The most prolific and successful entrepreneurs of our time embrace the idea of failures as successful stepping stones. Thomas Edison once said, about how long it took to invent the lightbulb, “I have not failed 10,000 times – I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” If you’ve only failed a handful of times, you have a ways to go before being likened to Edison.
Failures are rarely celebrated joyously, and instead create anxiety and frustrations that ultimately lead to the end of your dreams. But it’s entirely possible to turn every failure into a success story that shapes the ultimate outcome of your business. Here’s how.
1. Turn Dissatisfied Customers Into Advocates
Skimping on service and ignoring dissatisfied customers can tank your business before it takes off. But disgruntled customers can actually turn your business from a failure into a success.
Ask unhappy customers to get involved and invite them to join a beta program or test a new product you want to roll out. Tell them their opinions and feedback are invaluable and integral to the success of the company. Customers who are involved in and engaged with your company are more likely to turn into brand advocates and sing your praises.
2. Seize the Opportunity to Pivot
In 2016, Andrew Mason built a website called The Point to help bring people together to solve social problems. Despite having backing and seasoned entrepreneurial support, the business lost roughly $1 million in the first year. Mason pivoted during the recession, focusing on offering deals and discounts to groups of people who committed to buy, and Groupon was born.
Had Mason given up after The Point tanked, someone else would have seized on the growing trend of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding and launched a similar product. Instead, Mason now helps people who may not otherwise be able to afford certain products, services, and vacations.
3. Grow Your Confidence
Confidence doesn’t just happen from officially opening your doors for business. It’s something you acquire by nurturing it and confronting those things that typically hold you back.
Know that failures will happen no matter your business idea. The point isn’t to avoid them altogether, it’s to keep putting the momentum behind those failures to overcome them. Being able to persevere and pull yourself up by your bootstraps is what ultimately grows lasting confidence.
4. Spin a Positive Outcome
There’s always a positive story somewhere within your failure. Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple by the very CEO he hired. Jobs could have quietly retired or worked on a revenge scheme. Instead, Jobs grew Pixar into a multi-billion dollar company and changed the face of movie animation forever.
If your company is failing, or already in the gutter, pull out the pieces that were working. Can you turn being forced into buying out your investors into a chance to run the company the way you want? Turn failure on its head and reframe the outcome it has on your life.
5. Teach Others
I can’t think of a better teacher than one who tried, failed, tried again, and ultimately succeeded. Turn the invaluable knowledge gained from your best and worst experiences into an opportunity to consult other entrepreneurs, or develop ebooks and digital products highlighting your expertise.
For example, I burned out running a digital marketing agency I cofounded before selling it all, pivoting, and rapidly building a consulting and content marketing agency on my own terms. I embraced my stumbling blocks, failures, and challenges to help others grow their companies.
6. Focus Only On What Matters
J.K. Rowling was a depressed single mother who never thought she would amount to much. She finally decided she didn’t need to hide from who she was and the situation she currently faced, and used her rock-bottom life failures to release herself. She decided to focus on what really mattered to her, embraced her imagination, and created the now-billion dollar Harry Potter franchise.
Failure can release you from the bonds of busy work and keeping up with the entrepreneurial Joneses. Start over and focus on what truly matters in your next venture, whether that’s developing a rock-solid product and social media following, or focusing on listening to your customers instead of critics.
7. Crush Bad Behavior
Feeling overwhelmed and burned out can lead to procrastination and burying yourself in nonessential busy work. Or, you may find yourself avoiding colleagues and investors instead of staying transparent and handling the fallout and criticism of why your business isn’t performing better.
Take some time to examine and reflect on some of your bad behavior to help shape your future successes. Face your worst self, acknowledge negative behavior patterns, and use it as an opportunity to crush it forever.
8. Practice Failing
Spanx founder Sara Blakely has famously said her father insisted she fail at something every week and report back. He helped frame failing as the ultimate secret to success.
Don’t get caught up in the perfection trap. Launch your product or service boldly and get ready to fail, at least partly. Nothing will go as seamlessly as you want it to regardless of how prepared you are. Use those failures as information and lessons to make your company bigger and better than before.
9. Learn to Leverage Quick Wins
Everyone needs quick wins to help push through mental blocks and failures. Instead of strictly focusing on the “failure” of not meeting your revenue goal, strategize how to diversify your income streams to fill the gap. Create a digital product like an ebook or organize a mastermind for your most ambitious coaching clients to help put fast cash in your bank account.
You can also take a look at smaller wins that lead to big-picture goals. An aspiring commercial real estate investor can look to crowdfunding their dreams with Realty Mogul. Vetted investors can get started with as little as $5,000 to start building a commercial portfolio.
10. Reimagine What’s Possible
Failure isn’t the stopping point in your business journey. It’s just a crossroads. Take the opportunity to reimagine what you want and what’s possible for your life. It’s likely you’ve outgrown your current business model, are dissatisfied with the work-life balance it created, or have new interests. Instead of wallowing in the failure in front of you, seize it and reimagine your life for the better.
How have you turned your own failures into successes? Let me know by leaving a comment below:
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.