Richard Branson's four steps to accepting failure

Failure is an evitable part of the process of starting a business. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Fortunately, Richard Branson has some advice…

“It’s not easy but if you’re thinking about your next move, you’re already heading In the right direction,” the Virgin Group founder says in a recent blog. “Failure is an inevitable – and essential, I think – part of entrepreneurship.”

Richard admits that he’s no stranger to failure – he’s had many things go wrong in his 40 years in business. “But I’ve succeeded because I haven’t let disappointments hold me back, and you shouldn’t either,” he says.

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But he says that it’s important to look back and figure out where you went wrong. “After all, you wouldn’t get back in your car after an accident without checking it out first,” he points out.

Here’s Richard Branson’s four steps to accepting failure and moving on to success:

Don’t let it get you down

“Failure can be emotionally taxing,” he admits. “As an entrepreneur you put a lot of time, effort and money into your business, so watching it crash is heartbreaking.”

He says it’s important to remember that you’re not the first entrepreneur to have failed – and you definitely won’t be the last.

“Many brilliant business people have failed numerous times,” he says. “People like Reid Hoffman, James Dyson, Vera Wang and Arianna Huffington all experienced failure before they became successful so don’t let adversity get you down. Instead, devote your energy to focusing on the future.”

Take time to analyse

It’s important to take the time to determine exactly what happened with your business. “This is not a time for pointing fingers or assigning blame – it’s a time to reflect and gather data,” he says.

“In my case the time that we got it most notably wrong at Virgin was when we launched Virgin Cola years ago. We proudly declared war on Coca-Cola by driving a tank around New York City and smashing through a wall of Coke cans. This was possibly one of the biggest mistakes we ever made!

richard branson launching virgin cola in a tank in new york city

“Coca-Cola was (and still is) a huge, well-established company with budgets to match. When we started our soft-drink business, Coke increased their marketing budget and put pressure on distributors not to work with us.”

“If we’d had the foresight to know this would happen, we might have taken a different approach. After later analysis, we determined that we were woefully underprepared for Coke’s response. More importantly, we broke our number one rule by going into the soft-drink market in the first place: Virgin is only supposed to enter new industries when we can offer consumers something distinct from what already exists.”

Plan carefully

Once you’ve worked out what went wrong, Richard recommends planning and working out how you’re going to do things differently next time. Do you need a completely new approach, or new people on board to help in areas where you’re not an expert?

“Whatever approach you take, make sure that you take the time to sketch out some ideas and run them by people you trust for feedback,” he says.

Don’t let fear hold you back

It is perfectly normal to feel down about a failed enterprise. But it’s also important to make sure that trepidation about future failures doesn’t discourage you.

“Embrace fear, learn from it and move on to your next business venture with courage and the knowledge that if you don’t hit upon a success, you’ll have the will to do it again and take on the next challenge,” Richard says.

“As my son, Sam, says: ‘If you’re learning from mistakes, then you can never really fail – you’re just on a constant journey to success.’”

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