Every new business owner has heard the bleak statistic that 90% of businesses fail. In the early days of business, it might feel like you’re doing everything possible to avoid this fate. However, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in seven years of business is that failure is not just an essential part of success, it can be a shortcut to success.
While many household-name founders have a stack of failed startups behind them, your business doesn’t need to go belly-up for you to embrace failure and use it to your advantage. Smaller setbacks can still yield massive lessons, provided you’re open to receiving them. I’ve successfully built a profitable online education business for entrepreneurs, and I know this growth wouldn’t have been possible without taking imperfect action and welcoming failures along the way.
Here are three ways to leverage failure as a shortcut to success in your business.
Take imperfect action to find clarity and course correct faster.
Over his lifetime, Picasso painted more than 50,000 paintings. Visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, I was surprised at how his early pieces looked nothing like the cubist paintings he later became famous for. But these imperfect pieces helped him to develop and refine his style, and ultimately become the successful artist that he was.
One of my biggest failures gave me the clarity I needed to build the business I have today. By closing my first business just 12 months after I started it, I discovered how much I valued the freedom to travel. This failure showed me that I needed a business more aligned with my values. This led me to build my current business where more than 80% of our revenue comes from digital products, allowing me to impact thousands of business owners worldwide, with the freedom to work less than 30 hours a week and travel internationally several times a year.
Unfortunately, many business owners put off taking action until they feel 100% prepared, simply because they believe that all failure is bad. But taking imperfect action and being open to a different outcome than you intended, is one of the most important (and most underrated) behaviors a business owner can adopt because action creates far more clarity than planning ever could.
Adopt a curiosity mindset.
When researchers conduct a study, they state a hypothesis they intend to test and then conduct an experiment to uncover whether this is true or not. I believe that this mindset of experimentation and curiosity is essential for any entrepreneur.
By breaking down your big, daunting goals into smaller pieces of imperfect action, and approaching them thinking, “I wonder what will happen when I try this,” you release your attachment to the outcome being a particular way and open yourself up to new opportunities you hadn’t considered.
For example, if your goal is to make $20,000 a month in your business, there are many ways you could do this. You could offer client strategy sessions, you could teach workshops to large corporations, or you could create and sell online courses. But if you’re so attached to your income coming from one of these three sources, you might be oblivious to other options that arise. By thinking that your goal has to play out in this exact way, you could miss out on an opportunity where you get paid to deliver a keynote speech on stage.
Treating your actions as an experiment also makes the journey toward achieving your goals more enjoyable. Instead of white-knuckling your way to the destination, you might (dare I say it) have fun in the process. And it makes you more flexible along the way, opening you up to lessons and opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves.
Welcome the gifts that failure gives you.
Thomas Edison famously said of his failures, “Failures? I didn’t fail. I successfully found 10,000 ways a battery won’t work!”. Failure simply means that your approach didn’t work and now you have feedback you can work with in the future.
Failure can give you information, build your resilience and teach you the art of persistence. But if you’ve decided that success is your only option and it doesn’t go to plan, you’re more likely to worry about what this failure means about you than unpack the feedback this failure has gifted you.
My first business failed 11 months after I started it, and it taught me more about entrepreneurship than both my business degrees combined. I could’ve taken this failure to mean that I wasn’t cut out for entrepreneurship or didn’t have the savvy required to succeed in the business world. But instead, I conducted a full post-mortem on my failure. I realized that the business model I’d chosen wasn’t viable as it had small profit margins and high shipping costs. I discovered what I did and didn’t enjoy doing in business. And I learned what I needed to implement into my next company to make it profitable.
Being open to failure puts you ahead of most people who won’t act because they’re afraid it won’t go to plan. Adopting a curiosity mindset opens you up to opportunities that you might otherwise have missed. And embracing the gifts that failure gives you highlights the path to success. These three ingredients might not sound like a sexy “hack” to fast growth, but they’re the underrated shortcut that creates the clarity and momentum you need to succeed.
Steph Taylor is an online business strategist, who helps service-based business owners build profitable, sustainable online businesses that continue to grow even when they’re offline. By leaning on strategy over tactics, value over the hard sell, and longevity over quick wins, Steph believes that a successful online business should feel fun, flowy, and fulfilling. Her podcast Imperfect Action has over 2 million downloads and counting. Steph teaches online businesses how they can create financial, choice, time, and location freedom through her framework, blending strategy, content, sales, systems, and mindset.
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