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The Keys to Learning from Your Business Failures

By: Danny Iny


The Keys to Learning from Your Business Failures

So you screwed up. What next?

There’s something you notice a lot in online marketing—the story of how an entrepreneur tried, failed, recovered and then succeeded.

It’s a good story and an important story. But it kind of misses a little something sometimes.

Let’s be honest.

It’s easier to talk about how you learned from an epic fail when you’re sitting far on the other side of it, sharing your story with eager listeners envious of your success.

It’s another thing entirely to be sitting in your home office by yourself, sad music playing, a pile of empty ice cream cartons next to you looking at the money you lost… and not knowing what on earth you are going to do next.

(The ice cream thing isn’t just me, right?)

Hindsight is 20/20, of course. But a really bad step like a failed launch, an embarrassing email, a terrible decision, or a total product meltdown has the blinding effect of being hit by a three-ton truck.

So when you finally face the facts and say to yourself “I messed this up good,” it can be hard to look at it as the learning opportunity, or part of your future success story that it really is.

It can be hard to be rational, it can be hard to be hopeful, and it can be hard to figure out what exactly you’re supposed to do next.

This is what I want to talk to you about today: the actual steps you take to pivot from the flops and failures that inevitably occur when you’re running a business online.

There’s one thing that has to come first, and for the highly motivated high achievers out there—it’s the hardest of all.

Have a Little Compassion for Yourself

Really truly.

You made a mistake. You’re human, it happens. And unless someone lost a leg, it’s probably going to be okay.

Acknowledge that you made a mistake, that it hurts, and that there will be consequences. Whether it’s having to apologize to your list or a partner, or go back to the drawing board with a new money-making idea, remind yourself that you will *take* those consequences, because you’re a competent, capable adult who can recover from a misstep.

Related Article: 3 Things Great Leaders Gain from Failure

No ranting and railing at yourself. No muted expletives in the bathroom mirror. No beating yourself with a wet noodle.


Good. Now that you’ve done that (and it can take a few days, that’s cool) let’s talk about how to pivot, iterate, and get back on track.

Work from Reality

This might seem a little odd—aren’t you ALREADY dealing with the brutal reality of your failure?

Of course you are—but there’s probably a few other things going on, too. You’re looking for reasons that things went the way they did—and hoping, even if you haven’t totally admitted it to yourself, that there were things beyond your control that caused your product to fail or all of your deadlines to be shot to blazes.

It may well be that there were some forces that were beyond your control, but I need to share something with you.

That doesn’t matter.

As the entrepreneur, whether you work alone or manage a team of 20, the buck stops with you—so pinning all of your failures or mistakes on something out of your control is basically useless.

No, you can’t control the things outside of your control but blaming them doesn’t help you move forward.

You need to identify what you CAN control (or influence) and figure out how to do that part BETTER.

This is not by any means to say that you shouldn’t consider the external factors that contributed to the situation, but at the end of the day, the only part of reality you can actually alter is the part that is you’re acting in. So you need to realistically look at the choices you made, the emails you wrote, the phone calls you avoided.

What were YOUR behaviors that led to this?

This hard—I know! But you can do it—and that’s just the beginning.

The next time you’re dealing with some failure-based reality, take out a pen and paper, and write down the following:

  • What you EXPECTED to happen
  • What ACTUALLY happened
  • What you really could not have done anything about (Like a huge amazing offer from a competitor happening at the same time taking all of your audience’s attention!)
  • What actions could you have taken that would have made things different. (Like maybe being aware of when your competitor sells things!)

Sit on this list for a little while, and consider carefully the things you could have done differently, given the cold, hard reality of the situation. This will be your list of things to watch out for next time!

Now, let’s get down to some more brass tacks.

We’ve established that you are human, and therefore inclined to occasionally make mistakes. We have also put some time and thought into what you wanted, what we got, and what we could and could not control.

Now let’s talk about something a little scarier—if your thinking was off from day one.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Whether you were aware of it or not, you made assumptions going into whatever it was that went badly—from business venture to new product to upsell to campaign, you made assumptions.

If you’ve been a student of ours for some time, they were probably quite good assumptions (because you listened to your audience and made decisions based on evidence) but there are still things that you couldn’t be totally sure of, and that may have proven to be the key to success—or in this case, failure.

So think carefully now: what turned out to be wrong?

  • Was your price too high? Maybe you assumed your audience was willing to pay more.
  • Did conversions suck? Maybe what you assumed the biggest pain point actually didn’t matter that much.
  • Did you run out of money? What cost more than it should have? What took longer?

These are all assumptions that you made, one way or another, and all things that you need to test in order to see if they were the critical failure point.

One way to determine which assumption was a critical one is to look for big changes in your audience’s behavior. If you were getting great engagement up until the day your cart opened, that’s a pretty good sign you were off about either the value proposition or the price.

So get that trusty pen and paper out again.

What were your assumptions, and what evidence do you have that they were off-base?

Now you’ve got all of the information you need to move forward. So let’s plan your next steps.

Create a New Plan

This is the fun part, where just like the famous entrepreneurs you follow on the internet, you’ll get to prove to yourself, and those who know you, that you can learn from mistakes and turn even the most dismal failures into a new opportunity.

Look at the list you’ve made.

Look at the difference between what you expected, what happened, and at what your key assumptions were.

Now, do a little imagining. What different assumptions would have brought you closer to the results you wanted?

For example, if I had a failed nutrition product launch with FAR fewer buyers than I anticipated (say I wanted 100 and only got 12), and I identified that my big bad assumption was my “Ask” email, where I opened the cart, then what could have made things different was a better call to action.

Originally, I assumed that the real pain point was not knowing how to cook a healthy meal, so I sent a sales message all about learning how to do it.

Up until that point, talking about the value and difficulty of healthy eating, people were responding well—but the sales message was a flop!

Given my thinking about my assumptions, I can guess that the issue was in fact one of finding the TIME to cook healthy meals.

So with that in mind, I will try to validate my thinking.

  • I might send an email to my community with a survey asking them for their thoughts.
  • I might run a few blog posts with the new angle and gauge reaction.
  • I might go through all of my old blog posts, Facebook posts and social media activity to see if that was really the topic of discussion that got people moving.

Basically, determine what you didn’t know, and do whatever you can to find out if that was the thing that really caused the failure.

That’s it, the next and most important step after you screwed something up and got results far, far below your expectations.

Remember, failure is only failure if it happens in the last chapter. Otherwise, it’s a plot twist.

So, are you willing to share? What assumptions have you made in the past? What can you do to validate them? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Megan Dougherty is the Director of Education at Firepole Marketing, and loves developing new training content, working with students to achieve their goals, and talking about online education of any kind. You can drop her a line on Twitter or Google+.

Published: August 20, 2015

Source: Firepole Marketing

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Danny Iny

Danny Iny (@DannyIny), a.k.a. the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, is the proud founder of Firepole Marketing. He’s also the author of the Amazon best-selling book Engagement from Scratch!, the Naked Marketing Manifesto, and the Audience Business Masterclass. In addition to all of the above, Danny is a super-friendly guy who makes a point of responding to emails and messages within 24 hours—so follow him on Twitter @DannyIny, Google+, or just send him an email and say hello!

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