Normalizing Business Failures

In a world where many business owners are sharing nothing but their success highlight reels, it’s time to normalize business failures, because they happen to everyone.

This past weekend, my friend and colleague, Christine Kane and I were sharing some of our “things gone wrong” stories via text and talking about how when things like this happen, people don’t talk about it.

She said “All these books act like if you do this right… you’ll never make a mistake again! And so we all hide it in shame when we do. And then you realize that everyone makes mistakes.”

But no one talks about it.

We want everyone to think our business is Pinterest-perfect. Because of the fear of people knowing our businesses are not perfect, most people’s marketing tends to only show the good stuff, leaving many business owners feeling like they are not cut out for success.

Instead, people talk about…

  • Their best success client stories while never talking about the client who wrote a bad review.
  • How much money they have in their bank account (I can’t believe this is a thing right now) without ever disclosing how many people never finished paying them.
  • Their top-line revenue, without disclosing the fact that their business isn’t even profitable and that they can’t afford to pay themselves.
  • Vanity social media metrics, without disclosing the fact that they paid for their engagement or participated in follow-back ploys to make them look good.

People talk about the good stuff, but they rarely share what goes wrong. 

Errors, mistakes, and failures happen in every business. They happen with clients, employees, pricing and in your marketing. They happen when you drop balls, miss deadlines, and fail to follow through. They happen because we are human, and in spite of our best efforts, we are all going to make mistakes.

Mistakes and failures happen in every #business. They happen with clients, employees, marketing, etc. They happen when you drop balls, miss deadlines, or fail to follow through. They happen because we are human, and we all make… Share on X

In order to normalize our business failures, we need to talk about them.  

We need to share what went wrong, what we did, what we’d do next time and carry those lessons forward, much as I did in my blog about not listening to a member of my team. We have to get over our fear of what other people think of us by sharing our shortcomings. And we should care more about helping someone else avoid the same mistake, than what others think of us.

I’m going to go first. 

This year, we lost a really great client because we didn’t pay close enough attention to the details. This loss, if extrapolated over the average lifetime value of a client was possibly a $200K loss to our business.

What happened?Composition with pencils and crumpled papers on color background. Mistake concept

A calamity of errors.

Someone on our team came back from vacation and didn’t get caught up on email. Someone else quit, giving us a really short notice period, and then went MIA without doing what they promised to do before they left.

Then, someone didn’t read the fine print in an email that gave them direction on exactly what this client wanted. And then, someone else created a marketing plan using the wrong information. Lastly, someone created marketing pieces riddled with errors, because they didn’t receive enough direction to get it right.

Each of these errors was enough to reasonably upset this client. Combined, it was enough for the client to lose faith in us, and for us to lose their business.

It was a lousy experience, where many unexpected things converged and our inability to manage all the details created failure.

Failure for the client, and failure for our business.

But, if I wanted you to think I have a perfect business, I’d tell you about the client who has been with us for 10 years now, not this one.

Failure happens in business.

Mistakes happen, and it’s what you do about them after that matters more than what happened at that moment.

Mistakes happen in #business, and it's what you do about them after that matters more than what happened at that moment. Read more: Share on X

I’d like nothing more than a chance to make it up to that client because I really liked them and I feel terrible that we let them down.

The greatest gift I can offer is to do better next time with the next client.

We debriefed this situation closely, picked apart all the things that went wrong, and devised a plan to ensure our communication process, training and attention to detail is better moving forward.

You also have to look at your failures in isolation from your success. Too much time spent ruminating over what went wrong, and blaming and shaming yourself doesn’t serve your team. And it doesn’t serve your existing clients or your next buyer.

Especially if your failure is the exception and the vast majority of your clients are happy, satisfied and sending you referrals.

Normalizing our business failures is important.

Don’t look for a business coach, advisor, or marketing firm that never makes a mistake. Instead, look for the ones who are brave enough to share them, and willing to make changes to improve their work. These are the truth-tellers.

Your biggest growth and most powerful learning come from that which is hard, not that which is Pinterest-perfect.

Your biggest #growth and most powerful #learning in your #business comes from that which is hard, not that which is Pinterest-perfect. Read more: Share on X

Don’t be afraid to share the lessons you learn when things go sideways. When you share, two things happen: you make it easier for others to share their shortcomings, and you help others avoid making the same mistake.

And, you never know, you might help someone sitting in a pool of shame from a mistake they made.

Now it’s your turn. Share a time when you made a mistake in your business.

P.S. The next episode of Christine’s podcast on November 1st is about people getting upset at you and what you can do about it. She shares an example from her own successful business – one that has had its share of challenges over the years too! I know, because she isn’t afraid to share them.


2 thoughts on “Normalizing Business Failures”

  1. This is so important because when I was first starting out I would go down the rabbit hole of looking at my competitors and building these stories about how easy it was for them and how they were so much more successful just based on a website! It was crazy. We all have failures and the more we talk about it the better we will all be.

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Lisa Larter Bio Image of Lisa x400

Lisa Larter

Founder and CEO of the Lisa Larter Group, master strategist, author, speaker, podcast host, social media expert, consultant, and business coach. Lisa inspires entrepreneurs and business owners to see the possibilities for their organizations when it comes to strategy. She uncomplicates modern marketing and creates (and implements) strategies for businesses that are guaranteed to increase visibility, inbound leads, and revenue.

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