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The Fear Of Failure

November 23, 2009

Looking at him today, it appears that success was inevitable for Frank. Good luck, hard work and the right timing appear to have been the correct formula. Success always looks easy once it has been achieved. Those that miss the journey and only see the final destination will never understand the fine line between success and failure.

His trade was that of a tool and die maker. He saw an opportunity in the emerging computer industry for a company to produce short runs of high quality, precision stampings. His business is now well established with gross revenues in excess of two million dollars per year.

Hidden behind the prosperous veneer of Frank’s current business is the fact that on his journey from tool and die maker to successful business owner, Frank had twice failed. From each of his failed ventures, Frank learned. He was fortunate enough to get another chance and smart enough to have profited from his earlier mistakes.

There are differing opinions concerning the relationship between failure and the successful entrepreneur. The fear of failure is undeniably a great motivator for us all. Some believe that an entrepreneur that has yet to encounter failure is somehow inexperienced. Others look only for those that have an unblemished record of success. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

To have flirted with failure, to have seen it up close and personal, but to have managed to avoid it, is a valuable experience. It is at once humbling and exhilarating.

The fear of failure can be a positive motivator that makes the business owner work longer and harder. It differentiates the entrepreneur from the administrator. It’s that little difference that makes you turn around and answer that last phone call just as you were leaving the office at the end of a long day.

The fear of failure prevents the onset of complacency. I can recall a lesson that I learned from a successful business owner early in my career. He was discussing the extensive traveling he had done during an era when cross country travel was not so easy. He recalled being asked the question, “Why are you going there?” His reply, “That’s what I am going there to find out.”

Conventional wisdom holds that early stage ventures that fail do so because their owners lack balanced business experience. The three basic skills considered to be the key to business success are technical, sales and financial.

Technical competence means having the knowledge to understand and produce the products and services that your business will attempt to sell. Many businesses are founded because a technically skilled individual had a “better idea”. But just as Frank discovered in his earlier attempts, there is more to building a business than just having a better idea.

Many a potentially great business never will be because the product or service was never sold. Selling skills are essential to success in every business. Not everybody is a born salesperson, but competence in sales and marketing are skills that can be acquired.

And finally, the successful business will require the skills of a good money manager. Regardless of how good the product is and how many people that are willing to buy it, if, in the final analysis, you don’t manage to hold on to a few of the dollars that pass through your hands, your business will be short lived.

While it would be nice to be blessed with technical, marketing and financial competence, few prospective business owners possess such a balanced background. Frank started his successful stamping business with strong technical skills. In reflecting on his earlier ventures, Frank readily admits that a lack marketing and financial skills were significant contributors to his failures.

While businesses may fail because of a weakness, they succeed because of strengths. Frank’s ultimate success was because of his technical skills as a tool and die maker enabled him to recognize a developing opportunity. He was equipped him to satisfy the need that was created. His earlier failures provided him with the insights to address the marketing and financial shortcomings that doomed his previous ventures.

Because it’s your business, be prepared to walk that fine line between success and failure. Look across that line and learn, then do whatever it takes to stay on the successful side.

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