Failing Fast

This week has been epic. Monstrous. You might say, it’s a decidedly resolute note on which to end my January, See, this week I made a call on a side hustle that I have been side-hustling for about 6 months now. 

Let me tell you a bit about it…I had set up Third Space Yoga with the best intentions to provide a digital space where yoga teachers and yoga students could come together. Share, grow and learn at a time where digital spaces are hard to carve out and audiences are tricky to captivate. I poured much into this little enterprise; investing my time, money, creativity, and many sleepless nights pushing down gremlins of noisy imposter syndrome as an only-recently qualified yoga teacher (who do you think you are?! Blah blah blah…) 

I was enthusiastic and energised for a new adventure, and maybe my lockdown boredom had me looking through rose-coloured glasses about the real facts of the situation. Essentially, I was leaping forward into running a second business when my own business is still in its invigorated early days.

I was rolling up my sleeves on an old habit of vastly over-estimating the number of hours in a day.

This week I made the shattering decision to let Third Space Yoga go, at least for the time being, to refocus my energy on my main hustle and pull back to teaching my couple of online yoga classes per week. I discussed this choice with a fabulous friend who summarised it perfectly;

“Tamara, you failed fast. This is the best and only way to fail.” 

The concept of failing fast is well-established in the tech world, as anyone who has worked on an agile / scrum framework will tell you. It is equally applicable to a business concept or new pursuit, but we are terminally biased against failure. When starting out on my business venture I was hammered with the stat that 80% of new businesses don’t see the end of their first year. Of course, I chose not to hear it “that won’t be me – failure is not in my vocabulary.” 

This week has taught me that not only is failure a very real possibility but most importantly,  there is room for power and growth in failure if you choose to see it. 

Take the risk but know the stakes

As I say, this week has been a time of deep reflection and learning for me and ultimately I am glad I took the risk. I took this unique opportunity to educate myself, deepening my knowledge in a new business. I made new connections and grew my understanding of a fascinating new industry. Ultimately I can see this makes me a better business owner in the long run and gives me a new clarity with how I approach my work with my clients. 

BUT, if you’re going to take a risk you need to know the stakes. If you’re going to fail fast, you want to fail cheap. Be realistic about what you can reasonably afford to lose. I was not blinkered enough to make foolhardy investments in merchandise, stock, accommodation, or other financial commitments. Ultimately, I didn’t write any cheques that I was not able to cash. Yes, I invested at the outset, but the knowledge I have gained and the deepening of my understanding have made it worthwhile. 

Image Source: Unsplash

Look around at the bigger picture

We can get so lost in the noise of “doing” that we forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Christmas gave me the time to do that; to step back and really see what was happening. It was then it really dawned on me…

“Hold up…I am competing in one of the most saturated markets, in terms of both supply and the array of consumer choices…my competition is not local studios – it is YouTube and other massive online content creators.”

I had become so consumed by “doing” that I took my eye off the bigger picture and I was fighting an uphill battle without the time, resources or creative energy to do so. 

Don’t let your passion project destroy your passion. It’s a hard question to face, sometimes, but ultimately we need to be honest. Does the market really need you right now? If I had asked myself that brutal question to begin with, I may have taken a different approach with things. 

Be straight with your stakeholders

I had a decision to make, I could slip away quietly, let it fall away, blame some ethereal factors or show some displays of contrived anger to deflect attention from the fact that this pursuit was burning me out. It had verged into territory that was starting to exhaust me. Once the decision was made, I needed to let my people know.

I saw the communication in layers, starting from the inside of the onion and working out.

First, before discussing with anyone else I let the internal stakeholders know first. This was vitally important. I needed to be straight with my yoga teachers who had come with me from the start, let them know where they stood and why I was making this call. 

Second; our students. By direct mail I let our students know the changes that were going to take effect and what their options were. No quibble refunds were offered and a full, frank explanation was given. 

Third and finally, I shared that same message on the Third Space social media & extended network, inviting questions or comments publicly. This approach allowed me to manage the narrative with the people who matter most.

“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”

Brené Brown

The result was staggering. I have had a week of unequivocal support, reassurance, encouragement and authentic engagement. Not one refund was sought and my teachers, students and I can enjoy the benefit of a conversation built around integrity and honesty.

There are no bridges on fire behind me as I continue my journey. This is is crucially important. 

While this business was tiny, insignificant in the scheme of things, this method of messaging management is equally important – if not more so – in larger organisations. I recall a very frank conversation I had with a senior member of management in an organisation who was not handling their internal messaging effectively where my advice was categorically clear: “When you stay silent, the rumour mill fills in the gaps for you.” 

Image Source: Unsplash

Learn, learn and learn again.

Failure is such a harsh word, but to me, it is a state of mind. This week’s decision would only be a failure if I learned nothing, burnt my relationships or repeated these mistakes again in the future. The key is recognising when the time has come to cut losses and get ready to do some soulful consideration of the facts after the event. Here are some questions I will be mulling over for the foreseeable: 

  • What didn’t work?
  • Why didn’t it work?
  • What would you have done differently? 

Failure allows us to hone our intuitions, allows us to make more discerning choices in the future – but only if we are prepared to learn.

A final thought – planning for failure 

This seems counter-intuitive, but if I had planned for failure it would have allowed me to spot the signs earlier. We have vision boards for success, we paint pictures of what our wins are, where our goals lie, but we rarely sit and document what failure looks like. 

Potentially this is the biggest lesson of all. What does failure look like to you/your business/your project?

Think of it this way; if you know what failure looks like, smells like and sounds like – you will know it on arrival. This kind of realistic forward-thinking can save sleepless nights, sweaty palms and hours of indecision. 

Tamara is the self-proclaimed Unqualified Blogger. She is a Marketing Communications / Brand Consultant and Creative Generalist. She is available for speech writing, tattoo conventions and karaoke parties or would love to work with you on your latest marketing or creative challenges. Stay in touch on Instagram,  Facebook,  LinkedInTwitter oContact her directly.

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