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3 Tips For Succeeding After You Fail

Failure is pretty much inevitable. What comes afterward is a choice.

Tor Constantino

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If you’re an entrepreneur, you will fail. It might not be a complete meltdown, but you will experience a failure of some aspect of your venture at some point.

My first business failure occurred during my mid-20s. I tried to launch a product I invented, which was a durable, pocket-size strap that carried different kinds of recreational sports gear.

After determining the market need and securing piece-work manufacturing, as well as retail packaging complete with trademarked logo, I had several thousand units in hand.

Distribution was, ultimately, the one trick I couldn’t turn and ended in failure. I tried everything I could think of. I engaged several independent and sporting goods retail chains that weren’t interested in the hassle of adding a single-product vendor to their ops management systems.

I offered to give hundreds of units away to dozens of specialty ski, skateboard and inline skating shops on consignment to “seed the market” but was rejected. They all said my product undercut higher-margin competing products.

I tried to contract with different retail brokers to add my product to their sell-in portfolios, but was rejected three times due to the low-price point for my product and limited margin potential.

Related: Flourishing Through Failure And Finding Fortune

The greatest success I had was when I broke even for a catalog ad I purchased in a Sharper Image-type printed publication.

Mind you, this was all pre-Google, Amazon, PayPal or eBay when ecommerce was still finding its way on the Interwebs. However, my lack of offline success drove me to have a developer build my own ecommerce website (at great expense at the time) with an incredibly clunky, pricey payment system managed by Visa.

Sad to say, I shuttered the website after six months due to lack of sales and lack of traffic caused by the overall lack of consumer confidence in the whole “internet spending thing” at the time. During the three-year span of this odyssey from my initial concept to collapse, I had spent countless hours and in excess of $40,000 trying to convert my vision into a viable venture.

As a 20-something kid, I felt like a complete failure. I was afraid to ever try again, but eventually I did – several times – and had success. Fast forward 20 years and here’s what I would share with the failed entrepreneur I was back then.

Failure is painful but not fatal

Failure is not final, fatal nor forever. I had a great mentor who completely re-framed my thinking regarding failure when he told me:

“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

That phrase has been a touchstone through tough times during my subsequent entrepreneurial endeavours.

Related: Why, When You Fail, You Should ‘Fail Forward’

Fail faster

Back then I thought I had to exhaust all my distribution options, which took a significant amount of time and resources, because I didn’t want to look back in 20 years and say “what if?”

In retrospect, I’m glad I did it then but there are signs I should have seen sooner. For instance, the first retail broker who rejected my product was very clear that my effort to keep the retail price under $10 for the consumer did not make it worth his while to sell it.

I should have bundled it with another product or enhanced it in some way to boost it to a higher price point, but I naively thought he was just being porky before two other potential brokers I engaged had schooled me on the economics of their services.

Looking back now, I could have compressed my failure cycle by at least 50 percent if I had been more teachable then.

Find insights from failure

At the time, $40K was all the money in the world and (thanks to scholarships I had earned) was eight times more than my total college student loans. But, I learned a lot about intellectual property, financing, materials sourcing, vendor research and selection, production timelines, operations management, sales and marketing as well as ecommerce. I came to view that lost $40K as a masterclass in real-world business. Most importantly, I learned what I didn’t know and that propelled me to pursue my M.B.A.. degree, which my then-employer paid for.

In hindsight, I perceive this greatest failure has been my greatest success because I earned it and learned from it. No one is immune to failing, but we must understand that it is not an ending but rather a beginning – if we choose so.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Tor Constantino is a former journalist, speaker, best-selling author and current PR guy with an MBA degree living near Philadelphia with 25+ years experience as a professional writer. He writes regularly at his blog. Tor's views are his own and do not reflect those of his current employer or any other organization. You can connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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