One day you woke up with an idea so great that you thought it would change your life forever. You brought that idea to fruition, but then, suddenly, it failed. What can you do when your business fails?
As entrepreneurs, we are often so blinded by passion that we forget to properly plan for or anticipate failures. I’m here to help by telling you how I overcame my first business failure.
Starting a business takes a lot of courage. It’s not a job that just any type of person can handle. So, before you read my failure story, don’t forget that you’re a special person for even starting a business in the first place.
When you have a great idea, it’s like your newborn baby. You don’t want anyone to touch it or criticize it. When I decided to start my business, I resisted advice or feedback from others, which is one of the main reasons it failed.
I thought my business idea was the best in the world
My mom had studied fashion design, but she’d never really worked in the field, and I was bored with my full-time job. I had the idea to combine our skills to start a new fashion business in Mexico. I was sure this was the best idea in the world, and thought so all the time.
The idea was to sell clothes in Mexico. It all sounded so fun and new that we were eager to give it a try at our first pop-up market. We took the risk, invested in enough fabric for around twenty items, and we hired a seamstress to produce our garments.
The big mistake was rushing through everything. We had never worked with that seamstress before, which led to a huge disaster. We gave her our patterns and fabric, drove to where she lived (which was very far), and just hoped everything would turn out perfectly.
After two weeks she delivered the clothes—and they were horrible. Everything was “trash” to us. I said to myself, no one will buy these clothes. My mom’s high-quality designs were not reflected in the final product. The pop-up market was the next day, and we were on the verge of tears.
We had already paid the seamstress, so this became our first business loss. We had twenty “finished” items, but they were no use to use at all.
After thoroughly going through every garment, we acknowledged that we could not sell anything. My mom looked at me and said we would fix it. She took her scissors and started to cut all the tops and sweaters into halves.
I remember sweating and feeling anxious because I had made an investment that would probably go to waste—but I trusted my mom’s instincts. We looked over all the scraps together and thought, why don’t we make vests?
Vests are one size, so we wouldn’t have to worry about creating different patterns. They’re versatile, and they’d be the fastest way to repurpose all our fabric scraps.
After a long night, we transformed the fashion disaster into new garments. We had an interesting marketing concept, too: our clothes represented body positivity and versatility with our “one-size-fits-all” philosophy.
Luckily, at our pop-up event, we sold out! We couldn’t believe it. We felt like a rising business. I was able to pay my credit card debt and reinvest the profits from our first event to start going to more.
We stuck by our one-size-fits-all philosophy; it became a powerful sales pitch for us. We went to more and more pop-up markets and started to grow a social media following.
One day, a top luxury hotel in Mexico City approached us about selling our clothing. We were so excited to officially start selling our inventory at a luxury brick-and-mortar location. Our business was starting to take off.
Everything made sense to me, but my product wasn’t selling
This is when we hit our first barrier. Our sales at pop-up markets were great, but selling at the hotel meant selling at a retail price of two-and-a-half times what our products were worth.
While we’d sell twenty vests at every pop-up market, the hotel was only selling one or two vests each month. This was when I learned the difference between setting a price that just made sense to me, versus building a proper pricing strategy. We had to sell at wholesale prices and still make a profit.
I didn’t understand why sales at the hotel were so low. At pop-up markets, women loved our concept, clothes, and overall vibe. My mom and I weren’t representing our brand at the hotel, and I wondered if the salespeople weren’t communicating our brand’s philosophy effectively.
The salespeople at the hotel were okay, but they weren’t us. They didn’t have the same passion for our product as we did. They didn’t have the passion to express the versatility and style and promote the body positivity of one-size clothing. They weren’t as creative in showing customers different ways to style our clothes.
As time passed, I became very disappointed to see that no one wanted to buy our beautiful vests in the luxury market that I thought was perfect for my brand.
Which leads to my next mistake.
I analyzed the market, made a logical price strategy, and built a website, thinking things would kick-off
After some months of trial and error, I decided I had to change my price strategy and look for luxury fabrics so that the price made sense with what my mom and I were creating. I analyzed the prices of the luxury fashion market, and we decided to change our concept to alpaca and wool vests.
We knew our product had to retail in the range of $100 – $300 USD, because alpaca and wool vests were in that range too. I analyzed so many websites and benchmarked their strategies. I made notes of their target audiences and social media strategies.
We set up a website and invested in a proper logo, samples, and stock. Everything made sense in the Excel workbook and strategy documents. We were ready to kick-off and reposition our brand.
I invested money and hoped for a fast ROI
Once everything was up and running, I couldn’t wait to start getting sales. I remember the day our website went live. I was eager to see new site visitors and sales from online strangers, but guess what: nothing happened.
Not one single sale over the course of several months. A few site visits from my friends and family, but my website was like a desert. I was so disappointed that I felt like giving up. If someone had pointed me toward the steps I needed to take to drive website traffic, I would have saved so much time and effort. I would have focused on creating a solid digital marketing strategy from the start.
I knew I had to sell at pop-up markets again to get the word out about my new concept and clothes. Over time, though, I realized that many clients were allergic to wool. I was specializing in a very narrow niche that needed a long-term strategy and an investment to really take off.
What went wrong? Why did my business fail?
I remember staying up at night, feeling like a failure. Not knowing why I wasn’t making any sales. Trying to figure out the secret to magically starting a successful online business overnight. What I learned was that I needed to slow down.
I needed to deeply understand how to build a solid business from scratch. I’ve always been impatient, anxious, and passionate about doing things as quickly as possible. These inner qualities and defects were what led to my first business failing.
I lacked a solid foundation. I wanted the easy way to success, but I didn’t want to get my hands dirty on importing, exporting, manufacturing, wholesale strategies, events, merchandising, advertising—the list goes on.
All I wanted was to magically open my computer and start getting sales without any effort, and now that I look back, I am aware that I was lacking the empathy and humility I needed to get things done.
I’d thought to myself, I have a master’s degree in digital marketing, I’ll figure out how to succeed in a couple of months on my own. I was so wrong.
Failures are the best life lessons
When your first business fails, you have everything to learn. You learn to listen before you speak. To research before you pay. To understand before you act.
Once you learn to get over your ego and deeply understand what went wrong, you’ll be able to pull yourself together and get back on your feet again.
I was aware that my first business was failing because I wanted to do everything fast and on my own. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but when you are starting any business—physical or digital—you can’t do it all alone.
You have to understand what needs to be on your plate, and know what your weaknesses are so you can ask for help in those areas.
I remember my dad saying constantly, You’re not going to make it that way. You need to think about “x” and “x” factors. I didn’t listen to him because I thought I was doing things the right way.
Now, no parent will tell you everything you need to do to launch your business from scratch. My point is, though, that the people who love you and are walking with you on your entrepreneurial path are also part of your wins and failures.
Listen to what they have to say, even if you don’t like it. You may thank them later, even if it’s something hard to hear, like, “I don’t like your product” or “I don’t understand your concept.”
Take these comments seriously and objectively. The basics of marketing rules are about listening to your customers. You can’t launch a product without knowing if your target audience will actually like it or not. Do some surveys with your close friends and take insights on what to focus on or improve to have a solid marketing message.
The more you fail, the more you’ll learn to improve and optimize your strategy
After some tough months of not knowing what to do when my first business was failing, I decided to focus on building a blog for my brand. Every digital guru I found online said SEO was important.
While I was discovering the blogging world, I began to fall in love with all the possibilities that come with building digital empires. I started putting into practice everything I was learning, and my blog started to take off. I was finally generating steady traffic, but still no sales.
Trial and error helps you understand what you need to do
I am completely aware that my impatient and anxious personality led me to spend too much time on what I enjoyed. I was spending so much time learning about blogging instead of taking care of other important tasks, like developing a wholesale strategy, importing, and exporting.
But during this period of digital marketing trial and error, some things became clear to me.
My mom had since moved to a different country, which made selling clothes three times harder than before. I felt like I was bringing her down. We were so happy when we were together, selling and meeting people in person in the pop-up markets. But now that we were thousands of miles apart, it didn’t make sense anymore to either of us. The passion that once enlightened our brand turned into nostalgia.
I felt horrible thinking about telling her that I didn’t want to sell clothes anymore. Like I didn’t try hard enough. But by then, other things had changed in my personal life, too.
Sometimes life will bring you failures that were meant to be failures, and you don’t have to feel bad about them.
Mistakes guide us to the path that was meant for us
I remember the day I picked up the phone and called my mom. I felt sad on the inside but secure on the outside—I knew I didn’t want to do this anymore. I explained to her that I loved that phase in our lives when we were together, but that it didn’t feel right to me anymore. I wanted to explore digital marketing and the blogging world.
She said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m your mother, and I’ll always support whatever you want to do. I was actually doing this for you.” I was so relieved that she was supportive. I felt I had lifted that weight off my shoulders.
No longer having to worry about the clothing business, I felt a world of possibilities for focusing on digital marketing. I was learning about opt-ins and had managed to grow my blog from 0-80k yearly visits.
Not knowing what to do when my first business failed opened a new door to me, something I’d never imagined.
So now I had this blog that was generating visits, but I had to find ways to monetize it through affiliate marketing. With perseverance and time, collaborations started to kick in.
With relationships, networking, and everything I was learning, I built my current online business, Green Studio, an ethical content marketing agency where I get to do what I love every day.
Finding purpose-driven entrepreneurs and creating content for them has become my passion. I love sharing all the steps to bring a brand to life, and helping others avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.
Maybe I don’t have a top-selling fashion brand today. Maybe I wasn’t meant to lead a fashion brand. But maybe my first business failure put me on the path I’m on today.
Our destinies are never written in stone. We have the power to change direction to where we want our lives to go.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try again
It’s funny. Today I woke up to an email advertising an MBA scholarship in fashion direction. Will I keep studying and try again in the future? I don’t know, maybe? But maybe I’ll find joy and feel complete with the online business I have today.
Sometimes we force ourselves to follow the steps that life brings us. Sometimes we study a certain career because our family members studied it, and we feel social pressure to follow the same steps. We feel like we may be judged if we choose differently and we try to avoid those uncomfortable situations.
We end up settling for less. We settle for our comfort zone. But I’m here to tell you to never settle.
You are the owner of your life. When something brings you down, I know it feels awful. The negative thoughts of failure can haunt us all the time. Believe me, I get it.
We have so many opportunities to try new things, but we often avoid them because we constantly live with that fear of failure.
What if I don’t go to that event, what if I don’t meet that person, what if I don’t send that email, etc. Don’t live your life looking book, asking yourself what if?
Instead, imagine the future. Imagine the outcome of your life if you did the things that scare you.
A few days ago I was staring at a giant Apple monitor. I am determined to buy it someday—not because I want an expensive electronic monitor, but because it will represent the reward of many years of hard work that my current business is bringing me.
I want to have that screen in my home and look at it every morning when I wake up, reminding myself I once dreamed of a girl-boss who managed to build an online empire.
Dreams can become real if you work for them
Don’t underestimate the power of daydreaming future versions of yourself. Of course, the path to get to your dream is scary. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to make your dreams real.
Mistakes are a part of life. Mistakes are the reason you are smarter every day. One day you will have made so many mistakes, people will refer to you as wise.
Life is all about making these mistakes again and again. Don’t feel bad about falling down, cleaning your hands, and getting back on your feet again. A lot of entrepreneurs talk about how successful they are, but many don’t highlight how they got there and that it’s an ongoing process.
Understand the process. Learn from all the barriers. Change what has to be changed. Focus on where you want to be.
I hope that your biggest mistake brings you your biggest achievement, and that if your first business fails, you try harder next time.