I love the word “fail”. Not only is it a good search term on YouTube to return some funny videos but it also means something great.
If you have failed you have both tried something new and learnt from it. These two things are invaluable.
I’m twenty seven. And since I was about sixteen, I have wanted to have my own business and be my own boss. So over the years, I have started and ended many businesses. From freelancing to e-commerce to media.
I learned a lot of things by having these businesses. Every one of them failed in some way or another. Some due to my lack of knowledge, some my lack of bravery and some were not very good ideas.
Here are some of the bigger projects I have started over the years. How they failed and what I learned from them. My hope is that you can “pre-learn” these lessons so you don’t have to make the mistakes yourself.
Back when I was about sixteen, I was part of a church called D7 Church. It doesn’t exist now bar some remnants on old social medias that we forgot the passwords to.
At some point, I was put in charge of the media team. With a crappy camera and a complete ignorance of how young and dumb I looked, I would record the weekly news and other media-y things.
At some point I was creating things like motion backgrounds for the song lyrics during worship and other generic things like that. So I decided I could also monetise this stuff by creating a website and putting it all up for sale there.
This one failed quickly. “Why?” I hear you ask.
I was sixteen.
I had NO idea what I was doing and did no research on how to do it. I just started learning HTML and CSS to build a crappy website and stuck the stuff up there too.
The stuff I was selling wasn’t that good.
I didn’t really compare the stuff I was making to my competitors. I just made stuff. Looking back on it now, after learning more, creating more and being more self-aware, I can see that I didn’t stop to think about if people would actually want to buy my product.
I didn’t know how to sell stuff online.
This is the biggie. But there isn’t much to say about this one. If you are going to sell media online, don’t build the website yourself. Use Shopify or Wordpress with the WooCommerce plugin.
True Vine Creative Studios
After about a year of learning web design, I decided to start a freelance business. I mentioned it to my friends and family and charged tiny amounts of money to make them average websites.
This one never really failed as much as just fizzled out. I never took it further that those friends who were starting businesses at the time. Once they had their sites, I lost all my potential clients.
I never really advertised my services.
I didn’t have the guts to put myself out there. Maybe I didn’t think I was good enough. I got very few clients and most were friends who were just starting businesses and wanted just a one off static site with a contact form.
I didn’t charge enough.
I wasn’t really involved in the world of business or freelancing so when I saw people who charged upwards of £40 an hour, I though I could NEVER charge that much! Who would pay £1000 for a website? I didn’t know that businesses will because that is what a good website is worth to them.
No one saw my £100 for a website and thought that that was a great offer. They just saw it as cheap and probably low quality.
I charge £50 an hour now.
A few years ago, I was dying to create a business that made some passive income. Freelancing is great and all but you have to work for every penny you earn. An e-commerce business, on the other hand. Once that is set up, you just cash the cheques right? Especially if it is a dropshipping business.
I made an online store selling quadcopters and their parts. You know, drones.
Here is why it failed.
I dropshipped from China.
People expect to get what they ordered quickly. Even if the website says that it may take 4–6 weeks for their item to arrive, most people won’t read that. They will email you, and call you after a couple of weeks demanding money back or to know when their stuff will arrive.
I was on holiday in Rome when I got an angry call from a customer wondering where the stuff he ordered was.
So don’t dropship from China or some other far away place. Don’t use Ali Express. The market for that type of business is saturated too much by now anyway.
I had an insecure website
I didn’t really know what HTTPS was back then so I ignored it. Though nothing bad happened to me as the site was so small. Things could have gone bad if someone tried to hack the site.
They might have gotten my users personal details because none of it was encrypted as it was transferred from their computer to my server. I used PayPal to take payments to their card details WERE secure though.
Make sure you secure your site with HTTPS and other security measures. They are easy to implement and will boost your rankings on search engines. Or use a service like Shopify. Security is built in.
I didn’t invest much money.
I only invested enough to get the Wordpress site up and running. Maybe £50 in all, including the domain, WooCommerce theme and hosting.
All the products were dropshipped so I didn’t need to pay for them either. But I do wonder if I had bought a bunch of stock instead. Would that have motivated me to keep going too? If I had all this stock sitting around, would I have kept trying to get it out the door rather than give up when people started calling and emailing me?
I didn’t to enough research.
It was a good business to get in to at the time. Lots of people were getting into drones and other flying RC things so I think I could have found a place in the market. But I didn’t do enough research into things like competitive pricing, what exact products people were buying or where I can find these potential customers.
Do your research before you start an e-commerce business. Know how you will stick out from the competition and where your customers are.
While I was freelancing as a web / graphic designer, my wife was doing the same as a photographer. And this business had potential. The lessons learned from my previous projects and the ones learnt here could have been applied here and got this thing going. But we had kids and that is what ultimately ended this business.
But here are some mistakes that we made in this business.
We offered too many services.
We offered branding and graphic design, photography, web design and a bunch of other things in between to all different sized businesses in different markets. We never specialised. We never got known for doing something really well.
We should have focused on a certain size of business in a certain area with a certain service offering but we decided to end the business instead because:
We had kids.
This isn’t a mistake or anything. But this is why we ended the business. I still had a full time job because Strawberry Studios wasn’t bringing in quite enough so we ended up with so little time to put into it.
If you know you are going to have kids in the next few years, plan the business around that. You can either half-ass two things or whole-ass one. We decided to whole-ass parenting.
There are so many more lessons that I have learned through these journeys but these are just a few that are transferable into most other ventures I may find myself on in the future.
What good came from all of this?
I still don’t run my own business full time. I am not yet my own boss.
But I do really like my job. I am a web developer. A job I got because I did the freelancing. It went on my CV none the less and potential employers saw that and gave me a chance.
I have learned so much more in the past two and a half years at this job than I did in the other businesses that I feel that I am ready to try again.
I might fail my next venture too and maybe the next. But each is going to earn me more and I will definitely learn more from them.