Entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos actively encourage failure amongst their inner circles. Musk said, “If you’re not failing, you are not innovating,” and Bezos famously hires people who have failed. Failure has become somewhat of a cultural fetish amongst the business elite, with countless podcasts and biographies providing reassuring tales of success after darker times.
But is this failure narrative fit-for-purpose for every entrepreneur, or just part of a PR campaign for a select few? Amanda Perry is an e-commerce entrepreneur and investor who knows about failure. Perry experienced public bankruptcy before proceeding to scale and sell three businesses. She now runs SOUP, a performance marketing agency, and says that failure should be recognised along the way and not just when you’re back at the top.
I interviewed Perry to learn the seven ways that anyone can bounce back from rock bottom.
As the Winston Churchill saying goes, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.” Working through and coming out the other side of a (perceived) failure gives you the valuable element of perspective. By then you’ll be more resilient, more resourceful, and ready for your next stage.
“Regardless of the type of failure you’ve had, recognise that you have been through a traumatic event and there’s a grieving process to follow,” said Perry, who added there isn’t a right or wrong way to go through failure, but recommends that you lean into your feelings to work out what they are telling you. “You might feel ready to bounce-back quicker than you expected, but first take a step back and process what’s happened.”
Take time to plan your next move
Perry describes the time when her chain of bakeries went into liquidation, leaving her bankrupt and at the mercy of negative local media headlines, as her wilderness years. “Going through bankruptcy is tough, even more so when the business you’ve built is actually really successful. I knew that I had it in me to do it again.”
Perry felt a strong temptation to dive straight into a new project, but she took her time. “As with relationships, rebound businesses rarely work out.” Rebound businesses can go wrong for a multitude of reasons, and they can put founders in a position to repeat previous mistakes. “Even if something seems like the ideal next step, nothing bad will happen if you don’t move straight away. So, take your time.”
Lean on your real friends
When Perry’s business was failing, she “struggled to find someone who’d been in [her] shoes.” She wasn’t sure if no one she knew had messed up in a big way, or if they just hadn’t shared that they had. Instead of waiting for friends to reach out to her, she was open about needing help.
A strong support network is crucial for ambitious entrepreneurs, but failure can lead to pushing people away. Perhaps you feel embarrassed or, in Perry’s case, “I assumed at first that friends and family wouldn’t understand because they didn’t own their own businesses.” As she did eventually, Perry urges entrepreneurs in trouble to lean on a small circle of trusted confidantes, who “love and care for you, so they’ll learn how to support you” even if their experience isn’t shared. Don’t figure things out alone, collect advice and help from people who know you well and have your best interests at heart.
Leverage your failure
Reframing your failures as great content can help you bounce back. Rather than trying to forget or gloss over mishaps, use them in the story of your career. Experiencing failure and sharing your lessons humanises you. It can help you find common ground with others. Once you’re bouncing out of a dip, look for ways to tell your story in an inspirational way, perhaps one that boosts your personal brand. Not only does this help your cause, it helps others too. “It would definitely have been an easier process if more people shared their failure along the way,” Perry adds.
The most successful people have learnt (or been media trained) to tell their story in an endearing way. “It will take time, but the story of what you’re going through really will become your greatest asset,” explained Perry. “When you’re going through tough times, this will probably be inconceivable, but when you’ve come through the worst, you’ll realise that you can use your experience as a force for good.”
Find the lessons
In every downturn, mistake or piece of bad luck there is an opportunity to learn. Perry advises to ignore that which was out of your control and instead learn how you could do better next time. “Forget the external factors that played a part and focus on the things you can change.”
Start with a fresh piece of paper and write about your struggle. Write what happened and why, the big components and the small details. Write down everything that went well and didn’t go well and make yourself some learning points and an action plan for improvement. Whatever got you down this time needn’t beat you again. Next time you’ll be prepared.
Move beyond shame
Failure is part of success and demonstrates that you have tried. The alternative is to strive for no great achievement and never experience either. 20% of businesses in the UK and USA fail within their first year. Failure isn’t a big deal, so don’t carry the shame. See success and failure through the same eyes, with as much objectivity as possible, and take neither to heart.
Whilst it’s easy to let any previous failure be a dark cloud over your every future step, the past is the past. “Don’t let any failure stop you from moving forward.” Perry admitted she lost sleep and spent hours thinking about the business that she built and the team members and suppliers who were lost along the way. “When you’ve had a failure, especially in public, you feel guilty when things are better or when you go on to achieve something else, but you have to draw a line under the past and celebrate new successes.”
Let go of others’ opinions
The key to overcoming your feeling of failure is to simply stop caring about what other people think. “Although you remember the hardest, darkest days and assume that everyone else holds them in the same regard, the reality is, they don’t.” Don’t spend your life worrying about what others might be thinking. “They have likely moved on and probably aren’t thinking about you at all.”
Don’t let pretend fear hold you back. Perry added, “The people who know you will love you regardless and the people who matter will applaud your bouncebackability and be there for your success.”
Failure is neither glamorous nor desirable but experiencing it can be the catalyst for doing and achieving more than ever. What if your biggest failure turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to you? Following these seven steps can make that a reality.