What to do when everything goes wrong with your business

Some of us will have a fantastically successful 2016, others will look back on it as one big failure. If you already find yourself slipping into the latter category then there’s no need to despair, it could be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

One of the most exciting projects we’ve come across in recent years is that of Detroit SOUP, you can find out more about why they’re so great right here. 2015 was a wildly successful year for Detroit Soup and their inspirational founder Amy Kaherl, which was quite a turnaround from the struggles experienced in 2014. In the interest of demonstrating what can be snatched from the jaws of defeat, and that failure is nothing to be ashamed of, we asked Amy to share her story…

I run Detroit SOUP, a microgranting dinner that funds creative projects in Detroit. It’s a dinner that has helped a lot of people move on with their ideas, (businesses, farms, projects, art, charities, etc) feeling empowered and connected within their communities. It started with a bunch of friends working together in 2010 to try and fund art projects by one another while having dinner and some spirited debate. Within a year our work had been featured in the New York Times, Oprah, Dwell and Fast Company - many projects were being funded through this grassroots initiative.

Detroit is a crazy beast of a city. At the time we were pre-bankruptcy and projects and initiatives were not promoted by the city government, but by private foundations that were connected to the work of the once mighty auto industry. SOUP was chosen to receive a grant that would get the work stabilized in the city and then we would help move the work into neighbourhoods. Yet it never is cut and dry and certainly not simple. The grant took 14 months to receive - during which time we still needed to do the work of two full time people, without getting paid, and proving what we were doing was worthwhile. So, for two and a half years I hustled. I said yes to everything. I met with whoever would listen to me talk about SOUP. I didn’t take lunch breaks. I worked two jobs. I did the work of building something I really believed in. Then I hit the time and space that experts call ‘burn out’.

Read: An entrepreneur's guide to winning at failure

I hit the wall. The city had filed for bankruptcy. All the foundations chipped in to buy the Detroit Institute of Art from the city so that it could stay a legitimate museum. It was an important step to take, keeping a beautiful gem of the city from selling any of their amazing work. From that point anything that was being built, or needed support, soon found out there would be no funding. I was tired, crushed, exhausted and coming to realise that I had built my life and identity into the project. I had failed in multiple avenues to find money to keep SOUP alive. I was so, so, so tired. Tired. Exhausted. Crushed.

I felt like I was the only one fighting for this dinner that I had witnessed do so much good in the city. There was even the dreaded article with a video of the Seinfeld SOUP nazi saying "No SOUP for you." I think two weeks later the words "I quit" came out of my mouth. I was miserable. I didn’t know what to do, I felt unsupported, I felt alone, I was broke and I was tired.

Tired seems to be a theme because that’s what I was. Looking back I didn’t take a real break for two and a half years. So it was my time to do that. During the summer of 2014 I decided I wasn’t going to work. I was going to read, sit in the sun and see all the people that I had pushed aside for work. I watched my best friend graduate from nursing school. I officiated the wedding of two super special and important people in my life. I danced really late at night. I stayed in and read books. I took a trip to Los Angeles. I hung out with my dog and I went to baseball games. I didn’t punish myself emotionally for breathing. I think I audibly (it might have felt audible because it was so important to me) dared the universe that "I couldn’t do this job this way anymore. If I was going to run SOUP things had to change."

Summer turned into fall and I was feeling more like myself (fun, lighter, more agile). I took a road trip with the intention that I would take one last stab at the future of SOUP and if it didn’t work then I would lay it down and look for whatever I was supposed to do next. That road trip changed my life. In a gas station bathroom I received a phone call that would send me to Nepal and help an amazing group of young people put a SOUP together for their community. I would later that week plan a party to celebrate our five year anniversary, held where the Detroit Lions play football. I got the mess of our neighbourhood model straightened out and I put a plan for fundraising together. That weekend I threw my fears into the ocean, I meditated on the beach at 1:00am, I watched baseball and I cooked myself dinner. That weekend changed my life because I had changed myself. I let myself breathe. I gave myself a break. I removed the pressures and I started believing in myself and the mission that I was so passionate about. I wasn’t so tired.

Read: From Uber to Airbnb - business failures that turned fantastic

I hope as you read this it comes across that I picked something I really wanted to do. I followed my passion. I did not seek to start a non-profit or to build a business. I am a theologian by education and I was interested in work based around justice that could help be better. I had no clue what that was going to look like but when I started interacting with SOUP I knew that this was the project I wanted to dedicate my life’s work to. I also found out that I wasn’t a superhero. That I need rest. That my whole life can’t be just work. That running away from myself wasn’t the answer I needed and neither is it the answer for you. I started to believe in the lies that working more would make me work better.

I trust every single person around me. I surround myself with people who don’t steal from me but give and give me 1000 per cent. I take real vacations now and I take days off to see my nieces, clean my room, listen to records and watch re-runs of Star Trek: Next Generation.

2015 was a dream because I know what the nightmare felt and looked like. I took joy in what I was doing, I felt happy and I am better at not punishing myself for when it wasn’t enough. I am not a lucky lady because it wasn’t luck. It was hard work, perseverance and speaking clearly in what I believe in. Now I run an organisation that is changing the world. There are 115 SOUPs globally at the moment. We have people who are fighting to do the right thing in the world.

I am grateful.

​​This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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