11 Lessons I Learned from Failing my First Business
Firstly, it really really hurts!
It’s a really tough pill to swallow when you spend over 3 and half years building something, only for a black swan event to come around and crush all current and future plans. The tough pill of course, being that you have absolutely no control over macro issues impacting your regular client base, as well as other broader social and economic second order effects which result in having very real, significant and direct impacts on your business. It hurts even more when you’re just gaining traction and momentum and looking forward to using that flywheel to start offering greater value and more services and products; only for that to be stalled before you even begin. A truly soul crushing experience.
Entrepreneurship really is a full body contact sport
Nothing truer has ever been said. From regular late nights and even odd all-nighters resulting in sleep deprivation and struggling to focus; to at times poor diet and lack of regular exercise due to very real time constraints. Starting and nurturing a new venture can take a very real toll on one’s physical and mental health. But, it is through the hard times that one learns to make time to heal, rejuvenate and realign focus and drive.
Ageism and other related social dynamics are still an annoying and complicated thing about our society and business culture
I found this to be a bit of a paradox. On one end I found working with some clients, I needed to project an almost overly competent version of myself in initial engagement meetings to counter the sense of projected distrust or unease with clients viewing me as young and inexperienced. So, navigating unspoken social and power dynamics in client relationships becomes a very interesting and complex issue to navigate when you are indeed young, yet are competent, skilled and experienced in what you do. On the other end of the spectrum, there also comes the unspoken expectation that youth brings innovation and creativity in getting things done quicker, cheaper and better; and navigating how to either live up to those expectations as opposed to just managing those expectations becomes another challenge and dilemma to deal with as a young creative entrepreneur as well.
Relationship building is key for longevity
This one builds on the previous point. Once you’ve overcome many hurdles and challenges and have started to deliver successfully according to your client’s needs. Gaining and retaining clients shifts from a very distinct relationship more characterised by sales/business development; and more deeper client relationship building and maintenance which is a whole different kettle of fish, but a necessary skill to learn and develop; and can result in many unforeseen benefits both in business and in personal development.
Learn to manage money early
I really wish I had learned this lesson sooner, but it is a very common issue faced by creatives and creative entrepreneurs. Personally, I found once I had gained traction and momentum with regular clients, projects and deliverables and all my income and expenses were accounted for at the end of each month, I felt great and at times became complacent with keeping track with what’s coming in and going out. Come 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic; I definitely wish I knew earlier, what I know now in money management and tracking financials as a creative entrepreneur. But I must say, in a way I am kind of glad I learned this lesson “the hard way”, because I will definitely be more alert and attentive to areas of managerial finance and accounting in my future endeavours.
Plan for potential obstacles as much as possible
Of course, there is a limit to how much planning one can do. This year has definitely proved that for all businesses for sure. However, where one can project and plan for potential obstacles and have alternative arrangements at the ready, it is certainly wise to do. Especially in creative business where no two projects are ever the same, and each new project requires a different approach and execution plan.
Collaboration eases pressure and increases opportunity for fun
Working with other entrepreneurs and freelancers has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had for sure. From working with other people who understand your struggles and learning from them, and even bonding on shared experiences; to the incredible benefits of working collaboratively on large projects and successfully executing together are all priceless experiences one can cherish and remember fondly. Thus, there are many tangible and intangible benefits on working with other creatives and entrepreneurs. From sharing workflow optimisation tips to financial management and budgeting, to client negotiations and business development strategy, to skills sharing and genuine networking and relationship cultivation.
Always say yes… at first
Now this one can definitely ignite feelings of imposter syndrome; but I strongly feel that when you’re first starting out your creative service business, you should say yes to many briefs. Especially those where you know you currently aren’t skilled in one or two areas you can see you will need to learn or develop in but know you can deftly face the required steep learning curve quickly, and successfully deliver the end product on time. In doing so you not only instil confidence in your clients about you and your work giving them further incentive to work with you again; but you gain confidence in your-self and your own ability, and will now be able to offer that same service to other clients in future as well.
But also, learn to say no
Following from the previous point here. But there will inevitably come a time when you need to just say no. In these times, it often the case that you will either just not have the time or capacity to do something or take on a new project; or full stop get asked to do something you know you are either, or both, not technically skilled for it or just do not have the resources to execute it. And it is in these moments, when you are still small and/or are still a one man show, that it is wise to say no or respectfully decline the request; even though it can feel absolutely devastating for various reasons!
However, I argue from experience, that it is far worse to say yes in these circumstances and in the end fail to deliver. So learning when to say no, and how to do so to retain your clients trust in you to continue to deliver on other assignments, is an incredibly important skill to learn for sure.
Deeper all-round empathy for entrepreneurs and business owners
Having founded and run my own business for over three and half years, and experienced many of the highs and lows associated with it. I can definitely say, I have gained much deeper empathy and understanding for business leaders and owners and I truly believe that that is something truly valuable, as it is those individuals who take on much of the burden of both success and failure. And that is definitely not as easy as many people can make it look.
It’s definitely better to have tried and failed, than to fail to even try
While I am sad to be closing down the doors of my first venture. Looking back and embracing all the success and failures, good times and bad ones, and all the incredible people I have met along the way and the experiences I feel priviledged to have had. For myself, I can personally say it truly is better to have tried and failed to build something of genuine service to others; than to have never have even tried to in the first place.