Dealing with failure

“HOW? HOW are you always so positive? So upbeat?! It’s easy for you Mike, you have it so easy. Everything works out for you. You travel, you bought a house, you have people follow you online.”

Oli was getting a little pissed at me over our chai-latte (I know! The most chill of all the lattes) and I felt I wasn’t helping him.

Oli was setting up a coaching program for podcasters. He had a fair amount of success himself and wanted to share that. His grand vision was a network of podcasts, of different subjects.

He’d run coaching for those podcasters of growing audience, new media and monetization.

After Oli set up his business, he wasn’t finding any customers. No one wanted coaching. Especially podcasters because they were cheap. He heard that we had a couple of successful coaching programs under us and wanted to ask how I was doing it.

We had known each other for a while, at one point I was the one asking Oli for advice on creating content. We sat down and he told me everything that had gone wrong.

“I’ve had to move home. I’ve got no money and my credit card isn’t getting paid. No one wants to hear from me and no one want’s my knowledge. It’s so slow. I mean…I make sales. A few eBooks here and there. But I don’t even know where to find more customers” Oli continued.

“I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. I’m taking shitty jobs on the side just to pay the bills. My business is supposed to make money, not cost me!”

I let Oli finish.

“It’s not even that I don’t like working for free, for myself. I just…want to see some return. I’m getting tired of 12 hour days and facing rejection every day. I know all the tactics, I know all the strategies. But it doesn’t seem to work. How do I make it work? How do you do it Mike?”

I’ll be honest. I felt like a grade A con-artist. I wasn’t and am still not a success, by any measure of success. I still have a mortgage, I miss bill payments, I have lazy days.

Sometimes I have to borrow money or skip Netflix for a month. I’ve had to let staff go, push suppliers back and ignore phone calls just to get through the day.

So I decided to tell Oli that. That I’m not in a stable, money-making waterfall place either. I still struggle.

“Look mate, the truth is that you’re always going to feel like you’re losing. It’s just a part of running a business.”

Oli let me go on. “We’re still in the growth stage ourselves. I have to skip payments and miss bills sometimes. Being positive isn’t a RESULT of good things, it’s how I get through the bad times.”

“Well that’s even more annoying, that you’re positive when everything is going wrong. I’m over the moon happy when I make a sale. But on days when I have literally no money, final payment reminders and customers leaving – I can’t be positive then.”

“Sorry man, I don’t agree. That’s the only time I have to be positive. It isn’t a reaction, it’s a choice. That fear of failure is what drives me. Maybe it’s not healthy or normal, but when things get dark, I get moving.”

Writing this out makes me sound like Chip from Flaked.

But starting a business and running one, is a thankless, hard and gruelling task. It’s long hours, late nights, bad coffee and unhappy customers.

Oli’s problem wasn’t that he wasn’t working hard. His problem is that he felt he was failing. Every single day he was failing and it’s exhausting. It’s truly fatiguing to feel like you’re staying still every day.

So how do we deal with failure? How can we move forward when it feels like we’re never moving at all. When you have final reminder letters at your door. When you have to move home. When a customer leaves. When things go in the wrong direction, how do we move forward and keep our energy and motivation high?

First, if you haven’t read our Motivation Fuel post, check it out here. It’s full of worksheets and will get you to write down what you’re going to be a success at.

Everyone else’s job is to keep score – not tell you the rules

THIS is the biggest change in mindset I’ve been told.

My accountant, bank manager, account reps from suppliers, customers and friends all tell me what’s going to happen. Where I’m failing at the moment.

I have to give the universe that – you can sleep safe knowing that EVERYTHING you could do better and be better at will be presented to you regularly. You’ll never be short of things to improve and fix.

But that is there job. Your accountant’s job, is to KEEP SCORE.


That’s all. They don’t tell you the game, the rules, when it ends or who else is playing. There job is to tell you that you’re down by 1 or 10 or 10 000.

Do professional athletes give up as soon as they can see their score? 2017’s Superbowl had over 110 million viewers.

By well over halftime the New England Patriots were down 12-28 to the Falcons.

Their score was shown to millions of people. But that is the scorekeepers job. That’s it.

Keep score. You decide what else to do. You decide the next play, the next day and the next hour.

By the way, the New England Patriots won 34-28

I’m always positive because I know it’s everyone else’s job to keep score. The money I owe, the customers I haven’t found, the revenue I need to find.

That’s all part of the score. At the moment, I’m down. I’m losing. But I also get to decide how long I play for, what the rules are and I’m 100% sure that my endurance will beat the score.

It doesn’t always keep getting worse

“It doesn’t always get worse.” That’s a Dave Horton quote. He said that to me long before I even did the AT [sic: Appalachian Trail- a 2190 mile journey] and that’s one quote that always resonated with me.


That’s Karl Meltzer talking about running 2190 miles in 45 days. Not on roads, over the Appalachian Mountains in America. That’s 48 miles a day (on average). Almost 2 full marathons a day for 45 days straight.

He failed the first time. And the second. It wasn’t until his third attempt that he did it.

During the run, which you can watch by the way, it’s called Made To Be Broken, Karl talks about it being pretty rough and un-enjoyable for most of it.

But – it doesn’t keep getting worse. You’ll have good days and bad days.

Days when it sucks and days when you fail. Days when it’s good and days when you succeed.

Endurance and running a business need you to know in the back of your head, that it doesn’t last forever. Nothing does. Especially failure.

Defeat is temporary and it doesn’t last forever. It doesn’t keep getting worse.

What makes you feel like a failure?

Why do you feel like a failure? Comparing yourself to Elon Musk? Comparing yourself to your friends at school or people your age?

Maybe it’s having no money or feeling like you can’t pay the bills. Maybe because your friends all go on holiday and you’re working all the time.

You need to identify why you feel like a failure. Because chances are it’s pretty inconsequential stuff.

Comparing yourself to others is a fools errand. It literally will never make you happy. I can assure you that Elon Musk looks to other titans and thinks he’s not worth it sometimes.

On the same level, the only person you should be comparing yourself to – is yourself yesterday. Are you better than you were yesterday?

Even then, maybe not. Maybe you’re not better than yourself every day. But that’s the only person you should compare yourself to.

Secondly, everything you feel like a failure at, is probably in your control. Money, power, time, sex, fitness, weight, income, customers. It’s all up to you.

You can change every single aspect of it. Not overnight, but over time.

You’re only defeated if you accept it as reality

At the age of 5 Dustin Carter lost all 4 of his limbs to a blood infection.

He’s a wrestler. He’s a wrestler with a 41-2 record at his high school.

He can train, do pull-ups, win wrestling matches, lift weights, drink his vitamin water. The only thing he can’t do acording to his trainer, is cut his own steak.

Defeat is a mindset that you accept. Just as you accept that you’ve “won” something, you also accept defeat. It’s entirely within your mind whether you win, or lose.

Here’s the deal though. Winning is just a measure of perseverance and time. That’s all. Defeat is when YOU choose to call it quits.

Sure we could say that your competition, un-supportive family and friends, random people and internet trolls want you to quit.

failure trolls internet marketing

Like this guy, who wanted me to stop posting my OWN content in MY group

Remember what we said above though? That everyone else’s job is to keep score.

That’s all. They can keep score and tell me how much I’m down by. But they don’t decide how you’ll win.

Just keep that in mind. Everyone else can see your score, keep score and be aware of you. But YOU decide when you win or quit.

Do you want to keep doing this?

Ask yourself a deep, tough question. Do you want to keep doing this?

Staying at something because you DON’T want to look like a failure is very different to staying with something because you want to win.

If you no longer want to win, or even care about the outcome – let it go. Your ego and worry about what other people will say, isn’t going to make you happier. That isn’t going to help you. You’re also never going to win if you don’t want to.

Don’t let a mistake dictate the longer term plans you have. If you need to let go, do it.

Maybe that quitting, but remember that defeat is in YOUR mind. If you leave one business, one product or customer to focus on another. Then I’d just call that a score, mark it down and move on.

Failed businesses is par for the course. I should know – I’ve had a few of them.

I don’t mind when a business or idea collapses now. That’s just another score in the loss column. But I’m racking up wins and I decide when I call it quits.

When I stopped my first agency, I got a job and tried to keep it quiet.

I received an email from a local competitor who wrote the below to me.

marketing funnel failure running a business

Well I’ve got news for you buddy – You’re off the Christmas Card list

“I didn’t think you’d be around long. Although I thought you’d survive longer than that.

You’re better of working in a marketing team, not running a business.”

I’m not ashamed to say I bawled my eyes out at that. “He” won. He saw me try and saw me fail.

I showed it to my mentor, who asked me “is this what you were afraid of?”

It made me think. Those two lines are really what I was afraid of. Now it’s happened and….nothing.

I didn’t die. No one pelts me with rotten fruit in the street. My girlfriend still loves me and is with me.

So…yeah. That was it. I literally have had someone email me with an “I won” email, and that was it.

What’s really weird, is that now I’m back to doing something else, his winning email is set in stone. But I’ve moved on.

The worst that will happen to you, is someone telling you “I told you so”. Then…that’s about it. Honestly? It’s not that bad.

You haven’t failed if you’ve learned something

failure business marketing funnels

I think this is a paraphrased J.K. Rowling quote.

If you change your behaviour due to a failure – it’s not a failure.

Forget to save for taxes one year? In debt the next? What are you doing to change that? If you change how you act, and learn from it, you’re not losing, you’re learning.

I don’t have any problem with people failing, or losing. It’s when they refuse to learn from it that gets me.

You have SEEN how this will affect you before. You’ve seen what happens and you know what the consequences are. And yet you still decide to keep your same actions.

Change you behaviour and learn. Then it isn’t a failure.

The biggest lesson I learnt last year was “quitting”. Or rather, not to quit. Stick-to-it-ive-ness, persistance and drive are what wins.

I’m going to give 10/10 where others can’t even give 5/10. I can handle the 10, they can’t handle 5. That’s what wins out.

I believe in you

Finally, I believe in you.

I believe you’re a better marketer, developer, designer, content creator, writer, sales person, coach, trainer, mentor, or whatever, than me.

You have an idea and you want to change the world. You can do that. You can do it well and change people’s lives. I honestly believe you can and I’m excited that you read this. Because it means I’m right.

You want to do better things, bigger things. It’s dark now, but it always is before dawn.

You’re almost there. You’re so close, just hang in. Hang on longer than others and understand that they’re just keeping score. You’re only playing against yourself.

Is failure something you’re afraid of? Has this post helped you? Let me know in the comments below.


Mike Killen

Mike is the world's #1 sales coach for marketing funnel builders. He helps funnel builders sell marketing funnels to their customers. He is the author of From Single To Scale; How single-person, small and micro-businesses can scale their business to profit. You can find him on Twitter @mike_killen.