In small business, “failure” really means that you’ve been at it for a while. Failure is often even part of the success equation. In fact, many highly successful entrepreneurs have experienced a failure or two prior to achieving great success.

  • Fashion designer Vera Wang failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure skating team
  • Before Hershey’s Chocolate, Milton Hershey failed with three other candy companies
  • George Steinbrenner led the Cleveland Pipers professional basketball team into bankruptcy before taking over the New York Yankees
  • Arianna Huffington, the publisher of the Huffington Post, experienced 36 rejections for one of her early books

In other words, if you’ve ever failed, you’re in pretty good company.

Closing IS Sometimes a Legitimate Choice

Although it’s not what most entrepreneurs would choose, there are times when closing a business could make sense:

  1. Your business is always in the red. It might be unreasonable to assume your business will generate huge profits off the bat, but if you’ve been struggling without profits for three, four or five years, it could be time to reevaluate the viability of your business.
  2. The work is getting you down. If you find yourself dreading thoughts of work, it’s not very likely you’re finding much success. Entrepreneurship is a 24/7 proposition. You should enjoy and take satisfaction in what you’re doing. If you don’t, it could be time to consider something new.
  3. Your health and personal relationships are suffering. In addition to the physical stresses associated with business ownership, there can be personal costs too. If the physical toll of running your business is ruining your health or your personal relationships, it might be time to rethink what you’re doing.

Bouncing Back After Failure

Anyone who has fallen off a horse knows how important it is to get back in the saddle—to overcome the fear of falling off again. Entrepreneurship can require the same thing. It can be very important to get back in the saddle, or at least to not let the current failure define you. With that in mind, here are three questions to ask that will help you bounce back:

  1. What did I learn? Thomas Edison once said after his first failures to create the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” What did your failure teach you? Did you learn something that might be helpful next time?
  2. How can I use what I’ve learned? Edison also said, “I’m not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Thomas Edison was able to leverage the lessons he learned to eventually find success. Although there is a great lesson about never giving up, Edison’s story is an even more important example of how to learn from setbacks and leverage what you’ve learned to move forward and find success.
  3. How am I defining success? Failure isn’t always as black and white as one might think. Failures can be stepping stones. I once heard Jeff Bezos (’s founder) say, when describing the process of creating the Kindle, “Businesses need to remember, it’s not bad to fall down. It doesn’t hurt too much.” Before they came up with the Kindle, they failed at least three times to come up with the right platform for an eBook. “Sticking with the knitting is way more comfortable,” he said. “Most people get criticized for experiments that failed. They shouldn’t.”

Very few people really have the Midas Touch when everything they do seems to turn into gold. Failure isn’t something to be feared, but rather embraced as part of the cycle of entrepreneurship.

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