6 Ways to Learn and Pivot From an Entrepreneurial Journey Gone Awry
Here's how entrepreneurs can learn from a failed business venture.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
We love — no, we crave — a good origin story. Hero or villain, we want to know what circumstances lead them to where they are. Think really hard about your favorite character in a story. They probably failed at some moment along the way (it's got to have a solid, drama-filled plot, or who'd care?) and because of it, they came out stronger. We lift these fictional stories up, and we celebrate the journey so much.
Why can't we do this for ourselves? Failure in business can be scary, unpredictable and emotionally taxing. If you've started a business already, you're aware that taking risks is an integral part of your entrepreneurial journey. And with great risk comes … great fear of the unknown! That, and many rewards. But if we're honest with ourselves, we know that the great entrepreneurs before us have all seen their fair share of failure at some point in their careers — be it a bad initial business plan, lack of understanding of the industry or just a few bad moves (I can talk about some bad moves…). The beauty of failure is that it gives you a reason to get back up. Because, as the great Aaliyah sang, "If at first you don't succeed, dust yourself off and try again."
Now that song is in your head, here are six ways to learn and pivot from an entrepreneurial journey gone awry:
1. Reevaluate your business plan
Reevaluate your business plan — or completely pivot if you have to. Was your product or service not ready for market? What type of feedback did you receive? Identify what went wrong and why, and then create actionable takeaways you can use in the future. Instead of wallowing in defeat, take constructive steps towards understanding where things went awry. Was there something you could have done differently? How heavily was luck involved? Self-reflection should be part of your quarterly, annual or semi-annual review.
2. Set new, attainable goals
This is a given, and you've probably heard this 1,000 times, so here's number 1,001: Set goals that are smart and attainable. Take a look at what went wrong with the project that failed, and understand why it failed. Sometimes our failures are simply viewed as such because of the goals we set. You say, "I want 1,000 users in the first month of launching my brand!" And I wish you all the best, by the way. But that might not be realistic, especially if you haven't planned out your marketing properly or started any outside research. A smart goal would be more along the lines of, "I want to collect enough emails or contact information from my promoted post." From there, you build a following or brand awareness that can get you to 1,000 users much easier.
3. Learn a valuable lesson
Who doesn't love a good lesson? Is it even a good lesson if you don't cry a little bit? After the tears have gone, it's worth looking at the situation and considering where you can become stronger. Did you trust someone without fully vetting them? Did you not have enough money saved for your venture? Here's the good news: It's okay. And the better news: You're going to be better because of it. Just remember to not make the same mistake as you move on.
4. Take on new skills that will take you farther
Sometimes we fail because we haven't got the right skill set or we need to fine-tune our skills. Once you've realized the areas in which you need to either improve or sharpen, use the time to pack on more knowledge. You might even find that your entire business idea changes or evolves into something you hadn't thought of. Be flexible with yourself. Learning new skills only broadens, it never narrows.
5. Discover your true intentions and purpose
What motivates you? Failure has a funny way of prioritizing what really matters — or what things should matter. Chasing money, helping others, serving your community or a community in need, being the number one realtor ... blah blah blah. Maybe your true purpose is hidden behind the mask of what you think a successful business looks like.
6. Encourage others with your story
Sharing your failure story can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, especially if it brings back difficult memories and emotions. On the other end, sharing your story can inspire and bring hope to someone who's struggling with the same issues.
Look, I get it. You log onto LinkedIn and see so much success happening — new jobs, new careers, new businesses. But the honest, vulnerable moments are where we can really learn something about who we are as entrepreneurs. If you've failed, well, join the club. I have, too. Most of us reading this have. But if you've had a bad venture, don't let it define you. Dust yourself off and try again ... and again. It is what defines you as a risk-taking entrepreneur.