Believe it or not, failure is something many are afraid of! It might surprise you that more people are afraid of failure than spiders—31 percent vs. 30 percent—Who knew!?

But fear not!

We all have this fear, which is why it even has a name—atychiphobia. The thing is, if you don’t try something, then you won’t fail, but you won’t succeed either.

So, the secret is to take risks and use those failures as lessons learned to move us forward toward achieving our mission. And in fact, some of the biggest business successes come from learning from past mistakes! So let’s look at some tips and examples on how we can fail forward and succeed.

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    The 9 Biggest Business Lessons Learned From Failure

    Here’s the thing: when it comes to learning from failure, there’s no exact formula. That said, science does suggest that failing about 15 percent of the time can be a good thing—enough to challenge you and give you an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, but not so much that you get discouraged and give up.

    My take—failure in business is inevitable—at least in some form or another. So if that’s the case, fail fast and fail forward!

    I understand, embracing failure is never easy—especially in the beginning. However, feel the fear and do it anyway because failure can teach you a lot!

    So let’s look at how any small business owner can turn a failure into their biggest business lesson learned and use it as a stepping stone toward achieving their mission.

    A Little Humility Goes A Long Way

    humility - business lessons learned
    Humility is a powerful tool for your toolbelt—it positions you to fail forward quickly with clarity and purpose—it can also do wonders for your likeability factor.

    Have you heard the statistic that 90 percent of startups fail? Of that 90 percent, 10 percent fail within their first year.

    No one builds a business with the expectation that it will fail. Even if you’ve heard that daunting statistic, it’s easy to believe or convince yourself that it won’t happen to you; after all, you’re invincible—Right?

    The Optimism Bias Belief

    This feeling of invincibility can be attributed to what’s known as the optimism bias. This is a belief that nothing negative will happen to you because you’re naturally luckier than most. This bias affects 80 percent of people and, on the positive side, can help you live a longer and happier life.

    Now, I happen to be a very optimistic person. However, I take great pains to stay grounded. Why? Because I don’t know what I don’t know. We all have blind spots.

    Yes, it’s okay to be optimistic—just don’t be foolish. Believing you’re luckier, more intelligent, or simply better than others can lead to very negative consequences.

    The Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Another cognitive bias that can impact you is the Dunning-Kruger effect. With this, you believe you know more than you actually do. For example, the statement, “they know just enough to be dangerous,” is based on this cognitive bias.

    The Effects Of Cognitive Biases On Humility

    These same cognitive biases that lead to you overestimating your abilities typically lead to a lack of humility as well. Thus, impacting relationships with your team, clients, and self. It can also stop you from reaching out for help and asking questions. This is where your ego gets in the way of success.

    Final Thoughts On The Impact Of Humility

    Humility is a powerful tool for your toolbelt—it positions you to fail forward quickly with clarity and purpose—it can also do wonders for your likeability factor.

    Think Big But Start Small

    start small - business lessons learned
    Regarding the entrepreneurial overwhelm caused by too much possibility, permit yourself to think big but start small.

    Entrepreneurs are natural dreamers. Visionaries. We see possibility everywhere, and we’re rarely short on ideas. As an entrepreneur, you’re probably overflowing with ideas—I know I am. But, unfortunately, at times, it’s like a faucet that won’t shut off. This is both good and bad.

    The good is that we can see many pathways to success.

    The bad is the sheer overwhelm that comes as a result. Let me explain.

    Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

    Choosing which idea(s) to run with is challenging for many entrepreneurs. It can be downright paralyzing. As a coach over the past few decades, I’ve stepped into this challenge to assist many an entrepreneur.

    The most typical scenario I see is the small business owner trying to execute way too many ideas simultaneously—spreading their focus paper-thin. Never really allowing themselves to excel with any particular idea—some of which are way more aligned with their overall vision than others.

    Always remember not all ideas are created equal. Without a process for capturing and triaging your ideas, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

    A “good” idea executed excellently will always trump several “excellent” ideas executed poorly.

    Example: The Chiropractor

    For example, let’s say your goal is to open a chiropractor practice. In your business model, you decide that you don’t want to only focus on providing treatment for various conditions but also wellness coaching and nutritional supplements.

    While on the surface, this seems logical and doable as these three (as I call them) revenue streams are related and can serve the same target market. However, you quickly find that you’re barely keeping your head above water. You’re doing an “okay” job with each revenue stream, but your results are far from spectacular.

    Unfortunately (or fortunately, it depends on how you look at it), in today’s world, okay isn’t enough. You need something to help you stand out—’Differentiate or Die‘ I always say. Therefore, focusing on ‘the fewer, better’ activities, ideas, projects, revenue streams, etc., is paramount to your success in business.

    Now I am not saying not to dream big. Please do. Personally, I love big thinkers.

    For you, our chiropractor friend, maybe taking on one revenue stream at a time would be a better approach. Once you get, let’s say, your core practice humming like a well-oiled machine and profitable, then and only then, take on the second revenue stream of your choice. Then, continue in that fashion with any additional desired revenue streams going forward. Remember, success begets further success!

    Please note that each one of those revenue streams could be a separate business in and of itself—They require different teams, systems, and controls to operate them effectively and appropriately.

    Final Thoughts On Think Big But Start Small

    When you focus on being too much to too many, you end up being very little to very few.

    Focus on the fewer better and be willing to put all else in the proverbial “parking lot” until you are ready to take them on with fearsome focus.

    Stay aligned with your purpose, focused on your mission, and true to your core values, and you will find the success you seek. Stay patient. Stay the course!

    Playing The Blame Game Only Hurts You

    the blame game - business lessons learned
    Play the blame game, and you will lose!

    As a child, you may have learned to steer clear of blame as much as possible. After all, if something were your fault, it could often lead to unpleasant consequences.

    However, the business world doesn’t always have to be so punishing. Instead of searching for someone else to blame, taking responsibility can be empowering and freeing. Though it may not feel that way at first, shifting your focus away from blame will help you realize that what is most important is learning and growing from your mistakes and seeking solutions that benefit yourself and others.

    When you play the blame game, you’ll eventually learn that the person you are hurting the most is you.

    How? There are a couple of ways.


    When you’re looking for someone to blame, it’s easy to miss the valuable lessons learned that can help you grow your business.

    For instance, let’s say a cleaning company lost a big client. Instead of pointing fingers, taking some time and evaluating the situation is essential. Doing so can help you identify ways to avoid making the same mistake in the future, build protective measures, and develop better processes.

    With this approach, failure becomes a source of learning rather than something to be ashamed of or pinned on somebody else — allowing you to continue improving your business instead of repeating the past.


    Instead of looking for someone to blame, you can create a psychologically safe workplace. What does that mean? In plain speak, it’s a workspace where everyone feels comfortable and secure enough to speak up and be their authentic selves without fear of shame or punishment.

    Creating such an environment has countless benefits; among them are the promotion of creativity and higher engagement within the team.

    Take a real estate office, for instance. If someone puts forth an idea for a new way to market houses—one that requires time and money—that doesn’t work out, don’t point fingers. Instead, learn from the experience and use it as an opportunity to become better in the future.

    When your team is confident that mistakes won’t lead to punishment or embarrassment, they’ll be more willing to contribute ideas and provide feedback.

    Be Flexible—Your Rigidity Is Not An Asset

    flexibility - business lessons learned
    To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must learn to roll with the punches—and there will be plenty of punches!

    An idea and a plan are great, but if you want to be successful in business, you need to stay flexible. After all, what works for you may not work for your customers, so if you’re too rigid, you will lose potential clients.

    Fortunately, failure can teach us the importance of being more malleable. So when something doesn’t go as planned, and you realize that the “perfect solution” isn’t quite perfect enough, take it from there! Learn how to use planning while still being able to bend a little bit—see it as an opportunity for continuous improvement.

    By being flexible and learning to “roll with the punches,” you’ll be two steps ahead the next time somebody asks for such an adaptation. In other words: take failure as a chance to keep growing—personally and professionally.

    Turn Negative Feedback Into Improvement

    turn negative feedback into improvement
    Learn to make lemons out of lemonade—all negative feedback is an opportunity to learn and fail forward!

    Getting positive feedback is great—it means you’re doing something right! But an even greater opportunity for growth comes from negative feedback. It may not feel great, but it’s a chance to improve both customer experience and service quality.

    First, take the time to apologize and try to make it right. A positive customer journey is critical, especially with millennial customers—they tend to be willing to pay more for a good experience.

    Secondly, use that feedback as a learning opportunity. Grab every chance you get to identify problem spots, smooth out the kinks, and continuously improve your service—that’s how you’ll meet customers’ needs even better in the future.

    You Can't Succeed With Only One Foot In

    one foot in - business lessons learned
    Regarding your business, either play full out or don't bother playing!

    Starting your own business can be daunting, and you may not always feel 100 percent confident. But that’s a good thing—staying humble by asking for help and planning for pitfalls will definitely set you up for success.

    Of course, throwing caution to the wind isn’t the way forward either. To make it as a small business, you must fully commit and be passionate about your venture. It might sometimes seem easier to only have one foot in—but in the end, giving it your everything will set you apart from the crowd.

    Plus, if things don’t work out as planned, reflect on it as an important lesson learned and come back stronger than ever!

    Networking Is Key To Business Success

    networking - business lessons learned
    Dig your well long before you become thirsty with a deep and powerful network of people!

    The best way to guarantee success and avoid frustration in business is to start building your network now – it’s like having a deep well of resources available when you need them. By making the time to build strong relationships and make more strategic connections, you’ll have all the resources you need, from team members to solutions for problems and even new customers! Plus, it’s much easier than waiting until you’re in a bind – so don’t wait until you’re thirsty before you start digging.

    Luckily there are plenty of options out there to make networking easy—both online and offline—so get to it and watch your business thrive!

    Learn To Say "No"

    how to say no - business lessons learned
    Be a responsible steward of your most precious commodity (time) by adding the word "no" to your everyday vocabulary.

    Saying “no” isn’t easy.


    The last thing most entrepreneurs want is to disappoint someone—let them down—or, worse yet, appear weak.

    However, saying “no” is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox! It allows you to protect your most precious commodity—your time!

    Want more respect? Start by respecting yourself first.

    Want to increase your success in the things that matter most to you while reducing the likelihood of failure? Then, stop taking on other people’s ‘monkeys!’

    Always remember, you can’t be everything to everyone—so stop trying. When your modus operandi is to say “yes” to everything and allow everyone to dump their ‘stuff’ on you, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Don’t allow others to make their ‘monkeys’ your ‘monkeys!’

    Are we on the same page?

    Don't Give Up So Easily

    dont give up
    Quitting is easy. However, the regret of doing so can last a lifetime!

    One of the most important business lessons that can be gleaned from failure is to never give up. Even when times are tough, you must persevere and find a way to make it work.

    Just ask any (if not all) uber-successful small business owners, and they’ll likely verify this exact sentiment—they are successful because they didn’t give up. They kept pushing forward and trying through the tough times. They knew that sometimes they needed to course correct, all the while maintaining consistency with their efforts. Sometimes they felt overwhelmed and had to call a brief time out, but they took the time to reflect on the lessons learned from their failure, returned stronger, and worked harder.

    Quick Recap: 9 Lessons Learned That Failure Teaches

    So, in summary, here are the nine business lessons learned that failure teaches small business owners.

    9 Lessons Learned That Failure Teaches

    Business Lessons Learned: Examples of Companies That Turned Failure Into Success

    Whether you’re a small business or a big business, you can learn from the successes and failures of others. Many companies have taken the opportunity to turn their failure into successes. They show us the important lesson to keep pushing forward. The names that we mention today are some pretty well-known companies. However, the lessons learned here can get applied to companies of any size.

    Jack In The Box

    This well-known food chain is known for its burgers and extended hours. While it might not be the healthiest option, crowds flock here for the prices and yummy food. However, in 1993, things quickly turned sour for this company. First, there was an outbreak of E. coli from undercooked hamburgers. This led to the deaths of four children and over 700 people becoming ill. Sales dropped drastically during this time and continued to decline over the next two quarters. 

    This huge failure for this food chain could have led to them closing their doors forever. However, this company knew the core values of customer experience and owning up to their mistakes. Not only did they offer to cover the medical expenses of the people affected, but they also completely overhauled their food prep procedures.


    If you love your Converse shoes, you might be interested to know that this company has almost ceased to exist. After almost 100 years in existence, in 2001, they reported losses of over 5.4 million dollars and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

    The power of networking saved this company from complete ruin. Nike, a former competitor, bought Converse for 305 million dollars in 2003. After the sale, Nike worked to network with artists, designers, and other brands to build the Converse line. This rebranding made Converse a household name again, and sales in 2003 totaled over 200 million dollars. Today Converse is still going and is well-known due to the nostalgia associated with the brand.


    It might be surprising to see Starbucks on this list, but it’s true! In 2008 Starbucks saw a 42 percent slide in stock price. This was due to a few factors: competition from fast food restaurants, rising prices for food commodities, and over-expansion. But, once again, Starbucks is a company that focuses on networking, not doing too much at once, and improving from negative feedback to overcome their failure. 

    They brought back their former CEO and focused on providing quality coffee to customers. They also reorganized their supply chain, closed 600 stores, and invested in ad campaigns. As a result, Starbucks continues to do well today because of its willingness to turn failure into growth opportunities.

    Milton Hershey

    If you’re a chocolate lover, you likely recognize this name. However, one of the biggest names in chocolate now, Milton Hershey’s business, did not begin successfully. In his early days, Hershey opened a candy shop in Philadelphia. However, he never profited and ended up needing to close the doors. Not easily swayed, Hershey opened a shop in New York a few years later. Unfortunately, this shop also ended up getting closed due to financial reasons.

    Hershey wasn’t a quitter, though, and he took the lessons he learned in Philadelphia and New York and applied them once again to a new business. This time he decided to focus on doing one thing great; he began to sell only caramels. He built his business making excellent caramels and was eventually able to expand and sell that business for one million dollars in 1900. Five years later, he opened the Hershey Chocolate Factory, which still exists today.

    J.K. Rowling

    J.K Rowling is a well-known name today. However, before her books were published, she struggled through lean times with a series of personal setbacks that would make it difficult even to write the Harry Potter series. When she completed the books, various publishers rejected her time after time. She submitted her books to 12 major publishing firms and was told no by each.

    She kept pushing forward, and it took the eight-year-old daughter of an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing reading her book to achieve success. This eight-year-old loved the book so much that the company decided to publish it. Today, Harry Potter is a well-known series that’s still popular. J.K Rowling has won numerous awards, and she’s one of the few writers worldwide to reach billionaire status. Rowling refused to accept failure and built an industry on a series of children’s books.


    Airbnb is well-known today, but many people didn’t understand the concept when it started. Because of this, they struggled to find people who were willing to invest in the concept. Multiple prominent investors turned them down in Silicon Valley. However, they used their resources and found ways to get funded and start growing. This attitude of not giving up and being willing to use current network connections allowed them to get their footing. 

    Eventually, they could find investors that really helped fuel their growth. As a result, Airbnb has been a game changer in today’s culture. Now you’ll find apps that allow you to rent other people’s cars, couch surf, and more. They took the time to fully commit and invest in their idea to be the name they are today.

    Hire a Business Coach and Build Your Business

    hire a business coach

    Failure is tough. However, you’ll grow if you take the opportunity to learn from your failures. These examples of lessons learned show us that. These companies and entrepreneurs started from nothing and built empires because they failed forward. Are you looking to grow your business? What’s your biggest challenge?

    Working with a business coach can have a huge impact and help you as you explore your business opportunities. So check out our MINDstretch coaching programs today, and let us help fuel your growth.

    Need Help Jump-starting Your Business in 2023... For FREE?

    Grab a complimentary copy of our newly revised 2023 Strategic Planner—a great tool to help “Get Your Year in Gear” in 2023!

    2023 Strategic Planner 3D Cover

    We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.




    The Dean Mercado Company helps growth-minded entrepreneurs optimize and scale their business.


    128 Millport Circle, Suite 200
    Greenville, SC 29607
    ☏ +1 (631) 333-7436

    2023 Strategic Planner 3D Cover

    Strategic Planner


    Position your business for massive growth with our complimentary guide!

    Scroll to Top