How to use failure as a doorway to success

30 Aug, 2017

Being an entrepreneur can be personally fulfilling and financially rewarding. But entrepreneurship is notoriously linked to failure – and the entrepreneur is left wondering where they’ve gone wrong.

Most successful entrepreneurs today have likely seen failure before accomplishing their goals. Here’s advice from four entrepreneurs at the top of their game, to find out how they coped when major failure smacked them in the face.

“Our business collapsed in 2011.”
Tebogo Ditshego CEO of Ditshego Media, founder of ReadaBookSA author of the bestseller, Kasi Nerd.

Happy man pointing at laptop screen - Nashua Rate My Business

We managed failure by honestly assessing the environment and scrutinising our client approach. We discovered while we had the requisite skills to deliver excellent services, we didn’t have an established brand or understanding of what it would take to attract potential clients.

So we changed our approach from ‘spray and pray’ which is a copy and paste method, to tailor-making each proposal to meet each client’s needs. This worked well and helped resuscitate our business when it collapsed in 2011.

“I had to sell my business to someone else.”
Sheila Otieno-Osanya, director at The Spa at Marion on Nicol, recent winner of Best Luxury Hotel Spa Southern Africa at the World Luxury Spa Awards.

Facing failure in business, I had to separate emotion from the situation and make the tough decision to sell my business to someone who saw the potential and was willing to invest in what I’d created.

During this process I learnt any decision is better than no decision, and I also learnt the concept of ‘failing forward’, which enabled me to pick myself up and carry on knowing one door had closed, but that I needed to focus on the future and discover the doors opening up ahead of me.

“We lost a major client’s product to a competitor.”
Shana Derman, co-founder and CEO of IntellCred, winner of an SAB (South African Breweries) Kick-Start Award and voted as one of the Mail&Guardian’s 100 Young People to lunch with.

The challenge taught us to find creative ways around any obstacles we faced. What also helps is learning from this with battle scars. Reading stories, watching interviews, learning – that’s my way of coping. I have a solid vision. I know it’s up to me to move closer to my goal. It’s up to me to get there. I say, fail forward, fail fast and focus, focus, focus.

“At age 22 I approached the bank with a plan for a business loan. My family thought I was crazy, and the bank laughed at my business plan.”
Lauren der Swart, founder and CEO of Kids Emporium, a franchise with a network of 26 stores in South Africa and recently launched store in the UK.

I was determined to do it. Without a cent – not even for the croissants and coffee needed for launch – I pitched my idea to a group of suppliers who I invited to a business breakfast presentation.

I’ve been growing the brand for over 13 years and I’ve always considered ‘failures’ as lessons learnt. If anything, I feel we learn more from failure than success, so I’m grateful to all the ‘failures’ for that reason. The key with failure is to remember to persevere, stand behind your concept and find solutions. Real failure is only considered failure when you decide to stop trying.

Challenges – and failure – is inevitable in business. It never feels great, but it’s part of an entrepreneur’s life. Instead of fearing failure, learn the skills critical to deal with it.