Sharing My Top Business Failures (So You Can Avoid Them)

March 18, 2018

In case you didn’t already know, this isn’t my first business.

So, I guess that even now, at the ripe old age of 25, I can say that I have had a failed business. I don’t think I’ve ever written that before. It sounds so… old? depressing? defeated?

I don’t really feel that way about it, though.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

Just because my first business failed, I don’t feel like a failure. It was only my first attempt, after all. Plenty of (mega successful) entrepreneurs fail at their first couple of attempts, and nobody bats an eyelid, so why not extend myself the same grace?

Like everything else in life, my first business led up to the point I’m at now. It was an important part of my journey and education. It helped me to grow and evolve as a professional, writer, networker, marketer, business person, and even (on a few occasions) speaker. It made me much more well-rounded in my current approach than if I’d skipped straight to being a plain old website/blog copywriter.

And it enabled me to relaunch my current personal brand with a decent chunk of experience and avoid a lot of the typical newbie business mistakes that can set you off on the wrong track from the beginning. Trust me, I did NOT want to make the same mistakes twice.

And come to think of it, I’d hate for you to make those mistakes too. So, I thought I’d share some of my top mistakes with you so that you can hopefully spot them looming in the distance and take a nice big side-step just in time…

Mistake #1: Not Focusing On Your Strengths

When we first started out, I was doing all sorts of things in my business. Things were going great guns. It was growing, we were making money. The team was growing. It looked very promising.

But I was doing too much. I was…

  • Marketing
  • Managing
  • Self-educating
  • Educating clients
  • Selling myself
  • Providing 10+ different types of services

I worked nonstop, day and night, all weekend long. It felt like the hustle couldn’t stop or I’d never be able to catch up.

Many of the services I was offering were in a state of constant change. I don’t even remember half of the stuff we did, but my services definitely included:

  • Digital marketing strategies
  • Copywriting
  • Web design
  • Social media marketing
  • Social media advertising
  • Lead generation
  • Google AdWords
  • Blogs
  • Graphics and basic design work
  • SEO stuff
  • And the list could go on…

I was overwhelmed at the sheer amount of information I needed to consume everyday just to stay on top of it and confidently offer my clients strategic advice, while implementing the tactics for many of them. I was tired of trying to keep up with a million different tasks and directions, especially in an industry that was changing every day. Who has the time and energy for that?

Plus, it meant that my favourite work and greatest strengths (writing online content) got lost in all the noise.

Not surprisingly, I started to resent the work. Anyone with a bit of experience in business knows that this is a dangerous, make-or-break headspace to be in.

Fortunately, I realised I needed to make a change. I knew I needed to simplify and focus on what I loved to do, which was to write. Specifically, to write blogs and online copy for businesses. All the signs pointed towards it.

So, I did. It took a good year of gradual change, but I got there in the end. I went from calling myself a “digital marketing strategist” who does everything, to being a “copywriter” who does just a few things.

I narrowed down my offers and focused on my zone of genius. I started to learn how to say no to work I didn’t love or couldn’t keep up with (especially all that social media marketing stuff).

I felt excited about business again… but this brings me to the next plot twist.

Mistake #2: Not Wanting to Charge People for Work You Enjoy

Once I got on top of thing and narrowed my focus, my business slowed. In fact, it practically stopped. At the time, I was surprised.

Isn’t niching supposed to be a profitable thing to do?

  • As soon as I was doing work I truly loved, I felt bad charging people for it
  • I stopped sending out invoices
  • If I was on a tight deadline, my priority was finishing the writing, not keeping up with the financial or marketing side of things
  • The business wasn’t making money even though I was working my butt off

And let me just be clear: the issue wasn’t my quality of work. I always put EVERYTHING into every single job. And I pretty much always get wonderful feedback from my clients.

Maybe I was a little lax in communication and I definitely let my own marketing go (my first pregnancy, a few health issues, and then a new baby didn’t help either).

But the real problem was that I stopped caring about anything else in the business except working on what I loved – writing.

Instead of being a business owner (whose #1 responsibility is to ensure the business makes money), I went back to being an employee, happily working away at the tasks I enjoy most.

All along, I’d been blaming the changes in my life – pregnancy hormones, a new baby, tiredness, etc., but actually, the problem had been me.

I had the wrong mindset.

YES, it was great that I had found what I loved to do, but that love needed to be balanced with good business sense. I stopped doing simple tasks that are needed to keep the business running.

Whatever YOU Do…

  • Keep your basic marketing rolling – even the bare minimum is better than nothing
  • Communicate exactly what you are offering, especially if you’ve changed it
  • Define what you will do and refuse any work that doesn’t fit this definition
  • Write proposals and send them quickly
  • Charge for your work, even if you’d be willing to do it for free (free does not pay the bills)
  • Send invoices on time
  • Follow up unpaid invoices

I slacked off on every single one of those things. I take responsibility for it all… and the inevitable demise of my first business.

This leads smoothly into my final death-blow mistake, one which I am honestly still trying to figure out in my new business model.

Mistake #3: Not Charging What You’re Worth

It’s the classic mistake, and being a typical newbie, I made it big time.

When I started out in my first business, my standard rate was $50/hour, but I often accepted work for as little as $30/hour, and I also often worked much longer hours than what I wrote down on my clients’ invoices. In case you haven’t really considered it, this is WAY undercharging when you consider all the unpaid hours of work, education, marketing, admin, taxes, and other business expenses.

In hindsight (what a wonderful thing), here’s why I wasn’t charging my worth:

  • Again, I was just happy to be doing something I enjoyed and felt bad if I charged people for it
  • I projected my own poorness onto my clients, thinking they couldn’t afford anything higher
  • I had a bit of a scarcity mindset and was afraid of turning work down or getting my proposals knocked back
  • I am naturally a generous person – but I have since learned that undercharging is not the only (or best) way to be generous in business
  • I really hated looking at numbers and ignored the business finances 99% of the time, despite my husband frequently insisting that we needed to “sit down and look at the finances” (cringe!)

If any of this sounds painfully familiar to you, let me tell you that you’re not alone. Especially if you’re a woman. Now that I’ve found my tribe (in a few places), I have learned that money mindset issues like self-worth and undercharging are extremely common among female entrepreneurs in particular.

I’m working hard to change all of that.

“I’m just not a numbers person” is no longer an acceptable excuse. It’s my fault that I failed and didn’t charge what I was worth. Now I’m ready to move forward and do what I love AND get paid for it. Because that’s what I’m in it for.

Plus, when you have a business that is bringing in money, it gives you options so that when you make a mistake (and this is guaranteed to happen), you can cushion the blow instead of calling it quits.

Those are my top 3 failures that made my first business go kaput. I wish I could go back in time and send myself this blog, but hey, I’d probably still make the same mistakes because some things you can only learn by doing, right?


Hello Second Chance

Fortunately, I get a second chance at this. That’s the great thing about business. You can fail and fail again, but if you learn something each time, you’ll take longer to fail next time, till eventually you win.

And I’m pretty determined to win this time round… trust me. I’m all in.

Thanks for following along my little journey of the last few years – ESPECIALLY if you’re one of the lovely people who have stuck around through some of the failures I spoke about in this blog. You’re true gems.

Over to You…

Before you go, I’d love to know…

Have you made any of these mistakes in your own business? Or if you’ve had failed businesses in the past (before your current biz), what wasn’t working?*

*This last question is purely for selfish reasons – so I can learn from your mistakes too! I know there are more mistakes waiting around just about every corner, no matter how experienced I get.

Feel free to leave a comment below so we can continue the conversation.

So, here’s to lots of future wins in business – for all of us!



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6 comments on “Sharing My Top Business Failures (So You Can Avoid Them)”

  1. Undercharging and doing things for free is right up there for me. However, I have also gained some excellent opportunities in exchange for free work especially since I am a new start up so I guess it's a delicate balance! God, some days being an entrepreneur is worse than rocket science, haha!

    1. Ohhh I'm so with you on that. I too have done plenty of free work that has led to great opportunities. I think as long as you're being strategic about it, it's fine. Especially if you're learning a lot, building strong relationships, and improving your chances of earning more in the near future.

      For example, offering a freebie/taster for new clients. I think putting in your time and creating that sort of good will to attract new work is WAY better than investing your money in advertising - particularly in the early days. And it can set your brand apart from more established competitors.

      Lol to the rocket science comment! It's so hard to know if you're doing the right thing in any given moment, hey? Fingers crossed we're both on track right now. xxx

  2. Hey Angela,

    Great insights- I can definitely relate to all of them!!!

    I think I'm only just realising that I business' #1 goal is to make $ as opposed to be an outlet for something I love (which of course it can be both!). I guess you could say I'm a slow learner......

    Comforting to know I'm not the only one with lessons to learn;-)

    1. Hey Karenna,

      Thank you so much for commenting! Glad you can relate to them all... err but also sorry that you're experiencing some of the same challenges. It's good to at least know we're not the only ones. 🙂 And I'm a bit of a slow learner too. Such a tricky one.

      I think it's sooo much harder when we start a business doing something we actually enjoy because it can really blur the financial goals. I guess sooner or later we have to face the money 😉


  3. There is one kind of free work I love; service swaps. I still do those frequently is it's with someone whose services I would want to use anyway. I've discovered some amazing collaboration partners this way.

    1. OOH! I love this. Thanks for offering this perspective, Michelle.

      I've done a product/service swap before, which was fun, but never tried service for service. Wonderful idea - and then you can both honestly recommend the other person after experiencing what they offer. So good!

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