There Are No Failures Only Lessons. But Are You Learning?

Updated: Jun 7

The life of an entrepreneur has its own unique challenges. Entrepreneurship is the same as being a professional creative, you put your passion, heart, sweat (especially sweat equity), and even life on the line for what motivates and drives you to wake up and get going every day.

But what about when things don’t work out. You put everything into a goal and it just doesn’t “hit” it doesn’t take off and become anything close to what you wanted it to be. Do you give up and stop moving or do you pivot, collect yourself, and apply what you learned into a new opportunity?

As the “love affair” and popularity of being of an entrepreneur grows, which many contribute to the growth of the gig life movement and freelancer boom, I wonder how are the life long entrepreneurs like myself fairing out there. Are they learning when they face setbacks? I know I did. It takes an undying drive to succeed to win in this life as an entrepreneur. The stats don’t lie, almost 56% of businesses started in 2014 have stopped operating as of March 2019. And this has been a very consistent statistic over the last 35 years. Years 1 through 5 are critical, and most companies don’t make it past year 5. Just a fact. Most business owners say that the hardest thing is raising capital, but the truth is the main reason businesses fail is that the entrepreneurs stop. Stop learning. Stop being humble. Stop growing. Stop doing it for the love of it and forgot why they started. They just stop. They take a setback as a permanent “dead end” instead of a “speed bump”.

I love clothes. Fashion is the best way of showing off and flex your personality and spirit. Having a great sense of style and enjoying fashion it shook my world when I had the opportunity to create and operate my own fashion line. I spent hundreds of hours to learn about fabric, supply chain, importing and exporting, product photography, etc And applied everything I learned as I was going, learning through experience every day. But for some reason, I was more stressed than I was happy and enjoying the ride.

When I “closed the doors” of ButtaFly Jeans and Apparel, LLC in late 2018 I took it as a failure. I thought about all the time, money, and creativity that I spent on this failure. When actually all I had done was learn, build, and put myself into a better position than when I co-founded the fashion line. Now I’m sharing a few of the lessons that I took from this professional education that hopefully will save you, yes YOU some headaches, money, and get your company going in the right direction.

Lesson Learned

Forward Thinking

As usual, the little guy entrepreneur was ahead of the game in a lot of business tactics. When your budget is limited or your team is small but passionate, you actually get more creative. You use what you have, to do more than you should be able to do because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Our first promotional photo, which blasted across the internet for 1 year before our first online store was open, featured our first model with the logo imposed on her back. All she had on were a pair of ButtaFly jeans. And it was all an accident. She was sitting there fixing her hair on a stool and we couldn’t figure out how to show the jeans. So the photographer took some shots and we got a set of pictures that inspired the slogan, “ButtaFly Jeans, Wear Nothing Else Matters”.

We promoted and shared these images like crazy and struck enough attention to get some sales and people talking about us from day one. Although it didn’t make us millionaires overnight, we were creative and passionate enough to be imitated by competitors. For instance, take a look at the social media ad from this well-known brand of women’s fashionable fitness apparel from 2017.

To overcome the limitation on advertising budgets I worked with models, singers, and personal trainers on Instagram and Pinterest in 2015 to 2017, basically as social media influencers before that became a real “thing” to do for larger brands. Most of the models became our extended sales force as well. Beyond affiliate links in their posts, the models would purchase some product wholesale and resell the products to their own customer base. The goal was for everyone to win, don’t be greedy and build a strong team. Our models became “Brand Ambassadors” and became very successful.

But the cost of operations took me way far away from my strengths and passion — the branding. Marketing is the business function that truly merges the right-and-left side of the brain; that is my playground. It was creativity that kept bringing traffic to our sites, selling products, and generating awareness of our brand. But in order to do this effectively, it takes a team and 100% dedication.

I invested lots of time, money, and creativity into the fashion line as expected if you want to get anything worth bragging about in return. Making something from nothing is what entrepreneurs do. So you are a creative, even if you don’t realize it yet. Creating unique business models, product features, and offerings are what sets the super successful businesses from the rest. What it takes to flush out those ideas and creativity are time and energy. In order to succeed you need to apply dedicated focus on the goal; but it is hard to win a foot race when you have one foot in, one foot out which I would come to learn the hard way.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Maximize your creativity. Don’t use what others have done before if it stifles your uniqueness. Your creativity is your greatest asset to generate PR and audience attention because you are always being watched. Take every opportunity to showcase your unique vision to build a greater connection to your audience.

  2. Learn from competitors by focusing on what they are not doing for your target audience. Supply what the audience demands that competitors can’t or won’t fulfill. Don’t be afraid to be different.

You Will Get A Full Return On Your Investment

At one point I had 4 legitimate hustles, gigs, plain and simple JOBS! So my “time and energy portfolio” was very diversified over the following accounts…

  • Day gig 65%

  • Freelancing 20%

  • Fashion line 10%

  • Leading a record label 5%

And yet I expected to get 100% ROI from each one? Yup madness and it happens to many of us, entrepreneurial folks. You have to put 100% into your goal and expect nothing specific. But if you are going to add the pressure of expectations, then expect nothing more than the time and amount of effort you dedicated toward your goal. There are no guarantees, although by expecting a significantly high return based on minimal to low efforts of investment then you are more so gambling and playing a game of chance than truly investing in your goals. Yes, you will have highs and lows that is life. But if you start a business that you want to become the next Amazon or at least a sustainable company that provides you with a good living then you better dedicate your energy, specifically time to making it your living.

I was putting in the time, but not dedicated time toward one goal. Being the type of person I am; I created documented processes, SOPs (standard operating procedures), and business development performance measures so I had the elements to the formula that could be delegated but was too deep in the forest so I couldn’t see the trees. I have many different interests that I want to turn into a profession, but by starting 3 simultaneously I couldn’t truly maximize or fully enjoy any one of those interests and just got burnt out, especially when I wasn’t seeing the desired results.

I had to take a real inventory of what I wanted to achieve in life and do what would make me happy. I got back my “why” and removed all the other noise that was taking me away from doing what I wanted to do. So I left the record label and closed the fashion business. Converted my consultancy from an incorporated sole-proprietorship into an LLC. Drafted business models that I could train and replicate. Most importantly, I created an exit plan with a clear goal that feeds into my other goals.

Remember less is more. You can do anything you want but you don’t have to do it all at once. Focus on a core opportunity the one that drives you the most, your “why”. Then learn how to work through people in order to achieve all your goals and win with others, that is team building which I’ll get into next but first…

Lessons Learned:

  1. Understand early the difference between an active investment that produces both active and passive income and an investment that produces income only when you’re actively working (trading your time for dollars).

  2. Creating a business does NOT generate passive income but creating a company CAN. a company is a business that has active resources e.g. workers that will do the activities which generate your passive income. Even in real estate, MLMs, and investment groups, there is an amount of activity that you must invest in order to generate a steady income, especially at the beginning.