Despite what you may hear in the news, overnight success stories in business are one in a million. Most successes are built on a foundation of extremely hard work and, in almost all cases, a series of failures. Dare I say, no one succeeds without first failing.
To me, failure is the ultimate test of an entrepreneur. Lots of would-be entrepreneurs fail once and then quit. The entrepreneurs who are resilient—who learn from their failures and use those learnings to do better next time—are the ones more likely to be successful.
Do what you do well, then figure out the rest
When I started out, I was a designer, not a businessman. I had no concept of how to use the Web to drive business and conversions. I’d create absolutely beautiful sites, but they weren’t driving sales. As a result, I studied online user behavior and learned to create sites that focused more on driving business and less on blowing people away with my creativity.
Process makes perfect
I had no processes, defined roles or protocols in place. Every project was like starting from scratch. As my company grew, this caused huge problems. But this taught me how important it was to have every process in place and every role defined before embarking on a project.
Think twice before you hire
I made some terrible hires. When I was starting out, I didn’t know the right questions to ask or the right backgrounds for the positions I was filling. I was very lucky to make some great hires, but I had to let a lot of people go. Now, I don’t rely on what candidates tell me about their skills. I put them to the test. This has helped to weed out a lot of people I might have hired in the past.
Train new hires I had no formal training program. I’d throw people into a task and then have to clean up their messes. Out of that, I learned to create and implement training programs that get new employees up to speed quickly. This has had a huge impact on productivity and client satisfaction. And perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from failure…
Don’t sweep your failures under the rug
Take the time to understand what caused each failure. It’s not about pointing fingers or assigning blame. Examine the thought processes, concepts and execution and figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong. Take the time to educate yourself.
No matter what kind of business you have, there will be missteps. The vast majority of startups do fail; some entrepreneurs run out of funds, others run out of ideas and still others just lose their passion. Then there are people like Henry Ford, whose first two car companies failed, or Rowland Macy (as in Macy’s), who had four retail stores fail in 12 years before opening his flagship department store. And what about Walt Disney? He was fired from his first job because “he lacked imagination.”
I’m not saying dealing with failure is easy. In fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face in my life. There were many times when I thought about joining a big company, getting a nice salary and not worrying about all the things an entrepreneur has to worry about. But there was something inside of me that wanted to create and build something great.
To this day, I still deal with failure. But what’s different is the way I deal with it.
OPEN Cardmember Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a results-driven Web design and online marketing company based in Manhattan.
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