"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Michael Jordan said that.
The man who scored 32,292 points, earned six NBA championships and five NBA MVP titles, and made 14 All-Star Game appearances. One of the greatest basketball players ever has failed.
And he remembers those failures and uses them to fuel his success.
In this week’s Marketing and Sales Essentials, I want to discuss something that everyone encounters. Business owners and marketers are no different here. You have to deal with failure.
Because one thing is certain - you will fail. Your idea might flop. Your campaign might sound amazing, look amazing, and on paper make sense, but it ends up being a disaster. The difference between those who succeed and those whose names are forgotten is how you use that failure to propel yourself forward.
Now the idea of failing to succeed is a popular one these days, but it’s one that as a business owner I remind myself of because every company big or small faces setbacks and challenges and there’s a lot to be learned from the examples of others.
So today I wanted to share three stories of failure with you, starting with my own.
I’ve Been Lucky, But It’s Not All Luck
First, let me say, if you’re struggling to build a business, and you’re in the trenches doing what you can to get leads and close clients, no matter whether you’re part of a team or you’re the business owner - I’ve been there.
It hasn’t all been failure. I’ve had a lot of big wins as well. I’m a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, recognized as one of the world’s foremost lead generation and sales development companies. Where we grew to more than 50 employees and were honored to be on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies four years running. Also being recognized as an Entrepreneur 360 company. And because of our success I get to do what I love and work with some incredible businesses along the way.
But it certainly wasn’t always like that. I know intimately how it feels to be a part of a failing business.
The first time I saw it happen was when I used to work with my Dad. He ran a remodeling business and it did very well. The business reached the 1 million mark one year and I remember my dad living the good life: boats, vacations, nice cars…you name it.
He worked when he wanted to and seemingly had all the freedom in the world. The best part is that I was set to take over the business and work full time—helping to grow the family business.
Then one day in 2002, he asked me to come into his office and told me that he had no choice but to shut down the business. Things had turned south. Work opportunities had dried up. The projects he had on the books were all wrapped up.
It was a jolt to my system. I expected this company to be my future. In an instant, it was gone.
For Dad, it became one of the most difficult times of his life. The business he built was gone, and he was forced to consider going back to working for somebody else. It took a huge financial toll of course, but the emotional toll of failing was even greater.
That was the first time.
The second time, after my Plan A failed, I landed a new job at Boa Construction in January 2004. I was in charge of the finance department among other things.
The good news was that, in just a few short years, we went from $5 million to over $23 million in annual revenue! The bad news was that we were living paycheck to paycheck.
When times were good, we had a lot of work. But in 2008, when things got more competitive in the market, our sales team couldn’t find any new business. We ran out of work. And one day, we realized we couldn’t afford to keep the lights on anymore. And that was it. In 2009, the company was forced to shut its doors.
This was the second time in 10 years I had been a part of a company that failed because we weren’t able to generate enough new business.
It was one of the lowest moments of my life. I felt like a total failure and the business I was so proud to have been a part of... it was simply gone. I was like so many other people, cast aside by the corporate world and out on my own. Sure, I could’ve looked for another JOB, but I was tired of working for other people.
So I decided to take another stab at it. I started my own business in early 2010. And you probably know exactly how difficult it is to face the reality that everything you create is 100% your responsibility. I had no one else to blame if I failed, but I knew I also learned through those first two experiences some lessons I could apply to my new company.
I chose to focus on the latter. I created my current company that I took from $0 to multiple 7 figures in 3 years.
It wasn’t easy. There were many false starts along the way. But I was able to navigate the minefields to grow a business that works for me, not the other way around.
I know that you want to grow your business so that you can get the lifestyle you want and the ability to make a difference. Failure is a natural part of making that happen. That doesn’t mean you need to be a part of two companies that go under, before making it work on your third.
But face each failure as a setback or a challenge to overcome. A learning experience for the future.
What Michael Jordan Did with Failure
It’s become a legendary story of failure these days, but it’s still hard to believe that Michael Jordan could ever have been refused a spot on a basketball team. But when he was 15, he still had some work to do. His high school team filled up and he was left off the roster.
He’s since admitted that it was embarrassing not making the team and it hurt. So much that he spent the night in his room crying. But instead of dwelling on that hurt forever and believing that this failure represented his ability - or future - he used it as motivation.
"Whenever I was working out and got tired and ﬁgured I ought to stop, I'd close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it," Jordan would explain. "That usually got me going again."
And this is my favorite part… yes, he used that experience to create an unrivaled work ethic and became a star, but even once he had proven himself… he kept going back to that failure. And every other failure.
To repeat the quote I shared at the start, “I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick”
Steve Jobs said that one. He is another classic example of failure - and how a person can use it as a stepping stone to greater things. He’s a college dropout. And he’s been fired from the company he started. And he’s also the Co-Founder of one of the most successful companies in human history.
Steve always had a curious mind, he was an action taker, even calling up Mr. Hewlitt for spare parts as a twelve year old. He also had an extremely high standard of excellence and this might have been what caused him to be fired, according to some.
As he puts it in his famous Stanford commencement address,
“We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”
Like Michael, he didn’t stay there. He shared that he realized that even though he felt shame, that he still loved what he did and he didn't allow his initial failure at Apple to define his life. Instead, he used this failure as fuel.
I love how he puts it...
“I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life,” Jobs said in the Stanford commencement speech.
Re-framing the failure as a door opening to new possibilities allowed Steve to create Pixar. And he started a new company called NeXT, which showed every sign of fizzling out until Apple bought them. This again opened a door and brought Steve back to Apple.
It’s Not The Failure That Matters, It’s What You Do With It
I truly believe that. I also believe that failures are necessary to create the drive in us to push us forward. Getting leads and clients might not seem like it’s about what you believe but in order to persevere, you have to be able to use failure like Michael, Steve Jobs and every other person who’s used it as fuel for greater things.
I won’t ask you to share a failure unless you want to, but I am curious about this… how have you used failure (business-related or not) to fuel a success you’ve had? Give us some insight in the comments below...