling your situation or asking you to make lemonade with those shitty lemons life handed you. I’m simply saying that sometimes, there is a silver lining that can help you feel a little less miserable after a setback.
5. Learn from it
Again, I KNOW. I’m cringing a little as I write this. But I promise this isn’t another Pollyanna-ish, “sometimes you win and sometimes you learn,” inspirational Instagram quote.
Oh no, this is tough love. I gave you time to be upset. I offered support. Now it’s time to pull on your big girl pants and get a move on.
And the first step to moving forward is to see what you can learn from this. That’s not to say it’ll be easy. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find something you can use. But if you look hard enough, it’ll be there.
It’s easy to victimize ourselves and act like life just happens to us, but in reality, you have way more control over things than you think.
I know you want to punch me, and that’s ok, but just know that I’m going through this as well. My proposal wasn’t approved because of budget cuts-- how can I possibly learn from something so far out of my control?
Well, it turns out, I could learn a lot.
To be more conservative with my proposals, for a start. To base my proposals on decision-makers and budget holders, not eager-to-outsource managers. To be more realistic about what I can actually deliver instead of trying to get the biggest contract possible.
That’s what I mean when I say “learn from it:”
- Be honest with yourself about what you could’ve done differently.
- Be critical (but still loving and self-compassionate, please!) about your process and how you got here, and assess if you need to pivot to a different approach.
- Ask for feedback. I know it’s awkward, but simply asking, “Is there anything I could’ve done differently to change the outcome?” can be extremely enlightening.
- Ask for help. If asking a lost client why they didn’t hire you sounds too horrific, try asking a trusted biz buddy for honest feedback ("trusted" is the key word.) Remember, you aren’t alone. Getting outside support not only keeps you sane, it also helps you improve.
6. Get back in action
Now that you’ve taken the time you need to get over the failure emotionally and understand what went wrong, it’s time to take what you’ve learned and move forward.
Because remember: it’s just a setback. It’s NOT the end. It’s not a defining failure that means you should give up. Keep going.
That doesn’t mean bulldoze forward exactly how you did before. Use what you learned to make sure you’ll get better results this time.
Maybe getting in action means improving your processes. Maybe it means mapping out a new strategy or pivoting to a new offering. Maybe it means repositioning your brand or changing your sales pitch.
Whatever it is-- get on it. The world need what you offer and a minor setback shouldn’t stop them from getting it.