Running a business

Episode 7: The value of hard lessons

A learning mindset is an important quality for any entrepreneur, but some of the best learning opportunities don't come from business school — they come from the mistakes you make on your journey. The trick is having the humility to spot the lesson.

Alexandre Bilodeau learned his lessons the hard way. The Olympic freestyle skiing champion won his gold medal at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, and successfully defended the title in Sochi four years later. But he would never have reached those heights had he not been willing to learn some painful lessons on his journey.

Learning that preparation is key

One of Alex's most painful learning opportunities came during his first Olympic contest in Turin, four years before his Vancouver triumph.

Before he hit the slopes, he was so confident in his abilities that he was ready to promise his parents he would take home a gold medal.

"My biggest lesson was that you can't promise anything," he says.

Alex recalls that he was merely average in his speed, and perhaps a little behind the pack in his technical skill. His big hope was in the difficulty of the jumps he was trying to achieve in his downhill mogul run. He was the only person in the world trying jumps that tough. If he could pull those off, he was convinced he could impress the judges.

However, he pushed his speed to chase the top skiers, which made it difficult to focus on the all-important jumps.

"I tried to do everything at the same time. I made a slight mistake that day that cost me three points to end up in eleventh place and a point and a half from victory," he recalls. "That's when I understood what the Olympics were all about."

Instead of trying to dazzle in all areas without the right level of skill, Alex quickly realized that success is all about preparation. "Now I focus on doing the work that allows me to position myself to succeed when I get on top of a course," he says.

The important part of this story — other than the lesson he learned — was his ability to learn it. His failure to secure a medal that year was a clear instruction to mature his approach, and he grasped that opportunity.

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Learning from mistakes in entrepreneurship

People often need lessons to help them realize their weaknesses and risks because they are unable or unwilling to see them when things are going well. Inspired by strong demand and cash flow, many entrepreneurs try to grow their businesses quickly in the early days — without preparing for the speed bumps that will inevitably come.

According to a 2022 QuickBooks survey of almost a thousand small business owners, 30% of business owners wish they had developed strategies to scale their business effectively.

"It can turn very quickly," Alex warns. An unexpected event over which you have no control, such as the COVID pandemic or supply chain issues, can drastically alter supply and demand. These events can easily stop your business in its tracks, he notes. "So now all the promises you made are not happening."

Ideally, we'd know how to manage these risks from the outset, but many entrepreneurs are on a steep learning curve. "Hopefully for the entrepreneur, their first mistake is a lesson," says Alex.

Just as in sports, mistakes and incorrect assumptions in business can be powerful signals for those prepared to listen. An entrepreneur might find that a failed product launch or a business downturn they didn't prepare for can uncover strategic gaps. Smart business owners adapt quickly to changing conditions. Others must learn the hard way.

The Business Development Bank of Canada lists plenty of lessons that entrepreneurs should learn. QuickBooks also shares valuable business advice from small business owners — learned from practical experience. Absorbing this wisdom now can help you avoid painful mistakes later on.

QuickBooks Online's easy-to-use accounting features automate bookkeeping tasks, enabling you to spend less time on manual data entry and more time focusing on avoiding common startup mistakes. It will give you valuable insights into your company's finances, so you can pay attention to critical business metrics like cash flow management and budgeting. Learn how to keep your business on track using this powerful business solution.

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