We all want to talk about success in our small business, don’t we? How we overcame this obstacle to come out the other end successful. Or how we fought for our vision to create the business we want. The media is filled with stories of how ‘one man (or woman) beat the odds and became success.’

Yet what we seldom hear about are the business lessons that led to that success. Lessons that weren’t born from knowing exactly what to do and succeeding. But business lessons that were forged out of trying something and having it not go the way you want. Business lessons that come out of failure.

Failure provides an immense opportunity.  Sure, success provides opportunity as well. But I’ll venture to guess that if you consider the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in your business, they come from things that didn’t work. Or at least didn’t work the way you expected.

The opportunities failure provides are much different than the opportunities found in success.

First off, when you’re successful it’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to stop learning, to rest on your laurels, or to just try to repeat what made you successful over and over again. But when you fail, you’re forced to changed. You’re forced to evaluate and reevaluate why what you tried didn’t work. The lessons you take away from trying something and having it not work can be invaluable to your business.

Secondly, success provides stability – which can be great – while failure provides uncertainty, unease and hunger. Have your first major setback in your business and you’ll find out how much you really want to be in business. And that’s a good thing to know.

Lastly, failure is what leads to success. Before you can succeed, you have to try. And in the trying comes a likelihood of failing. But failure simply means you tried. Everyone’s heard the famous quote by Thomas Edison when he talked about all the failure that led up to inventing the  incandescent  lightbulb:

“I didn't fail ten thousand times. I successfully eliminated, ten thousand times, materials and combinations which wouldn't work.”

I don’t his outlook as some trite sound bite about how sexy failure is. Rather, I see the brilliance in setting a goal and working toward that goal, regardless of the odds. I see the perseverance it takes to be successful – as a parent or spouse, in life and in business. I see the hope that Thoreau expressed so well when he said:

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

The key here is ‘advances confidently in the direction of.’ That’s how to approach your business. That’s how to fail well. And that’s how to meet with ‘success unexpected in common hours.’

What are your thoughts?

(note:  image from  eyesplash Mikul on  Flickr,   some rights reserved)

Reader Interactions


  1. Olly` says

    I guess it is similar to the saying “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”.

    it’s nice to not fail but if we learn from failing then it can be viewed as worth it in the long run and make you stronger than people who have had only success.

  2. rummuser says

    Dawud, the best quote ever on the subject was from my idol Henry Ford who said “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently…”

    Incidentally, I am strong believer in defining words before I allow myself to come to any conclusion. Two most often used but vaguely, are success and failure. The context and the individuals own perception of what would consist of success and failure must be clearly spelled out to come to any worthwhile conclusion.

  3. MorganLighter says

    Having a strong ethical bent is one of the foremost character traits to have when one starts/changes their profession.
    I have always found that if you do what you said you’d do, treat people fairly, don’t cut corners, be honest and give the best service you can for a reasonable price – you’ll always succeed.
    Worked/works for me.
    Thoughtful piece – as always.

  4. MorganLighter says

    P.S. For rummuser –

    Henry Ford was a man of many parts – yes, he was an innovator and revolutionized the the auto industry.

    However, and most don’t know, that he was a flaming anti-Semitic. A 1927 federal libel lawsuit against him and his antisemitic newspaper — was brought to court. In the end, Ford did stop publishing the Dearborn Independent, but on terms he controlled: he evaded the efforts of several distinguished lawyers to use law to compel him to take responsibility for what we today call hate speech. Ford was no champion of free speech rights; he managed to avoid losing the lawsuit by engineering a sleight-of-hand that took advantage of the diversity of views, politics, and intellectual loyalties among American Jews that Ford’s newspaper so narrowly caricatured.

    He was also awarded the one of the highest medals, the German Eagle, one can receive in Germany, presented to Ford by Hitler himself.

    Charles Lindbergh and Thomas Watson (founder of IBM) were cut from the same cloth.

    Just so you know.

  5. cav says

    Your article has given me the courage to press on to my ultimate goal which is to have my own business and work from home. I’ve had some failures, but some small successes also.

  6. rikonline says

    Feedback is the best way to improve a bussiness, a process and the way you do things in life look for this book Rich Father, poor father

  7. Sidewing Creations says

    I have to agree with you and your thoughts on “failure”. My husband and I had a business that went through more failures and we kept learning from them. Funny thing was, when we finally felt we had learned how to make the business work, we closed it. We had also learned that it was the wrong business. We are now about to start a new venture and all the “failures” of the last business have taught us much needed lessons for our new business.

    Here’s to failures and lessons learned!!

  8. rummuser says

    ML, yes I did know. I do not approve of that aspect of his personality.

    That however does not take away his place in the history of entrepreneurship.

  9. Paul Baines says

    I’ve had more failures than successes but I’d say the best advice is always learn from your mistakes, brush yourself down, and start again with a more realistic perspective on what you can achieve in your field of expertise and a greater intuition for new avenues of income as they are made available.

  10. Ultra reviewer says

    well yes, as you said most of the time people do not pay attention to those little things which might click their business, rather they waste time on unwanted things that only eats up time and resources.

  11. Liposuction in Dallas says

    I totally agree with your assessment that failure is not always a negative thing.

    A few years ago I read a book by John Maxwell titled “Failing Forward” that covers this subject in depth. I highly recommend it as it has changed my perception of failure.

  12. Ohio Health Insurance says

    A bit off topic, but I have been a health insurance broker for 27 years. The key to success, in my opinion, is to know your competition and separate your product and service from what they offer. make yourself known and unique. It takes time, but it works.

  13. Judy Murdoch | Highly Contagious Marketing says

    I’ve also read John Maxwell’s book, “Failing Forward.” It was very inspiring to me. Some ideas in the book that helped me shift my thinking:

    Lots of quick iterations is better than getting your plan and information perfect then implementing. Fail early, fail often, succeed faster.

    From a practical point this means doing lots of little beta implementations, getting feedback, improving, back into the marketplace.

    Look at success within the perspective of total attempts. I was cold calling business owners to set up interviews and told a friend who’s an old hand at telemarketing. When I complained that I made two calls: one guy hung up; the other asked me to call back the following week. She said, “great job, you have a 50% success rate, the average is 10%”

    To make big leaps forward you may first need to fail. I’m inspired by Tiger Woods who keeps pushing to improve his overall game. He’s intentionally changed his swing twice. Each time his game suffers short term but long term, he game gets even better.

    Good topic that all small biz owner should discuss more often.

  14. Penny Gould says

    I embrace failure, I know it’s necessary. When I was a stock broker I dialed the phone 300 times. per day. I hoped to talk to 100 people. Of those, one may result in a sale. Every single no brings me closer to the next yes!

    Thank each no, they bring you closer to the next yes!

  15. Ultra reviewer says

    True penny, embracing failure is important. However, its more of learning from failure than just accepting it everything. Every failure should be step to success. But not everyone is open to failure, they literally quit the thing.

  16. Architect Jobs says

    it’s nice to not fail but if we learn from failing then it can be viewed as worth it in the long run and make you stronger than people who have had only success. unexpected in common hours.”

    The key here is ‘advances confidently in the direction of.’

  17. Judy Murdoch | Highly Contagious Marketing says

    I think I’ll need to reach a higher plane of spiritual awareness to embrace failure.

    Failure is still about as well as stepping in dog doo. I can deal with it without freaking out but my response runs from
    “Oh well, at least I was wearing shoes” to “Thank God it washes off!”

    I guess ironic humor counts too.

  18. Andrew says

    I understand it is not a terrible thing to fail and there are lessons to be learned from failing. The key thing here is to make an effort to learn from those failures.

  19. Brandon says

    I agree with some of the above comments. Making mistakes when you first start is not a bad thing as long as you learn from your mistakes and know better next time.
    Success in my opinion is how much time and effort you put in to what you are doing. The harder you work the more rewards you will get.

  20. Enterprise Feedback Management says

    i know we learn from our mistakes but i dont want my business to fail completely! @_@ jackie

  21. John, Camas Homes says

    I agree that failure can make a business and business person more successful in the long run.
    Unfortunately, we are often brought up with the erroneous concept that failing at something brands you as a Loser. However, I like how Zig Zigler and others have said it: “… Winners Never Quit.”
    When we never quit trying or learning, we are on the success journey.

  22. Polina says

    Business owners that do well don’t often analyze why they’re doing well, while people who fail – often get deep into analysis why is it so… and it doesn’t help much. whose who are able to make a million once – can repeat it as many times as needed, but people who can’t make a dime – will be always poor. I’ve never heard of people who’s always been poor and then suddenly become reach…

  23. Glyconutrients says

    I am impressed with the article. That’s a good reason if someone fail and it justify the failure well. I failed several times(I have many failed sites at the moment) but now I know how to work like giant people. I provide many services to other not to fail but I think they should learn it as well.

  24. Raj Krishnaswamy says

    Good article. I agree wholeheartedly with both the article and the comments so far in the thought that failure should not bring one down and that failure should be construed as a step closer to success. However, there is a hidden truth that lies amongst all that have succeeded and that is the fact that successful people embark on a mission with the determination NOT to quit until they succeed. Sure, you could make mistakes along the way but quitting should be completely out of the question. Failure is not a problem; thoughts ( even thoughts ) of quitting is a serious problem. Thank you, Sir.

  25. Dan says

    Dan Galorath has invested more than two decades developing solutions to help government and commercial organizations plan and manage complex software, hardware, electronics, and manufacturing projects. His blog gives his opinions and insight into this hi-tech industry.

  26. Yanuar says

    Yes thats right, every successful story must have been started with failure. Because without failure, people wont even know about their weakness / gap. It is a pain i know, but hey there is nothing to lose, at least you can have a wonderful experience.

  27. Tom, Male Abdominoplasty says

    A lot of these comments are spot on…failure truly is critical to eventual success. If you don’t fail in the beginning, when you do fail, and you will fail, it will take twice as long to recover.

  28. Shaun Carter says

    I couldn’t agree more that more knowledge comes from failure than success. I lost a lot when my restaurant closed, but it put my life back on track toward what I really want to do and taught me a lot of lessons along the way.

  29. Sid Savara says

    Have you seen/read the Harvard commencement speech by J.K. Rowling? In it she discusses her personal failures. I think you would really enjoy it, it’s very much in the same vein as this post.

  30. moms says

    Well put there. You really need to know that no matter whow much you’ve tried you just have to dust off yourself and try again.

  31. acarrothers says

    You often learn more from your failures than your successes. Learning from your mistakes and persistence is the key to success.

  32. wii fit says

    “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently…”
    That is secret of success without any doubt and i have personally tested that.

  33. Chelle says

    You’ve got some really good advice here – I know it took me several months of trying what didn’t work – eventually though I learned a lot where I knew more than anyone else & did very well because of it.

  34. Erica- Copywriters Needed/Make $200/hr says

    Oh…I hate when they try to make it seem like people didn’t go through trials and tribulations when they first started their business.

    The reason for this is because they want to make themselves seem like everything they touch turns to gold, so they deserve to be admired. The fact of the matter is, most Business ventures fail because of different factors and the best entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes.

  35. Dele says

    I totally agree with you that failure can be positive.

    Failure enables an appreciation of success and where failure results into significant losses, it can be a strong motivator to never fail again.

    Top Home Business

  36. Ajay says

    Absolutely correct, More Small Business Failed, Reason is They Not Stedy with their Business. First they Need To Learn Everything With Particular business ethics, its Necessary

  37. Yale Zeuqsalev says

    I cannot agree with you more. My first business venture was a failure as well. But had I not known failure, I don’t think I would know how to overcome the issues that come my way now.

    Also, in business, it’s important to remember that no issues which can’t be resolved. Perhaps, sometimes we’re having a difficulty resolving the problem because we don’t stop and take some time to determine what really the problem is. If this happens, sit down and write down all the issues and the possible solutions next to it. You’ll be surprised to see that what you thought an issue isn’t one after all.

  38. Small Business Marketing says

    The old maxim “Try, try, try until you succeed” really means after every failure, learn from your mistakes, take corrective action, then try again until you succeed.

    This is a very well written piece. Thanks.

  39. Carey says

    I reflect back on my several failures often, using them as motivation and reminders as I continue in the direction of success. In this Internet age, we definitely have to fail fast and often as we refine our approaches. Thanks for the thoughtful words, which I was lucky enough to find at the beginning of a new year!

  40. AlexandriaPropertyManagement says

    I totally agree. One of the things we’ve noticed is that you really get the most out of it if you sit back and examine what your fatally flawed assumptions were. Help in identifying the underlying assumptions, possibly unspoken or unrealized by you, on which you are basing your chosen course of action, is something that can totally revolutionize your decision-making process….

  41. Sharon says

    I agree as well. The trick to getting out of a failure situation is to remember that all things happen for a reason, and it’s not about going back & doing a quick fix-up job. It takes patience, reflection, and gumption in order to take the steps necessary to deal with problems so they don’t happen again.
    Great reminder from Tiger Woods, btw.
    Regardless of what “failures” are going on in his own life, he’s still a master of the golf game.

  42. Pinpoint Benefits says

    I completely agree with all the pitch tips you have mentioned here, especially number four. Practicing your speech before hand will give you confidence, help you work out all the kinks, and help you prepare for any foul ups.

  43. Suzanne Costa says

    Fantastic article! I especially love your second point regarding hunger for success. Only until you’ve confronted failure will you figure out if you’re in it for the long haul- and sometimes it’s that kind of slap in the face that an entrepreneur really needs in order to figure out if they’re truly in it to win it. Thanks for the post!

  44. Criminal Justice Degree says

    You present a really interesting perspective. No one wants to fail, but there is a lot that can be learned in the process. I’d prefer to watch others fall short and learn from their mistakes, but you’re right – it’s not the same experience.

  45. hypnosis download says

    having failed many times before I owuld agree with you, especially when you get into debt easily, there’s nothing that sharpens the mind more or brings you into reality than falling flat on your arse!

  46. Marianne@ 10Mega Pixel Digital Camera says

    It really does not need to fail before you can learn the lesson. Just open your eyes and look around to see what is really happening and what you need on your business.

  47. Stephen Law SL-Freelance says

    Hi Dawud,
    Stephen Law, Telemarketing Expert here – I agree with you that not everyone gets it right first time, but using that knowledge can prove vital in succeeding the next time.

    Like you, I’ve been around the block a few times – so we can help others to avoid making the same mistakes and win faster.

    Kind regards,
    Stephen SL-Freelance

  48. Rick @ Abstract Photography says

    I agree. I’ve got a brother who runs a small business locally and he failed – repeatedly – at the start. He’s always told me that it was his failure that led him to success. He always remained positive and learned from his failures.

  49. Hyperion says

    I agree. I’ve got a brother who runs a small business locally and he failed – repeatedly – at the start. He’s always told me that it was his failure that led him to success. He always remained positive and learned from his failures, too

  50. Tracy Mc Manamon says

    There is a very common saying. Try and Try Till You Succeed. But when it comes to business and investment, one has got to be careful. I believe we should not be driven by passion to start a small business. Market research and competitor analysis is a must.

  51. Allentown Small Business Accountants says

    Sometimes, it takes a lot of guts to succeed in a business. Risk is also an important thing to do when running a business. There are times that you need to risk a part of it to be able to reach your goal.

    Bottomline, there are really ups and downs in business. What matters is, you get up and learn from your mistakes. And, listen to your staff. It helps!

    Aurora Mesner

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