A Process for Learning from Failure

How Small Failures Help You Avoid a Big One

For the past year and a half, my brother and I have been working on a SaaS startup company. As part of that process, like for pretty much any business owner, we have to go in and make presentations to prospects.

I recently lined up someone who I thought was a tremendous prospect. I went in to talk business with this particular company, but almost right away, I knew that the conversation was not going in a great direction. The people I was talking to were nice, respectful, and professional—but at every point along the way I was met with some kind of rejection or objection to what I was saying that I was unable to overcome.

The meeting adjourned, and it was very clear that I was not going to earn that business. Instead, I was left with a handful of comments and some feedback. And being so personally invested in that meeting—I believed in what I was doing, and I knew how much work I had put in—as I was walking back to my car I couldn’t help but take it all personally. I felt like I wanted to curl up and be left alone for days on end—I’m sure some of you are familiar with that feeling, too.

But over the years I’ve developed a process for situations like this, one that I’ve used in the past and will continue to use moving forward. I keep a composite notebook, a little journal, with me everywhere I go, especially on sales calls. Immediately when that appointment is done, I take every bit of negative feedback, every objection, and I write it down in bullet-point fashion. I write how I feel about it in the moment—do I think it’s unfair or unfounded? Do I think they had a point? I put it all down on paper and leave all my emotions and thoughts about that experience there, on the page. Then I close the book and go on with my day. So that’s exactly what I did in this scenario. I wrote it all down and then put it away.

The benefit of this process is that it allows me to quickly distance myself from the negative feelings I’m having, so that they’re not creating a negative atmosphere around myself as I go on to the next thing, whether it’s another meeting, other work tasks, or time with family and friends. I know that I’ve immediately addressed these issues, closed the book and put it somewhere I can get it when I need it.

A few days later, I completed the final steps in my process. Once the dust had settled and my emotions had evened out, I pulled that notebook back out and opened it up to look at those bullet points again. Some of the things in there I still felt were unfounded, unfair. I felt like I had presented the case in a way that made sense.

But you know what? There were other things that at the time I had felt were unfair, but when I went back and looked at it with a little more time and perspective, I saw that there was some truth to the feedback. I could see some of the errors I made going into that presentation: the words I chose to use; the things I decided to present; the things I decided to leave out.

Over the years, this process has really helped me take the feedback I receive, which in the heat of the moment I might react to very negatively and emotionally, and instead turn it into a way to make myself better. To make my presentation and product better. To make whatever it is that I’m trying to do, better.

Try it—I hope it can have the same great effectiveness for you as it has had for me.

Will Adams

Will Adams

Will Adams is the GM for Small Business Services for GoSmallBiz.com. Will leads the company’s efforts in serving small business owners and their employees through consulting, software, education, employee training, and advocacy. Will is also the co-founder of a successful Software as a Service (SaaS) business that currently serves small museums and family offices throughout North America. In addition to his business interests, Will serves on the board of Atlanta Children’s Foundation, connecting individuals, organizations, and resources to meet the needs of children in foster care.