Avoiding business failure

- June 17, 2009 2 MIN READ

A chance encounter with a farmer, who told me about his ailing business, got me thinking about ways to avoid business failure. Here’s what happened.

The farmer was in the Hunter valley and had spent all his life on the land. Following his Dad, a dairy farmer, he established a cattle sale yard. With tears brimming, the man told me how his business had slowly strangled with the advent of coal mining in the Hunter valley.

Dairy farms had been snapped up, and now most of the agricultural land that remains is grazed by large Queensland firms who ship their cattle south. With supply and demand effectively wiped out, this once proud farmer now drives a truck for the mines, lamenting his lost entrepreneurial days.

As I listened to this man’s obvious grief about his business failure, I couldn’t help wondering if he’d missed something.

Was it change leading to failure, or a failure to change?

All businesses must be mindful of changes that might impact their business: economic climate, population expansion or contraction, technological innovation, perceived need and so on.

If conditions change dramatically, as they had for the cattle yard salesman, then a shift in direction and reinvention is required. Lamenting loss only leads to despair.

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So how do you do it when you watch your life’s work erode from under your feet?

You’ve got to stop looking down at your feet!

First, acknowledge and honour your feelings. It’s natural to feel grief and disappointment about a business failure. Give yourself permission to feel the pain and anguish completely and fully. Have a rant and a wail and express all that pent up frustration. However, keep this brief. Do not wallow in a pity party: this is about releasing the negative energy quickly in a short, sharp burst.

If you hold back and put on a brave face, you’ll only drag out the angst longer. Have a big unrestrained boo hoo – I guarantee you will feel better immediately. And then you’ll be ready to get on with it.

Once you’re done grieving, it’s time to shift perspective from what has been left behind. Ask yourself questions that draw your attention up and out. Here are some examples:

  1. Where is the opportunity in this mess?
  2. What can I learn from this situation?
  3. How can I do things differently?
  4. What door might be opening for me that I hadn’t seen before?
  5. What need is out there now that I can meet quickly and effectively?

This is the key distinction between being problem-obsessed and solution-oriented. Many great entrepreneurs including, including Donald Trump, Anthony Robbins and Dan Kennedy have incredible stories of business failure to reinvention. They all knew one essential truth: failure of their enterprise did not mean failure of their creative spirit. When one project failed, they acknowledged the lessons and set about applying them to their next venture.

Business is like pottery – out the back of an artisan’s shed is a pile of botched and wobbly rejects. These ‘disasters’ only make the magnificent creations out the front more remarkable. So learn from your bsuiness failures and your successes will shine brighter.