A few days ago, a colleague and I were swapping stories about our business missteps: the things that just didn’t work, and the things that were colossal, flaming failures. To listen to us, you might think that neither of us had a viable business, much less a successful one—but fortunately, that isn’t at all the case.
Although the failure stories are fun to tell (with sufficient hindsight and success in the time since), the real story is in how we respond to the failures and, more importantly, how we turn failures into success. Stella and I shared experiences in which we’d had to undertake massive action to change course and shift our results. Sometimes graceful, usually not, we’d refused to quit until we had succeeded.
Toward the end of our conversation, Stella said, “That’s the difference between success and failure: knowing when to quit, and when to dig in and do what it takes to succeed.”
Are you stopping yourself when instead you should shift strategy and keep going? Here are some indicators:
- Have you put in enough effort? I attended a Christian high school, and every classroom included a poster that read, “Bless me, Lord, according to my preparation.” Religion aside, if your preparation has been half-hearted, you can’t expect good results. Be honest: have you put in the necessary time and energy to get the results you want?
- Are you picking apart opportunities unfairly? Lawyers are highly skilled at finding problems, and that skill sometimes undermines business development. For example, are you waiting until you find the perfect opportunity to get active in a relevant industry organization? Are you searching for the perfect speaking opportunity? If no action seems to have a sufficient likelihood of success, you may stop yourself from taking any action at all—and that’s a certain route to failure.
- Are you unconsciously looking for proof that you can’t land business? If you believe that business development is a talent that you may lack, you may unintentionally expect and then highlight any evidence to support that proposition. Do you expect to succeed?
- Do you feel disheartened? It’s ok to feel discouraged for a time, but recognize that feeling as an impotent emotion. When you’re disheartened, you’ve given up and your activity will grind to a halt.A client once consulted me on an upcoming pitch and described some of the challenges that might prevent him from getting the matter. Rick’s tone was downcast, though he put a good face on it by asking how he could address the problems in the future, so he might succeed next time. He had already given up on the pitch, which ensured that he would not be successful.
I pointed out that he had declared failure prematurely and challenged him to buckle down and shoot for success or to bow out of the pitch contest altogether. Rick chose to strategize how to meet the challenges that had consumed him. He was irritated (first with me, then with the challenges themselves) and he used that energy to create and deliver a powerful pitch, and a few days later he received the good news that he’d been retained.
When things aren’t working out, take a bit of time to be disappointed, but then get your energy flowing. Do whatever you do to pump yourself up (work out, listen to powerful music, review a list of your successful engagements) and then get active.
- Do you have a partner who can push you forward? I pushed Rick forward, and many times my mentors have urged me to continue when I really wanted to give up. Be sure that you have a mentor who can offer objective insight into whether you should keep going and who will give you a swift kick if you stop yourself. You may find this a difficult determination at times, and outside help and support makes all the difference.
A successful business development plan will require you to give up unsuccessful activities, but before you stop, be sure that you’re stopping for the right reasons. Don’t allow discomfort or discouragement to stop you short.