Turning Your “Oops!” Into Opportunity

Failure is a big part of learning to be successful in business.  Some of the most valuable lessons are learned when we stumble, fall, get back up, dust ourselves off, and ask, “What can I do better next time?”

As I talked about in my post on the importance of transparency, this week I wanted to ask the experts what they could share about their greatest start-up lessons, and posed the following question –

What was your biggest start-up mistake, and the valuable lesson you learned from it?

We received 16 outstanding and enlightening responses last week — Thank you, everyone!!  This group of generous experts represent the fact that we all make mistakes, but that doesn’t make us failures.  The comments and stories shared are a wealth of knowledge about mistakes to avoid when starting-up.  If you encounter any of these scenarios, or are in a pickle at the moment, I hope you will be inspired to find a solution or discover the lesson you were meant to learn from your struggle by reading these stories.  Enjoy!

Jean Compton (@jeunesse1) – “My first business venture was with a foreign-based (Swedish) line of direct-selling, skin care/cosmetics.  Although the product was well-known in Europe and as good or better than any high-end product familiar to USA residents, no one here had ever heard of it.  I had a hard time getting people to get past that.  As my uncle, who owned a lawn care business told me…’My best lawn mowers are foreign-made but I can never sell them.  People always want the popular,brand name that they are familiar with.’ Although I can’t blame my ‘failure’ on this factor alone, it turned out to be a telling omen for my product/business as well!”
Founder of JeanCompton.com

Lauren MacEwen (@laurencubed) – “Know when to say no. This has been a hard one for me. Especially when you need clients and need money. It is hard to turn down a paying job. You always have to evaluate the cost/value of your work. How much time will the work take? Make sure you are working to your value or you might be costing yourself business.  I had a client who offered me projects that would completely dominate my time, to the exclusion of everything else.  I realized that my business was suffering because I could not do anything else but her projects and they were not bringing enough value to justify the time.  Sometimes you have to say no.”
Primary Strategist and Creator of SM Cubed Consulting

Sandra Paul (@SHOPCHAMELEON) – “My biggest start-up mistake I actually thought I was paying attention too was not properly researching companies that I needed to work with such as website developer and marketing companies. Because my mind was so urgently looking for success hopefully by getting responses through sales caused me to make mistakes and therefore because such in a rush I fell for companies “sales pitch”. I became a victim of the most important rule, patience. This lack of patience unfortunately caused me to lose over $8,000 but learned a valuable lesson – thorough knowledge by researching and patience is key.”
Owner of Chameleon Accessories Boutique, LLC

Aaron S. Beals (@RingRingLLC) – “I learned to meet with people to network and see who they might know that can help me build my business. Biggest mistake – meeting with people and trying to sell them, when I could reach more potential candidates by helping them to “sell” recommend my product to their sphere of influence.”
Founder of Ring Ring LLC

Bonita M. Tompkins – “My biggest start-up mistake was not sticking to my intuition and belief when I was signing a contract. I questioned certain points and wanted to make the contract clearer (including a scope of services on whom did what) however I was convinced that I was being a bit difficult by needling the specific points I desired and required. When the contract was breached by the party I was in contract with, it destroyed my business, and the recourse has been extremely difficult whereas it is a large semi-quasi governmental agency. The lesson I learned is to clearly state what you require under no uncertain terms.”
President of Williams Maritime Repair Service, Inc.

Angelique Rewers (@arewers) – “As a female small business owner, who’s been in business for 5 years, I can confidently say that my biggest start-up mistake (that lasted for quite a while) was saying “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. As a result, my resources were spread too thin — and I was spread too thin! It took me getting pregnant with twins, and being on bed rest to finally slow down.
Being forced to say “no” and taking it slower than I wanted to taught me a few things, including:

  • Nothing terrible will happen if I don’t say “yes” to everyone and everything that comes my way.
  • Many opportunities that come your way might be good for the other person, but not so good for you. Know the “what’s in it for you” before making a decision.
  • There is ALWAYS another opportunity around the corner and, 9 times out of 10, the “yes” that follows the “no” is way better.
  • You have significantly better results when you focus a lot of attention on a few key things.
  • Never — even if you had a 1,000 years to live — could you get it “all” done anyway. No one even knows what “all” is. So it’s better not to kill yourself trying and instead enjoy doing the things you’ve committed yourself to and do them well.

Ironically, narrowing down choices and creating focus and clarity are the very things that I do for my clients. Yet I had a really hard time doing it for myself.”
Founder of Richer. Smarter. Happier.

Patrysha Korchinski (@Patrysha) – “Biggest mistakes as a start up…Underestimating the costs involved in a community project and overestimating the impact it would have on marketing my own services. I got caught in a huge mess when I estimated a program I created would attract 1000 participants and over 3500 signed up, putting printing costs way over budget and then when inquiries didn’t come in over my own services and clients put jobs on hold it put the whole business into a tailspin from the squeeze.”
Marketing Witch for PK Marketing Solutions

Ashli Norton (@SimpleLeap) – “I would have to say our biggest mistake when starting our small software firm was not doing enough market research. All the business websites, books, and trade articles emphasize how important it is to do market research, but of course you don’t take heed to that powerful advise because you are so excited to get to “the fun part” until it’s too late.

If we would have taken the advice of those with experience, we could have not experienced the typical small business growing pains of incorrectly pricing our product, not knowing how our student audience makes purchases, who or what influences the student mark to act, and what exactly to include in our product offering (in this case our flashcard program) that would have increased our profit margin.  Unfortunately, it’s taken us all three years in business to learn this on the way, luckily we think we have these issues solved now, but this undoubtedly slowed the growth of our business, as new issues have definitely arisen (as always in any business).”
Co-Founder/Business Manager of SimpleLeap Software

Bibby Gignilliat (@PartiesThatCook) – “I have been in business since 1999 so have had plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. But I believe that the only REAL mistakes are the ones we don’t learn from. “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Here is my biggest one: I should have started my business alone. I never considered all of my options and instead quickly jumped into a partnership. My advice to other would be to choose business partners carefully, or better yet, go it alone and hire contractors.”
Owner of Parties That Cook

Marc Anderson – “Our biggest startup mistake was being too frugal with our money and not investing it back into the business in such things as advertising, promotion or outreach.  Sometimes you get so caught up in being a startup that its hard to spend money once you get it as you think it may never come back.  Over time I learned that you have to reinvest in your business in order for it to succeed…as long as you have more money coming in every year, it should all work out.”
Manager/Owner of online English training company, Talk To Canada

MJ DeMarco (@mjdemarco) – “The biggest failure, or wisdom gained from the failure, was trying to force the market with what I WANTED versus giving the market what IT WANTED.  Once I let the market dictate policy direction via their feedback (and complaints), my business exploded.”
Author/Entrepreneur of The Millionaire Fastlane

Victoria Olubi (@mycurlsuk) – “My biggest startup mistake was starting my first business on a tiny shoe string budget. Because I had so little to startup, I had to do virtually everything myself which included everything from manufacturing the products to web design, PR and marketing. My advice to others (especially young entrepreneurs like myself) would be to keep your day/ part-time job until the business is profitable and/or you have additional capital i.e. in the form of an investor.”
Director of My Curls

Derrick Hayes (@encouragement4u) – “My biggest mistake was to do everything myself and not having a mentor. I overcome failure by learning from others who are successful.”
Encouragement Speaker, Founder of WOE Enterprises

Barbara Hemphill (@papertigerlady) – “My biggest mistake was not creating a Board of Advisors to assist me in growing the business from the very beginning. Having consistent access to people who understand my vision and who will tell me the truth based on their experience has been the key to surviving the recent economic chaos. I wish I had done it years ago!”
Founder and CEO of the Productive Environment Institute

Ankit Duggal (@RERLLC) – “As a real estate investor, my company specializes in purchasing, renovating, and then selling distressed properties. At the start of the business, I had no external funding to rely on, so I was left to bootstrap the entire venture. In consequence, I tightened my pockets as necessary, and when it came to renovating the properties, I avoided any spending on anything I deemed a luxury, with “luxury” including the granite, stainless steel appliances, and certain finishing touches that tend to draw house hunters. Sad to say it was my financial savvies, of which I was so proud of, that became the cause of my biggest failure as a real estate entrepreneur. Since saving money became my primary target, I completely disregarded the needs of the homeowner— my most important source of demand. As a result of my negligence, I wasn’t able to sell my product— the renovated houses— because it wasn’t what homebuyers wanted. It’s a bit ironic, but my determination to save money is what caused me to lose money at the end of my first few projects.  Needless to say that today, our houses all boast polished wooden floors, some of the best quality granite, top of the line stainless steel appliances, and unique finishing touches that our buyers enjoy.”
Founder, Investment Director of RER, LLC

Shawn Brodof (@clarityshawn) – “#1 Start-Up Mistake – Unrealistic Expectations of the Time Needed to Establish Your Business

Subscribing to the “Field of Dreams” business building theory (formerly known as “hanging a shingle”) rarely works, regardless of sector or industry. Starting a business with such naïve and overly optimistic expectations can cause frustration when things do not turn out the way you thought and in the time frame you had arbitrarily set. It is of utmost importance that you set realistic expectations for the amount of time, energy, and money that will be required to get your business successfully off the ground. You must be willing and able to weather the inevitable ups and downs of starting and running your own business. This is especially important for those of you who are starting your first business.”
President / Head Coach of Clarity Coaching

My sincere thanks to all our respondents this week! Openly sharing your expertise and experiences is a huge asset to this blog and the readership. I wish you all a wonderful week and hope to see you here again.

This week’s question is –

What single person has had the greatest impact on your

business success to date, and why?

Why should I join the discussion?

Because this online forum is a great place for us to exchange ideas, learn from each other and network. My goal is to unite successful women entrepreneurs to share our insights and solutions to the challenges we most commonly face in our businesses.

How do I get involved?

Every Monday I will post a new Question of the Week. This is a great opportunity for you to bring your expertise to the table. Using the NEW link below, please submit a one paragraph response by Saturday, and the following week I will share our community responses on my blog.
To submit your response CLICK HERE

I look forward to your response to this week’s question! If you have any questions you know where to find me. Have a great week!


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  1. Posted April 1, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great post Shannon, really enjoyed it. The best way to learn is from other people’s mistakes, isn’t it?

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