One of the hardest things to experience as a freelancer or solopreneur is failure. We try our best to avoid it, and when it happens, we feel like we should keep silent about it. Society says failure is shameful! So we silently wrap ourselves with it, and instead of failure being an experience – something that has a beginning and an end, it becomes who we are, and that is dangerous.
I am digging out of a failed business, and I want to share some things with you that I’m learning about.
In August 2005 I started my own ESL consulting company. Let me rephrase that, because it sounds like it all happened on purpose with careful planning and preparation. My foray into entrepreneurship came about because the school where I was working as a freelance ESL teacher lost its contract with a major client. In short: I was out of work, and had a family to feed. It was sink or swim.
I started off looking for private students by advertising my services as an ESL teacher on online classified websites. I also got referrals from old students who I used to work with. Before long, I had my entire schedule filled with students. I was doing it! While I never considered myself as such, I was a successful solopreneur. I was helping people, and earning enough money to feed my family and pay my bills.
Then opportunity struck. A former student connected me with the CEO of a startup insurance company. Their company had 150 employees and counting, and a year or so later – after much hard work and patience, my small business was born! I had close to 60 students to begin with, and over the next 10 years, I had the great privilage to grow to have a team of 10 teachers working with me.
The smoke. Sadly, there were small fires burning in my personal life which would eventually cross over to my small business and cause it to go up in flames.
The biggest fires were poor money management and debt. My wife and I had never been good at budgeting. In fact, we never or rarely talked about money except for when we were trying to figure out where it had all gone, and how we were going to make it when the money ran out faster than we had thought it would. There was no plan.
We also had credit cards, and only paid the mínimum payments on them. This meant we usually spent more than what we were making, and got to pay interest on it. Stupid.
As my business bank accounts began to grow, I was offered platinum and gold level credit cards with huge credit limits on them. Thinking I was bullet proof, that my business would always pull in enough money to make mínimum payments on everything I owed, I happily took on the extra cards. Extra debt. Steeper monthly payments.
No financial plan + heavy debt was a disaster waiting to happen. You can see that now as you read this, right? It’s obvious. Painfully obvious as I reflect on it, but you know something? Right when you’re in the middle of it all, the obvious is not so easy to see especially if you aren’t thinking about what would happen if the worst happened.
Disaster Strikes. In 2012 financial lightning struck. Twice, and in the same spot! Two of our biggest corporate clients suddenly cut their training budgets in response to the recession. And within 30 days my company lost half it’s income.
That’s when my whole foolish lifestyle was suddenly right there for all to see. While my income was suddenly half of what it used to be, my bills remained the same. We struggled valiently to pay, and for a few months we were able to somehow, but eventually we started falling behind. It was impossible to keep up.
Collectors started calling. Every. Single. Day. From dawn to dusk, we lived in fear of the telephone. Our mailbox was filled with horrible collection noticies – You’re overdue! You’re overdue! You’re overdue they all seemed to shout.
It was terrible. And today, 3 years later, we are still working to dig ourselves out of the mess we created, and we are about to do it but by selling our home to pay off everything we owe. So if you have read this far, it means you’ve likely been through failure yourself, maybe even a similar experience to mine. Or maybe you’re experiencing failure now.
If that’s you, if you’re walking through failure, my hope is that I can encourage you a little today by sharing some of my story with you. You aren’t alone, my friend, even though I know you feel like you are. I also would like to share a few things I learned that have helped me move on. Maybe they will help you too:
Pray – connect with God. I believe we all need God. The experiences I have had have often left me feeling crushed, vulnerable and quite powerless. There is a limit to what we can do, but you know what? There is nothing God can’t do. Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” My experience has been that even through the darkest times of my life, God has always been there to give me hope and help.
“Failure is an event, not a person.” – Zig Ziglar Failure has a sneaky way of making you think YOU ARE the failure. Reality is different. You experienced a failure, and it may take you some time to move through it, recover from it, and learn from it, but YOU are not that failure. I had to learn how to see the difference. Have you?
Budget! “Learn how to tell your money what to do, or you’ll wonder where it went.” Dave Ramsey. I’m still learning how to do this with my family, but budgeting and being on the same financial page as your spouse (if you’re married) is powerful. If you’re single, you still need to tell your money where to go on paper, or you will find it very hard to make financial progress. Try checking out http://www.daveramsey.com – the podcast is well worth your time. It is filled with people who are working through their finances too. HOPE!
“Debt is dumb.” – Dave Ramsey. Lots of people say there is such a thing as good debt. They’ll tell you to invest in a house or a property or a thing that generates money for you. They’ll call this ‘good debt.’ I’m no economist, and I’m no financial advisor. But here is what I think: If you don’t outright own the thing or property that generates money for you, you own nothing but risk. Everyone is vulnerable to bad things happening. If you don’t own it….you have a risk on your hands.
Connect with others. I felt ashamed to show others that I had failed…at first. Then, little by little, I started opening up to SAFE people. My wife. My father. My brother, and a small online business community I was a part of. The support and input I got back was life changing. Not only did I find out that many I shared with ALSO had experienced similar troubles, but I also found amazing advice on how to navigate forward again. Start looking for safe people to share your trouble with today!
It’s your turn! Have you experienced failure? What have you learned from it? I would love to hear from you – why not share a comment below? And if you are walking through failure, and you feel alone – reach out! I would love to be your friend through this hard time. Don’t be shy!