How to Cope with the Sharp Sting of Failure

Guest Post by Meredith Speer

Failure is a natural part of business. Ask any business professor and they will tell you:

50% of start-ups fail within the first two years of business.

While I didn’t go bankrupt or shut down my little business, during those first two years I failed more times than I can count. Website contact form linked to the wrong email? Yep. Majorly overspent on a project so I couldn’t pay myself? Definitely. Completely forgot meetings? More times than I care to admit. Have a client ask for a refund? Unfortunately. Don’t even get me started on how many mistakes I made on social media. We would be here for hours.

how to deal with the sharp sting of failure / belong magazine blog  / guest post meredith sperry

After almost three years of running a successful, profitable business and three years of failing regularly, I’ve learned a few things about dealing with our mistakes.

The way we handle our failures impacts our businesses and lives in huge ways.

Here are the five things I do that have helped my business succeed despite my errors.

1. Own it /

The absolute best thing we can do when we make a mistake is to take ownership. Go directly to whoever was affected and be the first to bring up the mishap. This does two things. First, it shows your clients, co-workers, etc that you care about them and your work. Second, it allows you to be in the drivers seat of fixing a problem. Now, you have the opportunity to show your responsibility by presenting the mistake and showcase your problem solving and customer service skills by presenting a solution. Owning our mistakes takes cajones, but it is WORTH IT.

2. Apologize /

Instagram and Facebook make us seem bigger and better than reality. Our number of followers and commenters makes it easy for us to get too big for our britches and begin to think we are perfect boss babes. That’s simply not true. We are all growing and learning as we go, failure is part of the job! Sometimes when we bring up an issue and solution we forget two very critical words. I’m sorry. When we make a mistake, I firmly believe that a sincere apology can help more than anything else. Let’s get humble and ask for forgiveness when we mess up.

3. Ask Questions /

Sometimes we will fail and not even realize it. Perhaps something got damaged in the mail, an incident happened when we weren’t around, or we simply didn’t meet our clients expectations. It may have nothing to do with our personality or product/ service but an mistake happened under the umbrella of our business. Start asking questions. Send surveys to your clients and ask them if they were satisfied, what you can do better, what they enjoyed, and how they felt treated. When someone brings up a negative remark, let them know you are working on it. Failure is brutal but it can be an incredible learning tool and transform our businesses!

4. Monitor what you share / 

In an extremely public day and age, we often feel the need to share everything. I can tell you, this is a bad idea. First, evaluate what is appropriate to share on social media. Is it wise to jump on and caption a photo, “I just had a client ask for a refund for the first time. Now I’m crushed, eating my 3rd grilled cheese, and considering shutting down my website?” Absolutely not. Remember, social media is a MARKETING tool meaning it is a place for us to showcase the best of our businesses. If you feel the desire to be transparent about failure on social media then do so in a way that takes ownership. “I recently got feedback that our shipping times are slower than desired. Thank you to my sweet clients for bringing that up! I hate when our clients aren’t 100% satisfied and I am working diligently to provide an even better shipping experience.”

5. Let it go / 

Yep, I’m singing Frozen over here. Ultimately, running a small business means we are individuals working with individuals.There will eventually be some sort of conflict, some time when we disappoint someone, some client who get’s upset even if it doesn’t seem justifiable. That is part of life. We own it, deal with it, and move on. While every client is important, one client can’t define our business. After a short bout of wallowing and wine, we have got to pick ourselves up and get back to pursing a better business. You won't be doing yourself or your business any favors by holding on to past frustration and shame.

I know first hand how bad failure stings. Over the past three years I have failed miserably and will do so again in the future. However, I have come to understand that failure, while embarrassing and hard, is the best teacher around. Workshops teach us some great hands-on skills like how to set a budget, how to take a gorgeous photo, how to use social media to our benefit. What workshops don’t cover are topics like leading a team through a challenge, learning to stand up for your business, how to handle the financial set-back of a refund, navigating a negative review, and bouncing back after defeat. Do you know what (somewhat) free tool teaches us those incredibly value lessons? Failure.

The first time I felt like I had failed, I was miserable. My weekend was spent crying on my couch, calling my parents, and eating alarming amounts of ice cream. It took me a few weeks to bounce back but after I dealt with my unhappy client, I eventually got up and moved on. While I felt a little bruised and fearful of making another mistake, I also felt equipped to be a better business owner and leader.

Eventually, the sting of failure turns into a dull ache then, finally, a small scar. As entrepreneurs, creatives, and straight bosses, we are going to get a few nicks along the way. Let’s use those cuts as moments to showcase our character and let the scars remind us of the lessons we’ve learned.

Meredith is a Texas-dwelling, community building, word-slinging entrepreneur. Her days are spent running Bristol Lane, a full service floral and styling studio, who's work has been featured in numerous print and online publications. Regularly, you can find Meredith meeting with fellow business owners, writing new essays, or laying out by the pool reading her latest library find. She lives in Austin with her husband and is constantly on the search for the perfect salsa. You can find her at Bristol Lane and Meredith Speer; follow her on instagram @bristollane and @meredithspeer

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