Having been involved in the world of financial media for the last 15 years, I have been privileged enough to get to interview a significant number of entrepreneurs during that time. The one thing that I have learnt over that time is that failure is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Whenever I am asked to give entrepreneurship talks, I always reference a couple of examples:
- The hot-shot technology entrepreneur who arrived on his Ducati motorcycle (post his front cover on a business magazine) about 10 years ago who didn’t have R100 to his name to kick in for post-conference beers
- The fund manager who had just been on CNBC telling other people how to manage their money and investment strategies and then promptly broke down in tears confessing that they were unable to cover drinks because they had run into financial difficulty.
In 2018, I can throw in a bunch of other examples:
- The billionaire who lost a significant chunk of his wealth because he got sold a story by a smooth talking salesman
- The ex-MD of a listed media company who – having started 2 small businesses this year – literally battles to keep the lights on (That’s me!)
- 2 of South Africa’s most respected venture capital experts spent nearly 4 years lurching from crisis to crisis in a JSE-listed company before eventually parting ways
- The CEO of a high-profile 10 year old media company having to say to staff that the doors are closing in just over 1 months time because of a weak operating environment
- The award-winning Fintech player who suddenly discovered “lapses” in their financial controls a few weeks after new investors came onboard
- One of South Africa’s best recognized retail groups has – despite being run by an array of MBAs and PhDs – on the verge of collapsing under a debt build up for years now
Are they failures? Of course not – they will all be able to point to some of the value that they did create during the year.
Are they feeling a bit beat up after a very tough 2018? I’m sure they are – it’s never nice to feel that you have gotten a few things wrong.
When things aren’t going well, we want to curl up into a ball and hope the world isn’t looking at us.
Let’s just look at “failure” in numbers for a moment:
- Mike Schussler makes the point here that the average business owner in South Africa only makes R8000 per month (https://www.moneyweb.co.za/moneyweb-opinion/soapbox/business-is-not-the-enemy/)
- During the first 11 months of 2018 there were 821 closed corporations that were declared insolvent and 883 businesses went into liquidation. Were you one of them or did you keep innovating?
- In 10 years, the South African economy has not grown in real terms. If you started a business in the last 10 years, you have succeeded against the odds, especially with many of the legacy
Here are a few tips for those who feel they “failed” this year:
Share what you are working on!
This is a firm favourite of York Zucchi and I’ll testify to it with 3 examples from the last week:
- I shared some of the work we were doing with our Business Opportunity Marketplace and the SME Movement and out of the blue we received a small sponsorship
- I mentioned I was looking for clients for our medical technology business and a completely unexpected source provided me with our first international order
- I shared some of the work we had been doing in our medical technology business and we had two enquiries around potential investment in our business
In between that, 3 of the people I contacted over the weekend dusted off their contact books and knocked on 3 other doors for me. In a 2 person start-up business, another 3 people knocking on the right door at the right time is awesome.
On one hand I can talk about “failing” and bemoan that life wasn’t as good as when I was getting a nice salary on the 25thof every month. On the other, I can focus on the value that has been created.
Support, Support, Support
This one comes from Allon Raiz who I have a huge amount of respect for: “To those who are family of entrepreneurs who have had their businesses fail, encourage them to try again. All that learning that failure provided should be put to good use. Try again, and again. It takes on average 3.6 failures before your big success.”
Business is lonely at the best of times, don’t alienate your support structure. There are times when we become so inwardly focused on our failures that we forget to invest in those around us.
Process in your hustle
A small business is hard. You have no distribution, you have limited sales channels, marketing money is tight and human capital / resources will always be a challenge.
That means that the majority of your time actually needs to be spent on this part of the equation. Unfortunately, it’s not a sexy part of the entrepreneurship journey and rejection sucks.
I personally had to contact over 2000 people to make my first 5 sales. That’s at least 1995 people who either flat out ignored me, said “no” or adopted a “wait-and-see” approach until other clients came onboard.
2000 people in 6 months! Even I’m vaguely impressed by that number. Possibly it says something about my sales skills / pitch but it also speaks to pounding the pavement.
When you’re starting out, you need to allocate time to knocking on doors and it has to have a measured process that you can actually follow. Each time you talk to a new client, you get feedback to help you refine your pitch / product placement.
Join our Business Opportunity Marketplace!
Sneaking this one in here because I genuinely believe in the concept and the importance of access to markets for entrepreneurs.
We are on a mission to open up new opportunities for entrepreneurs. Our Business Opportunity Marketplace – at no charge – has a variety of opportunities in the fields of technology, digital marketing, access to finance, medical and biotechnology, manufacturing and hospitality.
If you are looking for new clients or opportunities, you should be participating in our ecosystem.
Be kind to yourself
Probably my defining moment in 2018 has been a funeral.
The funeral I attended was for a 28 year old guy who passed away from a heart attack. What made it more poignant was that less than 2 weeks before he passed away, we had been involved in a small work project and he was on top of the world discussing ideas for us to work on in the new year.
This heart attack came completely out of the blue. He was young, he was healthy and he was a genuinely nice guy.
Our time is finite, don’t spend it beating yourself up!
Hopefully you find these suggestions useful and give yourself a bit of context before you launch into 2019!