Lessons Learned: When Things Don’t Quite Go As Expected
One of the aspects that I enjoy the most about what we do at YMMY is seeing the potential of a project, and going full force to reach our goal.
Being an independent business owner, who is not tied up by committees, investors, equity-partners nor shareholders, I can decide which initiatives I choose to believe in — by placing my team’s time, effort, and money — and which ones to decline.
When my friend and mentor Topher Morrison approached me with a grand idea, one that I thought would not only be successful for him, but also help aspiring business owners, I was honored to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.
The premise of the campaign was simple: Present local entrepreneurs the opportunity to compete for a Grand Prize of $25,000, by doing exactly what they do at every business meeting, networking group, and sales presentation… Pitch their business in 5 minutes or less.
I thought it was a fantastic initiative, and as we do only with people we absolutely like and initiatives we fully believe in, we set normal business practice aside and invested our resources well beyond our agreements and project scopes.
As I said before, things didn’t quite go as expected.
In the words of Topher himself:
“The result? Pathetic. In fact, we had to pull the competition because the number of applicants were so low we couldn’t come close to covering the prize package.”
Reading this is absolutely heart-wrenching. (But feel free to read the rest of his blog post.)
Now make no mistake… Our campaign achieved great visibility:
- • We attracted around 3,500 targeted visitors to our event page.
- • Hundreds of people gladly opted in to our content marketing funnel and email sequence.
- • Our campaign videos on Facebook achieved over 16,000 views.
- • We had a consistent presence on all the major entrepreneurial and business article websites, along with Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
- • …All this while spending below the budget originally set aside.
My entrepreneur friends on Facebook told me that they continuously saw the campaign messages whenever they checked their social accounts — and not in a saturating way. All our data plus common sense tells me that the issue was never lack of visibility nor attraction.
So why did the campaign not work? Again, Topher’s words:
“…after our team had spoken to several small business owners in Tampa who we genuinely felt would be great candidates, and after a complete conversation that clearly articulated all of the benefits, the overwhelming majority of the business owners we spoke with responded with one simple, sad response. ‘I just don’t think I can win.’ ”
“I don’t think I can win”? What kind of an answer is that from an entrepreneur?
I mean, the whole mission of an entrepreneur is about believing in something and going for it, even if it takes staring into the scary depths of uncertainty.
And the only thing this campaign asked people to believe in was their own business mission, which they voluntarily chose to pursue — I mean, it’s safe to assume they didn’t turn to entrepreneurship by force, right?
If it weren’t due to a quite reasonable conflict of interest, I would’ve totally signed up and participated in the competition. What’s the worst that could happen? Being out a $100 registration fee — a standard for competitions of all sorts — and getting a small boo-boo in my ego?
A few things did happen after the competition was shut down. A select group of registrants absolutely begged that the competition not be shut down, even asking whether the Grand Prize could just be reduced or even eliminated entirely.
Trudy Beerman, one of my entrepreneur friends, even told me that by the sheer fact of recording and publishing her pitch video — a requirement for the competition — she received an invitation to speak at an event, an inquiry about her products, and hundreds of video views.
Many others reported that they got their prize early, by arming themselves with bravery, stepping up, and daring to show their worth, whether they won the competition or not.
As in everything, I learned a ton from this experience. These are three specific lessons I learned from this:
Failure is not something you should be ashamed of
Despite making a ton of noise on all my social channels about the campaign, since canceling the campaign I have kept silent. Am I ashamed? Absolutely not. I’m sending out this post after Topher published his, but I didn’t hold off out of shame, but out of utter respect for him and his team.
I think an entrepreneur that fails and folds up is a lot more shameful than one who recognizes where things may have gone wrong, and learns from the experience. We should strive to be strengthened by our victories and failures, our strengths and weaknesses. We all fail, yet we must learn to fail correctly.
During the past couple of weeks, I was interviewed on Entrepreneur on Fire, and I think I spent almost half the time talking about my own struggles and weaknesses. All cool with me. I think people — especially younger entrepreneurs — need to hear that very few things in life and business ever go perfectly.
My outlook in life is that win or lose, I always win. As long as we’re willing to ask ourselves one simple and honest question, we can all be strengthened even when our goals aren’t reached.
Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks
Topher and his team took a huge risk with this competition. My team and I risked pushing other more profitable work — including our own internal initiatives and product development — for something we believed would be an absolute hit. Each and every one of the registered competitors took an immense risk in time and effort to step up and prepare for the competition.
Yet among those three groups, the last thing you will hear is regret. We all seem to get it, we’re all in sync with the grand mission of all entrepreneurs: There’s no way you’ll ever fulfill a dream if you don’t step out and take action.
One of people’s biggest obstacles: they don’t believe in themselves.
I had experienced this truth a few times when speaking to business owners who decide not to hire us, despite us showing them their potential and the specific way to get there. However, never before did I live it quite as powerfully as now.
In marketing, we can do everything to eliminate objections, express our offer powerfully, and give out a helping hand or two. Yet if people decide to get in the way of their own success, no amount of marketing can be strong enough to change a person’s own heart.
It’s unacceptable to respond “I just don’t think I can win” when entering into a business initiative, whether it’s a competition, or even a standard contract negotiation.
What if all your clients refused to hire you because they just don’t think they can win — i.e., ever get their problem solved, even through the solution you offer?
What if you responded “I just don’t think I can win” when observing that your field has other competitors? (News flash: You have other competitors.)
What if Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and many other successful business people had said “I just don’t think I can win” when faced with the first signs of a challenge?
Our world may have been different… or maybe not. Maybe everything would be quite the same, but the names of people who reached success would’ve been those of others who instead said, “I don’t know if I’ll win, but I’ll do it anyway!”
Do you feel you’re holding yourself back from achieving your goals? What are you doing in response to that feeling?
Alex Rodríguez develops high-end digital marketing campaigns that transform brands and attract business. He is the author of Digital BACON. His clientele has run the gamut from top-level advertising agencies and Fortune500 corporations, through national broadcast networks, to award-winning production firms. He heads up the team at YMMY Marketing. Connect with Alex via LinkedIn or Twitter