How Entrepreneurs Can Deal with Failure (Large or Small)

Running a business—ecommerce or otherwise—involves such an extensive and ever-changing list of moving parts that failure of some degree is inevitable. Whether as large as a product launch not being received well by customers or as small as a mistakenly misspelled email subject line, it can be disheartening to feel like the work done up to that point didn’t meet your standards. Here are a few things you can do to both manage and channel your frustration and disappointment in a positive and productive way.

1. Breathe, feel your emotions, and let them out

Your first step is to take a second to breathe. It can be tempting to immediately move into “fix-it” mode, which—depending on the level of the mistake—can be a vital early step. But failure can cause intense emotions, and bottling them up rarely ends well. Take a minute (seriously, 60 seconds at the very least) to stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and feel the emotions of panic/disappointment/etc. that come up for you. Taking a second to let it all out in this way is a necessary step to get rid of distractions so you can move into “focus” mode.

Speaking of “letting it all out,” make sure that the way you’re coping or expressing your emotions is healthy. Punching a wall or yelling at an employee both allow you to vent frustration effectively, but they come with their own set of consequences and new issues to handle down the line. Instead, try channeling your frustration in less destructive ways. If meditation isn’t your thing, find a happy medium, like seeking support from family and friends or other entrepreneurs.

On the flip side, make sure you don’t dwell on your emotions for too long. It’s important to take the time you need, but at some point you’ll pass from productive ruminating to hindering your ability to move forward.

2. Recognize and reject irrational thoughts about failure

One reason people typically have trouble dealing with failure is that they hold strong beliefs regarding what failure means about them as a person. The most important part of recognizing these unhealthy beliefs is to practice self-compassion when reflecting on your failures. Yes, maybe you made a careless mistake, but nobody is perfect—everyone messes up at one point or another. Keep these thoughts in mind if you notice that you’re being too hard on yourself:

  • Don’t make it personal: you are not defined by your failures. Even if your business takes up a lot of your time and attention, it’s not your entire identity—you have unrelated strengths, interests, etc. that help make up who you are.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others: maybe your competitor didn’t make the same mistake that you did, but did they try? Everyone’s situation is different, so comparing yours to theirs will yield an uneven result.
  • Don’t worry about what others think: some people will care more than they need to, and others won’t care at all. You can’t control how other people will react to your mistakes or failures—all you can do is control how you react to it.
  • Failure isn’t always the end: it may be the end of this iteration of your initiative, but it doesn’t mean you can’t try again (with some tweaks to your strategy) in the future. Failure gives you the opportunity to perfect your strategy.

At the same time, you’ll need to accept the appropriate amount of responsibility. For example, if you were the final sign-off for new packaging and missed a glaring error, blaming everyone else may be tempting—but you must recognize that you missed it too, and determine how to ensure that you review packaging in a more focused manner next time.

3. Look on the positive side of failure

Yes, it is possible to view failure in a positive light! For one thing, you now know that whatever you tried or implemented in this instance failed, so you now possess the knowledge to not make the same mistake again. This means that you’re one step closer to finding a method that will be successful in the future. Additionally, consider that failure means you attempted something challenging rather than taking the easy or safe route. Some people are so afraid of failure that they won’t try anything at all, whereas you attempted to better your business—an admirable path to take.

For some added positivity, motivate yourself by considering famous failures that eventually led to greatness. Some examples include:

  • Early in his career, Walt Disney was fired for “lacking imagination”
  • Prior to founding Ford Motors, Henry Ford’s first two automobile companies failed
  • KFC’s Colonel Sanders was rejected 1,000+ times before finding a franchise partner

4. Identify learnings by reflecting on the experience

As mentioned above, you now know a method(s) that won’t work to get you where you want to be, so make sure to write down everything you have learned from the experience so you don’t forget and make the same mistake again.

  1. First, explore the root cause(s) of the failure or mistake. Are you simply missing out on a “review” step? Was your research incomplete before you decided to move forward with an initiative? Did you choose a supplier with a sub-par reputation to save money?
  2. Next, consider how to avoid those causes in the future. Identify any areas for improvement and note any additional steps you can add to your process to ensure a smoother and more on-target result the next time around.
  3. Finally, make sure you actually take the steps to improve the process. It’s easy to reflect, make a mental note, and then forget. If you write a process down, you’ll not only be more likely to remember it—you’ll also have something helpful to reference and hold you accountable later.

5. Move on

This is definitely easier said than done for some people, but once you’ve done what you can to rectify the situation, there is no reason to keep worrying about it. Sure, there may be lasting repercussions—but if you channel your energy into moving on to the next initiative, you’ll expend much less negative energy fretting about the past.

Final Thoughts

“Failure” is just a possible side effect of “trying.” As a business owner, mistakes and failures alike can lead to feelings of frustration, uncertainty, and defeat. But don’t despair—by looking at your failures objectively and crafting learnings from the experience, you can move forward toward future success in your business.