I’m proud to say that I have failed.
Let me elaborate. While in school, we’re brainwashed to think that failure is bad. This is why we study so hard and worry so much about our grades. If you get an “F” in a class, you’ve failed. You don’t get any credit, and you have to retake the class. In order to succeed, failure is NOT an option.
As much as I respect the schooling system and everything it has taught me, the one thing I can say about doing business online is that failure is not a bad thing.
Here's what to expect in this chapter:
- Failure Teaches Us
- Embracing Failure
- What About the Haters?
- Don’t Forget What’s Working
- Stare Your Fear of Failure in the Face and Embrace Uncertainty
Failure Teaches Us
When we fail at something, whatever it is, life is teaching us a lesson. What’s the difference between those who are successful in life and those who are not? The successful ones learn from their failures and follow those lessons, while the losers end up doing the exact same thing, or nothing at all. This can be related to anything that you do in your life.
In the online business world, it’s exactly the same. Those who succeed online will do things using what they’ve learned in all of their past failures. The trick is to try something out, and if it doesn’t work, understand why and then do it again with that information in mind to make it work for you.
The beauty of doing business online is that it’s relatively inexpensive to fail. Therefore, it’s smart to use this to our advantage and be fearless about it. The rewards far outweigh the risks of failure. Heck, I’d fail a bunch of times if it meant that I’d eventually end up with a successful online venture—which is exactly what happened to me.
I’ve had a lot of success online, but I’ve probably had even more failures—and I’m very thankful for each and every one of them.
Without my failures, I would not be where I’m at today.
As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
It’s a lot like dating, actually.
We date people we like and are interested in, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. We take those experiences, what we liked and disliked about our previous relationships, and use that to shape who we are in the next one.
A Few Things That Just Didn’t Work Out For Me
No, I won’t be talking about my ex-girlfriends today, but I will be talking about some of my past business ideas and ventures that just didn’t pan out the way I had hoped.
To show you that sometimes your business ideas will fail, but that doesn’t mean you should give up—it just means you have to try something different and keep going.
To disclose, I know that some of these ideas were just not that good or even profitable. Something made me decide to give them a shot and just see what happens, and that’s the beauty of doing business online: it’s relatively inexpensive and low-risk to just try something out.
I’d happily try nine stupid ideas if that meant the tenth one would be a home run.
Here are a bunch of ideas that just didn’t pan out:
“A Couple of Thoughts”
When my first website, GreenExamAcademy.com, took off and I started to realize the power behind publishing content online, I thought it would be interesting for my fiancée (now wife) and me to write a relationship blog together where we’d talk about the things leading up to our wedding and beyond.
The idea behind the blog was to pick a debatable and interesting topic each week and each write an article about it. The articles would show side-by-side on the homepage and it would provide an interesting men’s vs. women’s perspective on things. We’d each have a chance to respond to each other’s articles too and people could comment, respond, pick sides (maybe vote), and that sort of thing.
I purchased acoupleofthoughts.com and got a customized “side-by-side” theme from Elance, and we wrote a couple of articles.
After a few drafts, we decided that it just wasn’t going to be as much fun as we had thought. Plus, we hadn’t set any goals or really envisioned what the purpose of this project was.
From this experience, I learned that there needs to be some kind of goal and vision for what you want a site to become. Even though things may change, having a vision and goals definitely helps (and may even help you decide something is not a good idea in the first place).
This was the name of a store I setup on CafePress.com, a website where you can create unique t-shirts (among other things) and sell them for a profit. CafePress handles the delivery and customer service for you, and all you have to do is come up with ideas that will sell.
The idea behind Brain Tees was that it would sell nerdy and geeky apparel, like t-shirts that say “I love pi” and other wordplays that make you think.
Like a brain tease. (Get it?)
Anyway, I setup braintees.net as the storefront, designed a couple of t-shirts, and started to “market” by showing family and friends my creations. After a month or so I had no sales and wasn’t feeling inspired to create more designs, so I just let the domain and store expire.
From this experience I learned that I enjoyed blogging and providing information online more than I did e-commerce and retail.
“How to Memorize Anything“
This idea was my first attempt at a niche site, although I didn’t even know it at the time. It was based on a request from several of my existing customers who were studying to pass the LEED exam:
How can I train myself to learn and memorize all of this information?!
To help, I built a website (how-to-memorize-anything.com) that included training and exercises to help one memorize things like facts, lines (like in acting), and names.
The unfortunate thing was . . . I’m not that good at memorizing things!
I really had no business being in the space and no real training and knowledge to share with others. Knowing the LEED material and presenting that information in a way that can be easily consumed and memorized is what I was good at, but as far as the actual mechanics of memorization and tapping into the potential of one’s brain . . . yeah. Not so much.
From this experience, I learned that even though there may be good ideas for sites out there, sites that would actually help people, I don’t have to always be the one to create them. I learned to focus on what I’m good at and stick with that.
For a while, I was really excited about creating niche user rating and review websites, sort of like Angie’s List but for things related to what I knew about—like architectural firms, architecture schools, design software, and green building materials. I had a master plan of creating one of the sites and using that same exact structure or template for the others.
It was a great idea, and for a while I continued to think it was. However, once I got going, I just wasn’t into it. Those types of sites really take the “me” out of things, and I think the reason why I’ve enjoyed working on and been successful with projects like GreenExamAcademy.com and especially SPI is that I’ve been able to put my personality into them.
From this experience, I learned what kinds of projects I enjoy working on the most, and that I should be directing my attention and focus toward those projects.
Old-school SPI fans will know that for a while I was talking (a lot) about a couple of WordPress plugins that I was having developed. They were plugins that were going to fulfill a need of my own, and I was going to either give them away or sell them for a small price to create a new income stream.
I’d put one of them on hold simply because it was a huge undertaking and I needed someone to design the user interface.
The other one was completed, but not to my liking, so it was never released. This was my fault because I didn’t do a good job of explaining exactly what I wanted and how I wanted it to work. Even though it was done and worked, I wasn’t interested in putting anything out there under my name and brand that was subpar.
When you’re working with developers, you really have to give them as much detailed information as possible.
But even though I already knew this, the “I need to get this out as soon as possible” mentality set me back and made for a less-than-stellar product.
From this experience, I learned that if I do any more software development, I need to tell the developer exactly what I want—and to make sure I know what I want in the first place too so I’m not just making it up along the way.
By the way, that plugin I put on hold? I took what I learned in the early stages to continue working on that plugin—Smart Podcast Player—and turn it into a viable product that’s been providing income for the past 5-plus years.
Setbacks Are Just Setups for Later Success
Looking back, all these failures were a big part of my path toward success. It’s kind of like past relationships and how they teach you about who exactly the right person is for you.
Without all of those failures, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And those were just my early failures—I’ve failed a lot more since then, even since I became “successful.” That time when I had upward of 5,000 visitors a day to my GreenExamAcademy.com site—and wasn’t monetizing the site beyond some basic Google ads? Yeah, that was a failure. Or the fact I didn’t start my own email list until I had been operating my online businesses for a couple of years? Another failure.
Those failures set me back, but they didn’t sink me. I learned from them so I wouldn’t repeat them.
I don’t feel any shame in sharing the things I’ve tried and failed at because they’ve all made me stronger as an entrepreneur.
I hope this encourages you as you’re working on your own business and helps you realize that you just have to keep trying. If something doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean you’re not destined to succeed, especially if it’s your first go at it.
So, if you’re thinking about doing something big, what are you afraid of? Failure?
Although we should always strive not to fail, we should consider it a blessing in disguise when we do.
Every failure is one step closer to success—as long as you learn from your experiences.
Even the Best Have Failed
Make no mistake: failure is absolutely necessary to go through as an entrepreneur. If you ask any successful entrepreneur out there if they’ve ever failed, they’ll say, “Definitely!”
In fact, in case you’re still scared of failure, I want to share a little video with you. It’s called “9 Successful People Who Were REJECTED 138 Times,” and in it I’m talking about several people you might recognize who failed a lot but forged ahead and found success over time. I don’t give their names right away, so try to play along and guess each person before I reveal who they are. There are some big names on this list, and I think you’ll be pretty surprised when you learn what they had to go through before they became successful.
Now I want to talk about a particular kind of failure (that’s not actually failure) that can make people afraid to put themselves out there online: attracting negative attention because of your success.
What About the Haters?
One night, my wife and I were watching an episode of the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. We’d often catch the beginning to laugh at Conan’s jokes and how he made fun of himself and his goofy hair, but we rarely sat down to watch the interviews. Seth Green, however, was the first guest, so we decided to keep the TV on. We love Seth Green.
In the middle of the interview, Seth started talking about a video he’d recently put up on YouTube. Conan had asked him if he ever went online to read comments or see what people on the internet were saying about him. Seth’s response:
“Never. That stuff is poison.”
Easier said than done, right? I’ll tell you a little story about why.
Back in 2012, some guy started leaving hurtful comments on multiple posts on my blog. He even left copies of these comments on his own blog and forum, where I couldn’t respond to them. He also left those same comments on just about every single blog and forum out there at the time that had featured me in some way. We’re talking hundreds of places.
I soon started getting emails from friends on whose blogs I had guest posted or whose podcasts I’d been a guest saying, “Who is this guy? What’s this all about?”
It was especially difficult because this person wasn’t giving me a chance to respond. He didn’t even want to have a conversation with me. I asked him to come on Skype with me, and he refused.
I got really flustered and angry about all of it. I even shed a few tears here and there. And I didn’t get any real work done for three or four weeks. It was incredible how much power I allowed this guy to have on me.
In November 2018, I recorded a video all about that episode:
I later found out that he’d done all this because he wanted to drive more traffic to his site. The whole thing felt incredibly hurtful and threw me off course for a while—until I connected with a few people who helped me shift my perspective. Here’s what they told me about what had happened:
- It was a good thing. Some people said I was getting this kind of negative attention because I was doing something right, and that I’d “made it.” This didn’t totally sit right with me, though. This was “making it”?
- I’d been wasting my time. This piece of advice, on the other hand, really moved the needle for me. Those three or four weeks that I was out of commission, I could have been working on something beneficial. I could have used that time to build something that would be incredibly helpful for more people. But I didn’t.
How to Take the Hate
Seth Green said it himself: “That stuff is poison.” He knows it’s better to avoid reading the blogs, forums, and comments about him because it does no good.
As people doing business online using our own names and faces—something I believe is mandatory if you want to build successful relationships with your audience—encountering more negative comments and even downright troll-like behavior is going to be part of the territory the more successful we become.
We have to train our minds to be strong when difficult situations like this arise. We have to learn how to deal.
If you stumbled across a negative comment on one of your YouTube videos, a lousy review of your new book, or someone dissing you on another website, how would you react? Would you brush it off, or would you get annoyed and think about that comment for the rest of the day or week?
We all love to be loved. Who doesn’t? But it’s so easy to blow things out of proportion when we get negative feedback, even if it’s outnumbered by a huge margin by the positive comments.
You can do one of two things when people begin to hate on you for whatever reason:
- Brush it off, and let it go.
- Use the situation to your advantage.
Yes, I know that in reality, there are many more options to choose from, but these are the two you should focus on. And in most cases when you receive negative attention, I suggest using the first option: brushing it off, letting it go, and focusing your energy on what matters: building your business and serving your audience.
That’s the crux of the advice I share in AskPat 325 with Alice, who’s worried about how to deal with negative comments on her membership site:
That said, there are ways to make lemonade from lemons, if you get my drift. Let’s talk more about how to creatively turn a negative situation into a positive one.
A few years ago, I heard that Gary Vaynerchuk was coming out with a new book called Crush It!: Why Now is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion, so naturally I went to Amazon.com to read his reviews. One particular review, which had just two stars, caught my attention. Here are some excerpts:
“Definitely disappointing. I really don’t understand all the raves . . .”, “I wish I could rank this book even lower. I was being kind with 2 stars . . . ”
You get the idea. Now, check out who was first to respond to that review—Gary himself:
“Darn! I hate you feel that way, pls email me [email protected] and I would love to yap a little more on this ? as for the daddy’s money, I was using these thoughts and dna when I was 12 making $1000 a weekend selling ball cards . . . also I used $300 and a lot of heart and hustle and thoughts to build WLTV! Would love to yap!”
This comment thread went on for thirty-four more posts, with Gary responding three more times.
On another comment string, Gary even thanked the commenter for chatting with him on the phone for fifteen minutes after offering his email (then phone number) to discuss things further. Now that’s impressive. Imagine if every author did that. Gary definitely took advantage of the situation, and I’m sure he impressed more people than just me. For that reason alone, I purchased his book.
So the next time you get a negative comment, think about how you might pull your own Gary V and make lemonade from lemons.
Or . . . just brush it off.
Most of the time these days when I find a negative comment about something of mine, whether it’s an Amazon review of one of my books, a podcast review in iTunes, or a YouTube comment, I’ve learned just to say, “Hey, so this person feels that way? Fine. Here’s a whole bunch of positive comments from other people who feel differently.” I also have friends and colleagues who help keep me in check and make sure I’m staying focused on the positive.
And that’s one of the biggest keys in letting negativity slide off you: remembering you’re not alone.
Why People Drink the Haterade
Before we sign off on this topic, I want to share one more thing that I think will be great for you when you’re thinking about how you’ll handle the haters when they inevitably show up for you. And that’s understanding why people act the way they do online.
Unfortunately, the internet makes it really easy for anyone to be anonymously negative—to be a troll, basically—and not face the social consequences of their actions.
In SPI Podcast episode 372, I talk about why people really hate us (or just act like they do) online:
The more we understand about why people do mean things sometimes, the easier it can be to deal with it when it happens to us.
The final thing I want to say about this is a disclaimer. If online negativity is driving you to a point where you’re feeling depressed or unable to manage it yourself, then you should seek help from a mental health professional. And negative comments are one thing, but if you’re dealing with serious harassment and feel unsafe, you should report it.
Don’t Forget What’s Working
All this talk about failure and how to learn from your mistakes is great . . . but I think it’s important at this stage to share a little counterpoint with you.
You see, it’s in our nature to always look at what’s not working first and ignore or downplay what is working. Take, for example, the report card shown below. What stands out to you?
Probably that F, right?
If this was your report card, even with seven A+ marks, you probably wouldn’t be able to get your mind off of that F. Now, let’s see an example of a report card that is nearly perfect and see how we feel about it:
If your son or daughter gave you this report card, you’d probably be very, very proud. However, can you not help looking at that B+ and wonder what happened? Again, more often than not, we’re attracted to what’s going wrong.
This is why bad news grabs our attention more than good news. It’s why missing a slam dunk is often a bigger deal than making one. It’s why some ideas die, businesses fail, blogs get abandoned, and why we’re so infatuated with trying to fix what’s wrong, instead of first trying to understand what’s behind the things that are working for us.
So the next time you’re looking to really improve your business, blog, or whatever you do online, don’t dive right into what’s wrong. First look at what’s going well and give yourself a pat on the back! Next, work on understanding why it’s going well. You’ll be surprised to find that often the solution for what you’re trying to improve may very well be behind something that’s going well already.
(By the way, I can’t take credit for the little report card demo. This was a variation on something I learned in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch, which I highly recommend.)
Stare Your Fear of Failure in the Face and Embrace Uncertainty
“Uncertainty must be present in the quest to create anything deeply meaningful to you as the creator and, should you choose to seek value from others in exchange for your creation, to the world.” —Jonathan Fields
Over the past decade, a lot of people have asked me the following question:
“Pat, when you were laid off and decided to do business for yourself online, how did you know it was going to work?”
The answer is, I didn’t.
But that’s why I think it worked.
The fear of not being able to provide for my family and the fear of not knowing what was going to happen next gave me the drive to take action and go above and beyond my normal self to make something special happen.
Without the catalyst of fear and pressure, I would not be where I’m at today.
Think about that.
Fear—something we typically try to avoid—was an important ingredient in my success, and it’s an ingredient that we see in a lot of other people’s success stories too.
One story that truly spoke to me was from Jonathan Fields, a brilliant author and entrepreneur who I met briefly at Blog World Expo 2010 in Las Vegas. I really got to know him when I watched his TEDx presentation, “Turning Fear into Fuel”:
Watching Jonathan’s talk inspired me, and also helped me realize just how important a role fear has played in my own success story too.
I hope you’ll take your own fear—of failure, of uncertainty, of the inevitable haters—and turn it into your fuel for success.
The alternative is to stay the course, maintain the status quo. So much of what we do in life is simply part of a routine, and that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, routines help us live a healthy, stress-free and happy lifestyle. We’re comfortable in a routine.
However, when you’re trying to progress with building a successful business that will serve people, falling into a comfortable routine can stop you from ever seeing the life-changing results you’re really going for.
Doing the same thing day in and day out, and giving in to your fear of failure, will definitely help you progress, but it won’t take you to that next level.
It’s the bold actions you take outside of the routine that help you get there.
Think of it like a mountain that you wish to climb. There’s a set of stairs that wind all the way around the mountain, circling hundreds of times so that you can slowly make your way up to the top. In order to reach your goal faster, you can get off the stairs and create your own path.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable.
Yes, it’s risky.
Yes, it takes more effort.
Yes, it’s not part of the normal routine.
But that’s what makes it a bold action, one that could help us reach our goals much faster than if we simply relied on the routine.
So what exactly are the bold actions that you should take?
I’ve taken more bold actions than I can count or remember, from filing papers for my LLC in the early days, to joining my first mastermind group, to deciding to bring on my team as full-time employees of SPI in 2018.
It was doing things that I was not completely comfortable with, but knew I had to do to get to me to where I wanted to go.
I knew all of those actions brought increased uncertainty and the potential for failure, but I did them anyway.
I can’t tell you what bold actions you should take. However, I believe that you already have an idea of what they are. It’s probably something that you’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time.
So why not now?
Up next, we’ll talk about one of the most powerful qualities every entrepreneur has to practice and embody if they want to make a real difference in the world.