Most of the time we talk about business success stories, but failures are also a gold mine for lessons to improve ourselves.
I’ve had some epic failures that I want to share with you, but most importantly, the lessons I learned along the way.
As hard as this is for me to write, this is the third time I’m growing my business. Yes, my freelancing web design practice has been down for the count twice during my career.
Before I talk about what happened, first let me tell you something important. Since you are the heart and soul of your business, most of the financial stress and pressure falls on your shoulders. I have felt it, and it’s not fun.
It’s the responsibility of being an owner. And that means you need to keep your cool even in the harshest situations. That’s why I also talk about personal development because keeping your cool is a crucial component of running a healthy sustainable business.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the first time I went from a nice income to scraping by to keep my business afloat.
When I first launched my freelancing practice, I got somewhat lucky, finding people I loved to work with even if they could pay me very little. And through their recommendations and a lot of hard work, I landed my first big client.
Naturally, I won’t name the company, but it was good to work with that team. The business kept growing, and the money I was making was quite significant for me at the time. I also learned a ton of valuable lessons about remote work.
However, now everything was sunshine and rainbows. The insane deadlines and the amount of pressure on the team kept having a toll on everyone. We were trying to get bigger and bigger all the time running on old systems and working non-stop for months.
I’m not kidding; I didn’t even understand the concept of vacations at that time.
The team decided to head in a different direction and join a startup. Because I enjoyed working with my friends on that team, I decided to join that new venture, but I was not ready for what the future had in store for me.
A month later, I went from making a nice amount of money to barely having enough to pay for my tools of the trade. I went from aiding my family financially to depending heavily on them for everything. I felt utterly defeated and heartbroken.
The founder of the startup seemed full of energy, but in reality, he was only taking advantage of his customers and his team. The deals were shady, and I barely got paid for my work.
I was desperate, I had to leave a ton of my other clients to take on the startup work, and now I had nothing to show up for it.
By this point, you may be nodding and thinking about how evil that startup was. And yes, it wasn’t a good project, but I soon realized that this problem, was my fault.
The most significant lesson I learned is that I just jumped ship without really understanding what I was getting into. The startup world is entirely different from being a freelancer. You have an actual job, and you hustle way more than you would imagine.
I didn’t enjoy that energy, and that was showing in the work I was doing.
When you are working on your business or with particular clients, ask yourself: Am I enjoying this?
Enjoying the work is crucial, because if you are not shining and showing positive energy when you are working, then your business becomes a prison. You start dreading what you are doing and that immediately will destroy all your efforts.
When I left the startup, I felt relief even when I had this insane financial problem in my hands. That should give you a clue on how much I was dreading the experience.
Unfortunately, at the time, I wasn’t savvy enough to take the time to understand what just had happened and how to fix it long term. Instead, I did the only thing I knew; I started hustling.
It felt like I hit another lucky streak, as I was getting a ton of work to do. I didn’t love every project and some I even disliked, but money motivated me at the time, and that’s a terrible motivator if you ask me.
I created what I thought was a semi-stable freelancing practice, but I was exhausted.
So, as anyone who finds themselves on the brink of burning out and quitting. I decided to take a 2-week vacation. I let everyone know about it and even gave my clients a couple of months of heads up before leaving.
I tackled every request I had before taking my plane. But I wouldn’t even dream of what happened when I came back.
Upon my return, I was ready to tackle any new project from my clients. I was full of energy, but what I found was that nobody was waiting for my return.
Almost 80% of my clients left me because I took some time off.
I felt betrayed. I landed back into square one, or at least I felt that way.
This time, instead of jumping right into rebuilding, I decided to do an autopsy of my business failures. And let me tell you, this is one of the best things you can do as a business owner.
First of all, if you want to run a business autopsy, you need to switch from guilt to curiosity.
It’s entirely reasonable that you feel like you have been doing something wrong or you just want to avoid looking at the experience. I completely understand you; it took me a ton of effort to let go of how I felt to understand what I could learn from the experience.
So, the first thing I want you to do when you are doing a business autopsy is to let yourself off the hook. If it’s necessary, forgive yourself for anything you feel you did wrong, then shift that experience into positive energy.
Remember, if you didn’t want to get things working, you wouldn’t be doing the autopsy in the first place. Just making this effort shows how responsible you are, and that’s immensely valuable!
Ok, once you are in a positive mindset, let’s dig deep into what happened.
You need to go deep into the issue; we can’t just assume that just because you are making less money, the problem is that you don’t have enough clients.
In my case, we can’t just assume that it was because I joined a lousy startup, or I had terrible clients. In reality, when I kept digging to find the reason, I found out that I was the one causing the problem.
You see, I’m an introvert, and we need time to recharge our social batteries. If I’m working with a team, in constant communication almost 24/7 and I have to report practically every day on what I was doing, that causes an insane amount of stress.
On the other hand, if I had to join four different meetings every day because I had too many projects, the same thing happens. No time for me to recharge my social batteries, means I get burnt out faster.
You see, it was a mix of the business practices but also my personal needs not being met.
Most of the problems you see in business follow that formula, but you can also find market fit problems, a financial emergency or a health-related issue. There are a ton of possible reasons.
That’s why you need to dig deep to find the truth, as human beings it’s incredibly easy to just point fingers at others, when part of the problem may be that you had to put out a fire somewhere else, or that your needs are not being met.
When you do your autopsy of any big or small problem in your business, always keep in mind your personal needs, your business needs, and your core values. Those will shine a lot of light on the problem you are analyzing.
Take into account that you may find more than one reason for the problem. In my case, it wasn’t just that my needs weren’t being met, but I also didn’t agree with the business model.
Both the startup and the following clients were doing marketing techniques and using technology that I knew it was not right for their clients, and I’m not okay with that.
I believe in creating a sustainable business, so making others use technology that doesn’t fit their business model goes entirely against what I believe. Their business model was stepping on my values.
As a business owner, you can’t allow your values to be trampled when you are doing business with someone else. That’s one of the most prominent signs that you are not working with the right person.
It may take some time and effort, but if you find all the reasons that led to this business meltdown, the solutions will present themselves.
That’s why I want you to take a problem or failure that you have faced before and to take the time to find all the reasons behind it. Because in my next article we will take those reasons and transform them into practical solutions for you to create the business you want.