Failure can absolutely suck it.
Even with the expansive methodologies available on managing failure, nothing prepares you for the emotional sting of it.
Now I am no stranger to failure. I failed at math (multiple times), failed at job interviews (that one phone interview that makes me cringe when I remember it), failed on the job (whole other story) but failing at something that demands your physical, emotional, financial, and mental capabilities is a whole other beating no one prepares you for.
I hate it and quite frankly I could do without it. Dramatic I know.
I have always dreamt of being an entrepreneur. The freedom- whether monetary or otherwise, was appealing. I envisioned it, dreamt, and tasted it even in my imaginations. Yet I failed at my first try. So far, in the last 90days+, I have made 0 dollars from my first online business.
Have I lost my mind? Ask again in a couple of days.
When the pandemic hit, I pondered ways to not only utilize and maximize my time but make some money in the process. 2020 presented that opportunity. Amidst the madness, with no training whatsoever, I took a dive headfirst into learning how to set up an online store with a limited budget and low expertise. Even with the basic knowledge I had, I convinced myself that I was gonna hit it big in a matter of months. I imagined myself as an outlier. That rare unicorn that would make it in the arbitrary time frame I created in my head.
What could possibly go wrong?
My business failing that's what.
Am I discouraged? A bit. Hurt? Oh my God Yes. Ego crushed? Yes.
Will I try again? Yes!
It took some time to come to this point where I can cautiously say, I am glad I failed. It comforts me knowing I am in good company with great people who have failed on their way to success.
Given my limited budget and expertise in setting up an e-commerce store, I decided on Dropshipping. For those unfamiliar, dropshipping is a simplistic reselling business model that entails accepting customer orders without owning or having physical inventory. You buy products from a supplier (from the US, China, or Russia)and sell at a reasonable premium price of your choosing. Seeing as I could not afford physical inventory, I figured this was the safest route.
I was excited and optimistic. A blinding combination.
With help from the trusty free resource that is Youtube, I did the research, chose my products, set up my Shopify store (took me 2 weeks), and hit Publish.
I chose Shopify as the hosting platform for ease of use and a positive reputation. October 2020, my store went live. Now all I had to do was wait for the orders and dollars to flood in.
That did not happen.
Don’t believe me, here are some screenshots for your viewing pleasure. Have at it.
After much deliberation and woe is me theatrics, I asked myself what lessons I learned from my mistake
Here are the 4 key takeaways we came up with for myself and anyone interested.
Manage your Expectations
“If you want to get to the top in business, you need to manage your expectations”
— — William A Cohen
This was entirely my fault. I did not manage my expectations and fell for the dazzle you see in many YouTube videos. You know them, in fact, you have seen them with their clickbaity and catchy headlines promising you a 5–6 figure income in 5 steps or 30days. I wanted that. I wanted to be part of the 30days troupe.
First things first, you are not going to be a millionaire overnight. In fact, 90% of small online businesses fail. I am part of the 90% throng.
Managing one's expectations (physical, emotional, financial, and mental) whilst starting a business is key to longevity and sanity. I don’t say this to discourage you or your zeal, but to help you discard whatever imaginings you have conjured in your mind.
Falling into the trap of getting rich quickly, is a one-way ticket to disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, you might be one of the lucky few. But as with building anything from the ground up, you will have to make allowances for the fact that things may not happen the way you envision or in the timeline you imagined.
Understanding this is necessary to reach your goals- short and long term. It takes away the pressure and needs for perfection. It breaks this almost impossible behemoth of a thing, into manageable pieces to tackle.
It means you take a long term view, you show up consistently, you become adaptable and flexible to market changes.
Be Strategic with Marketing
This was my biggest mistake. I did not focus my attention on the importance of Marketing or budget enough for it.
To be honest I thought if I build the website the customers will come. Not true.
Whereas your business idea brings value, marketing, and advertising, communicate that value to your audience.
Marketing is everywhere. It is ubiquitous and inescapable. It will become the ambrosia of your brand. Master it or be strategic with it. I did not master it. Don't be like me.
To eliminate unnecessary spending, a focused marketing strategy and a decent advertising budget go a long way.
Spending time to understand your core customer base, their needs, and aspirational desire will save a lot of time and guessing.
I did not do this, which meant I was spending with no focus as such I did not provide value for my intended target.
I quickly realized that spending without strategy is like a barrel of water filled with holes. Expensive holes.
Strong and focused marketing and advertising strategy helps in reaching and converting your customers and eventually scaling your brand. Most pivotal in your business will be defining and tracking the target audience; what they look like, what they like, what platforms they utilize, what times they are active, products they purchase, spending patterns, and so on.
Be an Avid Learner
- Building a website from scratch
- Writing product description
- Learning the basics of SEO and digital marketing
- Market Research
If you had told me 2–3 years ago that I would learn and do the above, I would have laughed.
Though I was able to achieve the above, I can be honest and say that I adopted a partial growth mindset. I was not fully committed. My partial commitment meant I gave up on learning more, I gave up on investing in gathering more transferable and valuable skills.
Nonetheless, looking at the list tells me that I can learn and be committed to learning. If I considered my business as solely a failure, I would not look at these skills gained, positively.
Failing showed me that I could do these things, that I am capable of learning, that I am capable of making decisions, that I can take bold steps and so can you.
If you are afraid to venture into the unknown world of e-commerce or any new endeavor, knowing you can fail, this bonus point is for you
You are not your Business Failure
“Remember that failure is an event, not a person”
- Zig Ziglar
Look I am not going to lie to you. It hurts and it will hurt. But it will also pass. When it's hurting, there is the temptation to correlate your business failure with being a failure. Don’t do it. I did and it was a deep dark hole that ate away at motivation and the possibility of trying again.
I get it, the statistic on business failure rate might be grim. You put in time, effort, and money with hopes of profit, but it has not materialized.
Accept the failure.
It is an event. Recognizing this helps in separating the event from your worth. It provides the opportunity to be objective and possibly try again.
It’s been 90days+ since my store went live and in that time I have felt the familiar trappings that come with failing at something I desperately want to win at.
But here is the thing, I can try again. As cliche as it is, failure is ample learning ground for the seeds of success to be planted.
So, have I given up? No. I am back to the drawing board to re-strategize and start over again if needed. This time I am not starting from a blank slate, I am starting with the knowledge gained from the failure.
I am putting my learning hat firmly back on and getting back on the saddle. If you are like me and have failed, I hope you take some time to celebrate what you have achieved. It is not easy.