Failure is not fatal, it’s a part of the story

Failure is not fatal, it’s a part of the story

I ran my tiny business for more than 20 years before I plunged into the growth strategy that propelled my business from a tiny regional courier company, to the fastest growing courier in the UK. This September we will have 30 sites around the country.

The single biggest contributor to this enormous transformation was because I ceased to be frightened of failure.

Before the change, my business strategy had been very focused on safety, as I was the sole provider for my children. Stability and security were the most important factors so I didn’t take big risks. When I did take risks and they appeared to be going pear-shaped, I would bail out, retreat and choose surety over destabilising growth.

A tense, nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach when I faced decisions that involved risk was my indicator that it was time to withdraw. However, I was frustrated that I had not fulfilled my ambition, or reached my potential, so I wanted more. I had revolutionary ideas but they were unproven, and I was terrified of failing and losing everything.

Following a massive change in circumstances, I found myself with nothing to lose. I went through a divorce, a long-agreed post-nuptial agreement was overturned and, suddenly, my business and home were in jeopardy.

During this period, I developed a new business model and took the plunge to build the type of company I had aspired to for years. I had lost the fear that was holding me back.

At that point the kids were off at university, we didn’t need our big family home anymore, and I was broke. I risked the little money I had left, and, despite multiple trials, tribulations and traumas, my team and I are making our transformation work.

The switch 

If you recall that feeling in the pit of my stomach I mentioned earlier, I now know it is a sign that I am reaching my peak performance – it’s just outside my comfort zone but I have become comfortable with that fear. I feel it now and I know that it means I’m performing at my best.

I’ve made myself come out of my shell, stand up on stage, perform speeches, write articles – stand by my opinion – all things that I kept under a bushel for fear of peoples opinions, fear of making a fool of myself and fear of failing. I realised I have nothing to lose by trying, and everything to win if it all works out okay.

Over the years I have come to recognise this fear in other women. Many women are afraid of failure; we are scared to make fool of ourselves and be pilloried. Menfolk tend to be a lot more pragmatic about taking risks and I think this shows in terms of career and business success – it’s that arena of risk-taking where big gains can be made.

To illustrate my point, I attended an event with five close male business buddies and between them they share £50m in revenue. The following evening I was with a group of five female business friends and their collective revenue was £6m. These women are no less capable but they are a lot more cautious.

Men will take a stab at something if they think they can do it, while women will wait to be one hundred per cent sure they can achieve it in order to minimise chances of failure. It’s not wrong to be cautious, but if you want to make it big you have to risk it big too – that’s the way business works.

I encourage all women to stick their head above the parapet, get yourself used to messing up, encourage an ethos of trying, agree parameters of acceptable risk – and accept that there will be lots of failures.

Familiarise yourself with failure because the more you fail the more you succeed. And remember, when you’re pushing yourself to your limits, and you feel that tense, nervous feeling in your stomach – don’t bail. You’ve just hit peak performance and this is where the real trajectory begins.

 

 

About the author

Kate Lester is the CEO of  Diamond Logistics. She started her own business in 1992, aged just 20, and she is an entrepreneur who loves to help people build their careers and businesses – with particular expertise in turn-around projects, accelerated growth or start-ups of small to medium size enterprises. She has extensive knowledge of the courier industry and associated fields plus has had personal interests in businesses as wide-ranging as event management and property development.

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