There’s no way around it: Failure is not fun. However, it’s an important part of life as an entrepreneur—even successful entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Vera Wang have colossal failures under their belts. I’d argue that if an entrepreneur has never experienced a failure, he or she isn’t taking enough risks. Fortunately, this unpleasant experience is not futile. Especially in business, failures can be used to your advantage—but only if you learn how to bounce back from them effectively.
I’ve experienced my fair share of failures. One example is Zeadoo, a personalized homepage. It’s no longer available today, but it was a failure in that it lacked the proper strategy to support it and a method for monetizing it. This experience, and others, have contributed to my understanding of failure and how to recover from it. Here are some tips for getting back on your feet after a business idea flops:
This is the hardest part of recovering from failure, but also the most important. Shock and denial are normal feelings, especially if you were really invested in your idea. It can be challenging to sift through these potent emotions to identify a failure.
Remember that, as a business owner, you might be too close to see the situation clearly. Listen to your partners, employees and friends. Sometimes they will recognize when it’s time to cut losses long before you do. Only by identifying and accepting a failure can you move on from it.
Failure is an emotional experience. Shock and denial might be followed by disappointment and even dramatic physical changes, such as a drop in serotonin.
Allow yourself to feel these feelings, and then get over them. Don’t wallow, but don’t deny the emotional consequences of failure, either.
Failure makes us feel weak and unworthy. This in turn reduces our motivation to try again. To fight this, we must nurture our inherent abilities. Remember what you’re good at and surround yourself with inspiration.
After coping with the initial emotions associated with failure and getting yourself on solid ground again, the real work begins. Analyzing what went wrong with your failed business idea and why your efforts weren’t successful is the most productive and fruitful part of a failure. Without understanding exactly why you failed, you can’t use that failure to inform future decisions.
Zeadoo taught me important business lessons about profit strategy, but failures can also teach you crucial lessons about your personality as an entrepreneur. For example, Elance-oDesk VP Matt Cooper learned from his first failed venture that he had a tendency to move too quickly with business ideas. Knowing this, he set clear deadlines for himself with future startups to ensure he was moving at a sustainable pace.
4. Redefine success.
After reexamining your failure with a clear head, it’s time to leave it behind. Carry the lesson with you, but redefine what it means to be successful.
Choose a new project. Engage in something you’re passionate about. Creating new goals will excite you and provide an opportunity to apply what you have learned from your failed venture.
Within a year of saying a sad goodbye to her first web startup, CEO Kathryn Minshew threw herself into developing The Muse, a now-thriving career development platform. After facing failure, she recovered and found a new channel for the creative and entrepreneurial energy that ultimately fueled her success.
5. Stay vigilant.
Failures can cause us to become more risk-averse or decrease our self-confidence, even after we think we’re fully recovered.
When you start a new project after experiencing failure, it’s important to monitor your behavior. Are you avoiding risks or being particularly hard on yourself? These habits could hold you back. Be aware of ways a past failure might be impacting your productivity. Identify these bad habits and fix them.
As CEO Allison O’Kelly writes, “Victory is a matter of recognizing failure, adjusting course to move through it, and coming out on the other side a little bit stronger and a whole lot wiser.” With these tips, you can turn your failure into a stepping-stone that leads to success.
This article was published in September 2017 and has been updated. Photo by @yaroslav.photography/Twenty20