Mistakes in Business? Hell Yeah, You Better Make Them

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It’s understandable for small business owners to be afraid of making mistakes because they know how much is at stake with everything they do.

You could be thinking of the impact a major mistake could cost your small business dearly. It could be anything–a social media post that turned out to be controversial, a change in business direction that negatively affects revenue or even a sudden upcoming shift in your industry that you think you should have seen coming.

In my previous business, there were times we incorrectly printed custom cycling wear because everything was personalised and tailored. Sometimes the customer would provide specific details and we thought we had their approval. It was accurate, but when we delivered the order to the client, they’d find a flaw. These mistakes cost money every time.

Trying not to make mistakes made me think I was being careful–or I thought I was. 

My experience with my previous business taught me the value of making mistakes without losing sight of my goals. There’s a lot of talk about “falling forward,” or wearing our mistakes as badges of honour but it can be a slippery slope from being okay with mistakes to sacrificing excellence. 

Making mistakes is not the goal, but to not be afraid to make them because we can better ourselves and learn from them.

5 ways to be okay with making mistakes in business

You don’t wake up one day and decide you’re fine with making mistakes, no matter how normal they are in business. Here are five ways you can adopt the right mindset towards making mistakes.

  1. Practice transparency

Employees and small business owners alike should feel comfortable sharing ideas and insights with the rest of the team. In an environment that’s open to collaboration and teamwork, employees and business owners are more likely to be accountable for their mistakes and develop a healthier attitude towards them. 

By encouraging transparency, your team will associate mistakes with honesty. The consequences of your mistake probably won’t be as impactful because you've been transparent about the mistake straight away and the team can work together to get through it.

When you own up to a mistake, even if it's not 100% yours, your team will support you because they assimilate it with your honesty. 

It may seem conceptual, but encouraging transparency in your business is a habit you can practice and learn to adopt.

  1. Embrace your mistakes

Failure isn’t about who you are, so you shouldn’t quit after making a mistake.

Mistakes may feel like a personal failing but it’s a neutral event that happens when you make bad decisions or execute things poorly, and it isn’t stronger than you as a person. Mistakes are a natural part of any undertaking when you’re working towards something greater so it’s better to take responsibility for them and keep moving forward.

It’s important to be well-equipped to handle the challenges that come our way. As a small business owner, you’re bound to run into a couple of setbacks as your company establishes itself and continues to develop. 

Staying within your comfort zone may be tempting but trying new things and making mistakes is a part of the growth process.

  1. Identify what went wrong

Most business owners aren’t keen to remember some of their bad business decisions and investments, but systematically considering what ended well and what ended poorly can show you what to do so you don’t relive them.

Identifying the differences between what you expected and what actually happened will reveal specific areas for improvement. This can be done by compiling discrepancies or business mistakes in a list or drawing a matrix while keeping in mind that this isn’t designed to attribute blame or responsibility. 

With your list or matrix, zoom in on the causes of the discrepancies and your errors in judgement will be easier to see. You can see how these smaller setbacks add up to larger challenges or wider miscalculations that need to be addressed in other ways.

With these discrepancies in mind, it helps to compare your list of differences with the goals you have already set and see how to better align expectations with your overall business vision.

  1. Promote experimentation

You strongly believe in your product or service and what makes it special, so it’s understandable to send out a product in as close to perfect condition as you can get it. 

It’s not wrong to strive for success, but creating unrealistic conditions for a product test or not testing your product at all could end up hurting your launch. The same applies when it comes to company policies or establishing a learning culture.

Experimentation is a key activity for learning from your mistakes because it allows you to strategically create smaller and more controlled failures before your product or service goes to market. 

Just like how sandboxes provide children with an open but safe space to explore and interact, encouraging your team to collaborate and interact to face challenges under the so-called worst circumstances can generate useful insights about your product, service or internal practice.

When trying new ways to solve problems is a normal part of your business’ culture you encourage people to see what works and what doesn’t.

Having that “sandbox culture” lets you see mistakes as part of the process and helps your business from complexifying what is a “simple” mistake. 

  1. Filter your ideas

When you’ve made a mistake, made your peace with it, analysed it and discovered opportunities to move forward, it’s possible you’re buzzing with hundreds of ideas and renewed excitement about how you can bounce back.

Using that energy to dust yourself off and keep things moving is important, but it helps to dial back some of your enthusiasm and see what steps forward are actionable.

Taking note of the next thing you want to do is helpful as you can go back to ideas that are still unfeasible, but can be used later on. These can be ways forward for when your business or team has grown or when you’ve taken a second look at your goals. 

Collaborating with members of your team or with a business coach can help you sort through all the routes you can take with your business after learning from a mistake. 

Ultimately, no matter how hard you try to avoid making mistakes in business, chances are you’ll run into them simply because you’re human and your business is continuing to grow. The key is to have a balance of a pursuit of excellence and a positive mindset towards making mistakes.

Mistakes, whether they’re small errors that piled up into a major one or a big decision that went south, are natural so be thoughtful in how you deal with them and find the right support. 

Book a call today to get one-on-one coaching with our business sherpa so you can get expert advice on how to keep your business moving forward.

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