What Happens Now? How to Recover After Small Business Failures

by Ryan Robinson

5 min read

Let’s say you just lost your biggest customer.

Or you’ve been trying to grow your client base by hiring new help, but you’re not seeing a quick enough return on those employees. You’re not growing as much as you need to.

Maybe the new product you’ve been working on finally launched and nobody’s buying. You’re feeling like it’s time to go back to the drawing board and focus on what’s already working.

Your business might just be feeling stagnant. Not losing customers, but you aren’t exactly rolling in new leads. You won’t be going out of business anytime soon, but you’re not doing much more than just paying the bills.

Either way, it’s clear that something needs to change. And it better be soon, before you have to do something drastic.

How to Recover After Small Business Failures

In the midst of failure, it’s easy to forget all of the good things you have going with your business.

A creative outlet that allows you to do work you care about. Self-employed without a boss dictating your schedule. Enough to live a comfortable lifestyle. Hundreds, even thousands of happy customers over the years.

1. Get Into the Right Mindset

A positive frame of mind is everything when it comes to problem-solving.

Positive thinking is scientifically proven to have a strong impact on your ability to get to better solutions. Psychologist and cognitive science professor Richard Boyatzis has shown that there is neurological evidence to support the theory that regular physical and leisure activities encourage greater compassion and creativity.

Boyatzis explains, “Strain causes a person to be cognitively, perceptually and emotionally impaired. If you’re under pressure and stress at work, then you can’t think outside the box because you can’t see the box.”

You have to get to a clear, positive state of mind where you’re not overwhelmed with the big decisions at hand. Take a walk. Go for a long bike ride. Give yourself a day off in the middle of the week to do something completely unrelated to business.

If you’re feeling doubts about whether or not you’ll be able to stay in business much longer, chances are, you’re already starting to give up.

Don’t allow yourself to throw in the towel on your business before you’ve determined it’s absolutely necessary. Countless hours have gotten you to where you are today and that’s worth fighting for.

If you think you’ll be able to figure this out, then you will. It’s only a matter of assembling the right pieces of the puzzle together until you find the next solution and keep pushing forward.

2. Create the Time to Review Your Failure

All good problem-solvers understand that it takes time to come to the right solution. You can’t expect to stumble your way into a lucrative new deal or hit a goldmine of excited customers by kicking back and doing things the way you used to.

Moreover, nothing will change if you don’t physically schedule time on your calendar to sit down, either alone or with your business partners, and review everything that contributed to what went wrong.

Block off a Friday afternoon to work your way into determining some of the underlying causes of your recent failure. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why did you miss on your expectations? Were the goals too high to begin with?
  • Could you have done a better job building or managing your team?
  • Are you in over your head? Do you really love this line of work you’re in?

Give yourself permission to answer difficult questions as truthfully as possible without the expectation that you need to come to clear, definitive solutions by the end of your personal review. The act of opening up this line of introspective questioning itself will help you get into a proactive problem-solving mindset.

3. Seek Outside Advice

Do you have an outside advisor for your business?

How about a personal mentor who’s helped you navigate difficult decisions in the past?

Maybe just a respected friend or former colleague that also runs their own business and can relate to some of the struggles of self-employment?

What’s important is that you’re able to tap into a source of feedback that’ll give you a straight analysis of the situation you’re in—based on the facts. You want objective feedback, not the personal opinions, assumptions, beliefs and feelings you’re likely to get from someone who’s been deeply involved in your business.

If you nobody immediately comes to mind, turn to curated online communities like Own It where small business owners come together to share helpful information, ask questions and weigh in with objective feedback for each other.

4. Try Something New (Without Expectations)

At the end of the day, the reality is that you won’t fully recover from your small business failure until you’re able to land that next big client, successfully transition into a new niche market or launch a different line of products with better reception.

But, it’s difficult to get to your first big win on the road to recovery when you’re weighing yourself down with the stress that comes along with thinking this needs to be successful right away. Instead, think of this an experiment—an opportunity to get back to being more creative within your business.

Experimentation without expectation is the best path to recovering in exciting new ways that you can’t even begin to predict. To find the right experiment, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you had a hunch about something your customers may want, but you haven’t tested out for one reason or another? Now’s the time to pick up the phone and call a few customers to ask for their feedback.
  • Have customers ever given you constructive feedback that could be used to try something new? Maybe they’ve suggested new solutions they’d want from you.
  • Is there a new trend, solution or marketing tactic that competitors are making major headway with? It could be time to consider trying out your own version with a unique spin.

No matter the position you’re in with your business today, there is a way forward.

Approach this as a problem that can be solved, open yourself up to unique solutions that may not have been part of your toolkit in the past and welcome outside input from people who’ve been through similar challenges. You’ll figure this out—because you have to.

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