As entrepreneurs, we put far more than our money and reputations on the line when we start a new business. We put a big chunk of our hearts and souls at risk, too. When we succeed, there’s no workplace exhilaration that can compare, but when we fail — and many of us do — it’s crushing. Sometimes, it can feel like our worst fear coming to life. Fortunately, there’s hope. Even failure can be an opportunity.
Every entrepreneur has a different coping method when it comes to a failed startup business. Some lie in bed and weep for days, others run off to Jamaica to go parasailing. Some entrepreneurs work their fingers to the bone trying to jump right back into the startup game. That’s natural. People handle success and failure in their own ways. But sooner or later, we all want to redeem ourselves and transition failure into success. There’s no shame in admitting that sometimes we don’t know how.
When you were working to get your business off the ground, chances are good that you read everything and learned everything you could about how to make it successful. We learn by studying what has worked in the past and applying it to the future. It’s important to take a similar approach to failure, because it’s something that even the world’s most famous entrepreneurs and CEOs have to deal with at some point.
Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need to do to bounce back strong:
1. Take a break.
Burnout is real, and if you’re coming off the failure of a business that you threw your life into, you’re probably really sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Take a vacation from this feeling. For some, that might mean taking a trip to Nepal or spending time at home with the family. For others, it might mean sitting around watching Netflix for a while, or even accepting a more low-stakes position at another business. The point is to enjoy some time when you’re not shouldering the burden of building a company yourself for a while. Rest and refreshment is the only cure for burnout.
2. Own your mistakes.
It’s important to openly acknowledge any mistakes or failures on your own part. Otherwise, you can never redeem them. There’s no sense trying to hide the fact that your business failed or that you played a big role in that failure. Puffing your chest out and blaming others or your circumstances is a sad little charade that can’t last. You don’t have to apologize for the choices you made, but it’s important to recognize them and confront them in order to make better choices next time. People respect leaders who can admit their own errors.
3. Maintain your confidence.
Failure — particularly the public kind that can leave you in financial ruins — will shake anybody’s confidence. That’s human. But understand that confidence and optimism are central to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded for his mistakes. It’s hard to fail bigger than that. But failure didn’t cause Jobs to lose his faith in or his enthusiasm for his ideas. You don’t have to be a genius to follow his example. Remind yourself that you have strengths to rely on and weaknesses to improve on. Everybody falls down from time to time. That doesn’t mean you can’t still pick yourself up and run a marathon.
4. Learn your lessons.
The only way to fail at failing is to learn nothing from the experience. Odds are high that if your startup goes down, you’ll find yourself analyzing every little mistake you made and every little thing you could’ve done better. This can be a good thing, as long as you aren’t beating yourself up needlessly. Trial and error is one of the most effective ways to improve our skills and knowledge, even though it isn’t always pretty. Don’t throw away or dismiss your failed experiment: Learn from it. Write down and remember everything you know you could have done better. It will motivate you to be a better entrepreneur on your next turn at bat.
5. Enjoy a new beginning.
Fear of starting over can be crippling for some entrepreneurs. After working so hard to build a successful business from scratch, finding yourself back at square one can seem dispiriting, to say the least. Often, though, it isn’t. The thrill of setting out on a new adventure is what drives many to become entrepreneurs in the first place. So, try not to think of starting over as a setback. A good entrepreneur sees it as an opportunity. After all, Henry J. Heinz was a failed horseradish salesman before he became America’s favorite ketchup seller. Everything you loved about building a new business — the excitement, the anticipation, even the stress — is all brand-new again. Let yourself enjoy it, confident that you’re a smarter, tougher entrepreneur today than you were the last time you started to build something.
Having your business fail can feel like the end of the world, but you’ll be relieved to know that the Earth keeps spinning. Failure, like almost everything else to an entrepreneur, represents an opportunity. Keep these tips in mind and seize it!