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Bouncing Back After a Business Failure

So you screwed up. What next?

There’s something you notice a lot in online marketing – the story of how an entrepreneur tried, failed, recovered and then succeeded.

It’s a good story and an important story. But it kind of misses a little something sometimes.

Let’s be honest.

It’s easier to talk about how you learned from an epic fail when you’re sitting far on the other side of it, sharing your story with eager listeners envious of your success.

It’s another thing entirely to be sitting in your home office by yourself, sad music playing, a pile of empty ice cream cartons next to you looking at the money you lost… and not knowing what on earth you are going to do next.

(The ice cream thing isn’t just me, right?)

Hindsight is 20/20, of course. But a really bad step like a failed launch, an embarrassing email, a terrible decision, or a total product meltdown has the blinding effect of being hit by a three-ton truck.

So when you finally face the facts and say to yourself “I messed this up good,” it can be hard to look at it as the learning opportunity, or part of your future success story that it really is.

It can be hard to be rational, it can be hard to be hopeful, and it can be hard to figure out what exactly you’re supposed to do next.

This is what I want to talk to you about today: the actual steps you take to pivot from the flops and failures that inevitably occur when you’re running a business online.

There’s one thing that has to come first, and for the highly motivated high achievers out there – it’s the hardest of all.

Have a Little Compassion For Yourself

Really truly.

You made a mistake. You’re human, it happens. And unless someone lost a leg, it’s probably going to be okay.

Acknowledge that you made a mistake, that it hurts, and that there will be consequences. Whether it’s having to apologize to your list or a partner, or go back to the drawing board with a new money-making idea, remind yourself that you will *take* those consequences, because you’re a competent, capable adult who can recover from a misstep.

No ranting and railing at yourself. No muted expletives in the bathroom mirror. No beating yourself with a wet noodle.


Good – now that you’ve done that (and it can take a few days, that’s cool) let’s talk about how to pivot, iterate, and get back on track.

Work From Reality

This might seem a little odd – aren’t you ALREADY dealing with the brutal reality of your failure?

Of course you are – but there’s probably a few other things going on, too. You’re looking for reasons that things went they way they did – and hoping, even if you haven’t totally admitted it to yourself, that there were things beyond your control that caused your product to fail or all of your deadlines to be shot to blazes.

It may well be that there were some forces that were beyond your control, but I need to share something with you.

That doesn’t matter.

As the entrepreneur, whether you work alone or manage a team of 20 – the buck stops with you – so pinning all of your failures or mistakes on something out of your control is basically useless.

No, you can’t control the things outside of your control but blaming them doesn’t help you move forward.Click To Tweet

You need to identify what you CAN control (or influence) and figure out how to do that part BETTER.

This is not by any means to say that you shouldn’t consider the external factors that contributed to the situation, but at the end of the day, the only part of reality you can actually alter is the part that is you’re acting in. So you need to realistically look at the choices you made, the emails you wrote, the phone calls you avoided.

What were YOUR behaviors that led to this?

This hard – I know! But you can do it – and that’s just the beginning. 🙂

The next time you’re dealing with some failure-based reality, take out a pen and paper, and write down the following:

  • What you EXPECTED to happen
  • What ACTUALLY happened
  • What you really could not have done anything about (Like a huge amazing offer from a competitor happening at the same time taking all of your audience’s attention!)
  • What actions could you have taken that would have made things different. (Like maybe being aware of when your competitor sells things!)

Sit on this list for a little while – and consider carefully the things you could have done differently, given the cold, hard reality of the situation – this will be your list of things to watch out for next time!

Now, let’s get down to some more brass tacks.

We’ve established that you are human, and therefore inclined to occasionally make mistakes. We have also put some time and thought into what you wanted, what we got, and what we could and could not control.

Now let’s talk about something a little scarier – if your thinking was off from day one.

Challenge Your Assumptions

Whether you were aware of it or not, you made assumptions going into whatever it was that went badly – from business venture to new product to upsell to campaign – you made assumptions.

If you’ve been a student of ours for some time – they were probably quite good assumptions (because you listened to your audience and made decisions based on evidence) but there are still things that you couldn’t be totally sure of, and that may have proven to be the key to success – or in this case, failure.

So – think carefully now – what turned out to be wrong?

  • Was your price too high? Maybe you assumed your audience was willing to pay more.
  • Did conversions suck? Maybe what you assumed the biggest pain point actually didn’t matter that much.
  • Did you run out of money? What cost more than it should have? What took longer?

These are all assumptions that you made, one way or another, and all things that you need to test in order to see if they were the critical failure point.

One way to determine which assumption was a critical one is to look for big changes in your audiences behavior. If you were getting great engagement up until the day your cart opened, that’s a pretty good sign you were off about either the value proposition or the price.

So get that trusty pen and paper out again.

What were your assumptions, and what evidence do you have that they were off-base.

Now you’ve got all of the information you need to move forward. So let’s plan your next steps.

Create a New Plan

This is the fun part – where just like the famous entrepreneurs you follow on the internet, you’ll get to prove to yourself, and those who know you, that you can learn from mistakes and turn even the most dismal failures into a new opportunity.

Look at the list you’ve made.

Look at the difference between what you expected, what happened, and at what your key assumptions were.

Now, do a little imagining. What different assumptions would have brought you closer to the results you wanted?

For example, if I had a failed nutrition product launch with FAR fewer buyers than I anticipated (say I wanted 100 and only got 12), and I identified that my big bad assumption was my “Ask” email, where I opened the cart, then what could have made things different was a better call to action.

Originally, I assumed that the real pain point was not knowing how to cook a healthy meal, so I sent a sales message all about learning how to do it.

Up until that point, talking about the value and difficulty of healthy eating, people were responding well – but the sales message was a flop!

Given my thinking about my assumptions, I can guess that the issue was in fact one of finding the TIME to cook healthy meals.

So with that in mind, I will try to validate my thinking.

  • I might send an email to my community with a survey asking them for their thoughts.
  • I might run a few blog posts with the new angle and gauge reaction.
  • I might go through all of my old blog posts, Facebook posts and social media activity to see if that was really the topic of discussion that got people moving.

Basically – determine what you didn’t know – and do whatever you can to find out if that was the thing that really caused the failure.

That’s it – the next and most important step after you screwed something up and got results far, far below your expectations.

Remember – failure is only failure if it happens in the last chapter – otherwise, it’s a plot twist.

So, are you willing to share? What assumptions have you made in the past? What can you do to validate them? Let us know in the comments!

About Megan Dougherty

Megan Dougherty is an alumnus of Mirasee and is passionate about online education, small business and making a difference in the world. You can find out what she's up to and how side-hustles will take over the world at Follow her on Twitter at @MeganTwoCents.

11 thoughts on “Bouncing Back After a Business Failure

  1. I admit it! There have been more than a few empty ice cream cartons strewn around a pitiful scene of my failure at something. See…your metaphor in your post did resonate!
    Take one of my latest which occurred about a year ago. I got sucked into an online promise to provide world class training leading to internet marketing success. Many hundreds of dollars later I realized I got caught up in the emotions related to the potential success portrayed in slick videos.
    So what did I do? Well, Megan, unlike your correct suggestion above, I slapped myself around pretty good for about 24 hours. Fortunately, I came around to your first step in this post…Work from reality.
    Having done that, I didn’t have to work very hard at step 2…Challenge your assumptions. It was simple. I quickly realized I had made an emotionally driven decision and that is what got me off track to succeeding at an internet marketing business.
    My new plan…more research (rational, objective, deep research). It is through that process that I found Firepole Marketing and the ABM program.
    I have a long way to go in truly developing a successful business…but, ABM is guiding me in that direction. There have been some “plot twists” as you put it but I keep learning and growing.
    Thanks for all you do and for a very insightful post.

    • Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your experience Gary! We’ve all been there, for sure! (Also, glad to know I’m not the only one comforted by ice cream!)

      It can be almost has hard to realize you made an emotionally driven decision (or bad assumption) as to have experienced the fallout from it – but it’s how we learn!

      Keep at it!

  2. Thank you for this very lovely article, Megan. I completely agree that failures are not such if you learn something from them and improve. The key word here is “Improve” because so many people do the same mistake over and over again…

    Some of the biggest assumptions I make are about people wanting to subscribe to my site and finding my “bribes” valuable. It turns out that the ones I didn’t put so much effort in are doing way better than the ones I spent more than 10 hours on!

    You really have to test everything and then use it as a fact, others, especially in marketing, everything is an assumption!

    • Oh isn’t that a feeling – just laboring over something forever, and people reacting to a throwaway! Really revealing though – I think it proves we know more than we think we do!

      Love your final statement – assumption until proven otherwise!

  3. Great post, Megan.

    I focus on a lot of this in my latest book (The Successful Mistake) and just today wrote about not blaming yourself, others, or the failure itself.

    You have to move past it, push beyond it, and try again… something new… and so on.

    I found myself nodding along to this post. Good job 🙂

  4. A very brilliant post Megan,
    I can really relate very well to this. We’ve all failed at one point in time but what really matters is the feelings we get after each failure and what we do next.

    I first heard about the formula (Checking out what happened and then asking yourself what you expected to happen instead from The One Minute Manager book) and its really a very awesome idea.

    We should always try to see failures as success in disguise because as you said, ” failure is only failure if it happens in the last chapter – otherwise, it’s a plot twist” and i couldn’t have agreed more to that.

    Thanks for sharing Megan and Danny, you both do have a lovely weekend

    • I wish I could take credit for that sentence – but it’s all Danny! 😉

      I think that, especially right after it happens, seeing failure as success is a lot fo ask for – but as long as you can eventually look back and see the value – you’re good to go!

      Thank you for writing!

  5. Its a really interesting blog Mogan! There is a lot of things to learn and to share. Business is something full of ups and downs, but to bounce back from the failure makes to different from crowd.

    Looking forward to read more stuff like this!

  6. This is so encouraging and just reminding me not to stop after the fail I got from my first published website .Thanks so much.
    your estate agency Delaware

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