Fear of Failure

15 Dec

Fear of Failure
Dear Miss Mignonette,
My business has been in a holding pattern for the past year. I have modest sales but I don’t do much to build the business. Mostly this is because I am afraid of trying to make it bigger. Whenever I make something new I update my Etsy page but that is about it. I would love to approach stores but I am nervous, and I don’t do much in terms of marketing. I feel very disappointed in myself.
I also don’t know if my work is any good. I think it’s okay, but what if I approach a buyer and they hate it? What can I do?


For the last year I have found myself amassing quite a fortune cookie collection. Besides what this says about my addiction to comfort food, I have noticed that there is a definite theme to the ones that I keep – Some of them are the usual “You will eat all the beef out of the beef and broccoli and blame it on your spouse”-type, but the one that I keep returning to reads “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”.

Today’s post is about fear, failure, and inertia. This self-defeating trio of feelings is something that affects every business owner, but it seems to hit makers especially hard. Many of us know the scary feeling of listing your first item on Etsy, and the even scarier feeling that nobody will want to buy it, (or worse, that they will want to buy it). You don’t feel 100% confident about your business, and you aren’t quite sure how to go about promoting yourself anyway, so you just list your items and get frustrated with yourself if they don’t sell immediately, and the whole thing just bums you out. You dream of being sold in stores, but feel like there is no way that any buyers would ever want to carry your work, and then you start questioning whether your work is any good and spiral even deeper into a fug. It’s enough to make a crafter want to give up entirely, but don’t despair – You don’t stink at being a business owner. Your fear of failure is making you view your business negatively and holding you back.

Take an example – me. I am a clothing designer specializing in custom bridal, but when I started I was doing ready-to-wear for the Junior’s market. I have an Etsy page and a separate website. Often the act of listing something is so tiring that I can’t do much beyond that, so I don’t bother trying to get it into treasuries or alerting any fashion blogs that I have something that they might want. My thought process goes something like this: “Okay, it’s up. What if everyone hates it? What if it ends up on Regretsy? What if someone sees it and makes fun of it on their blog? Oh no, what if I sell 10 of them? I don’t want to make 10 of them! I’m gonna go watch tv”, and etc. Almost as soon as I have my new item up, I have psyched myself out of liking it, being proud of it, telling others about it, etc.
This is something that I didn’t always have a problem with – When I launched my label, Mignonette, in 2002, I was the first to write newsletters, participate in group fashion shows, and befriend every blog writer I could find. Eventually the pressure of keeping up with store orders, online sales, and even being on a reality-tv show, got to be too much and I had to decide whether to scale back or start hiring interns. So I scaled back, and I felt pretty lousy about it, like I had failed. It took me a long time to recover and understand that it was time to move on. I had taken that version of my business as far as I could go.
In 2007 I relaunched under a slightly different name, terrified that I would just repeat the same mistakes I made the first time and have a total meltdown, or worse, that I would start my label again, and nobody would care. Since then, press and commissions have indeed been much more low-key, but this has turned out to be a Godsend- since I have to spend more time on each piece, I can’t have too many clients, and unless I get an assistant, I can’t handle too much press, so I get to be more deliberate about my exposure. Eventually I realized that I could pick out the aspects of my business that I enjoyed – working one-on-one with clients – and accept that my previous scattershot business model wasn’t actually making me very happy.

You may be asking how any of this is relevant to you, and perhaps you’re thinking that it just sounds like sugarcoating a bad situation. In that case, it’s time to test your ability to think positively about your business.

Buyer Tryouts
Take the scariest business-related situation you can think of – say, approaching a buyer at a small store (Approaching buyers at giant retailers is a topic for another day).
You cold-call her at her office and somehow manage to snag an appointment during buying hours. You get dressed up and wake up early to make sure you get there on time, but when you walk into the store, all you have to show her is a “line sheet” that is a print-out of your Etsy page, no real idea of what your wholesale prices should be, and a sample that you aren’t done sewing yet.
Two possible, and likely, ways that this could play out:
1) She takes a look at your work and politely tells you that it’s not quite ready for prime time, but that you should keep her on your mailing list and update them when you create new work. This is a bummer, yes, but it’s not a refusal to ever consider your work again.
2) She takes a look at your images and tells you she would like to see more of your work when it is finished. If you’re lucky, she will see the potential in your work and help you figure out how to tailor it for her store. If you really play your cards right, she will take you, and your business, under her wing.
Total loss? No way, unless you look at it as a failure!
Though you didn’t immediately get carried in the store, either way, this nerve-wracking situation turned into a good learning opportunity for the next time you try to get carried in a store.
You’re thinking that being turned down by a buyer IS a failure? Any self-help book will tell you that the most successful people learn how to glean every experience for growth opportunities, and that redefining what success and failure means will keep you from feeling like a loser. As long as you remain flexible about what success can look like, you can maintain a positive attitude about your business.
Here’s an example: 10 years ago high-fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi had a fashion show that was horribly panned by critics and almost went bankrupt. Totally depressed, Mizrahi stopped designing for a few years, only to reemerge in 2002 with an incredibly successful design gig…at Target! Though he worked on a very small scale in the intervening years, he used that down-time to establish a long-term goal. When Target approached him he didn’t think of it as a failure, he saw it as a chance to get his designs to as many customers as possible. His goal was to be a well-known designer, and he is!
Though you might not have your work mass-produced for Target, keep your eye on the prize of business success and you will find that the world presents you no shortage of opportunities – and that you actually accomplish a lot more for your business than you are giving yourself credit for!
Eventually, recognizing the things you have done will encourage you take the next step, and the next, and the next. You’ll be so busy that you won’t even have time to beat yourself up.

Quick Fixes for Blue Crafters

Make Something
Whenever I start to feel especially icky about my business, or when I find myself comparing Mignonette to, say, Rodarte, it makes me want to give up. Something I have found helpful when I am giving myself an especially hard time is to write down all the things that I have accomplished on a particular day. If that doesn’t work, because I actually spent the whole day watching Glee episodes, I find a way to work on my business so that the day isn’t totally wasted – for instance, if I haven’t sewn something, I will make sure that I have at least worked on a blog post on sketched or done some research, even for an hour.
Then I write it down, and I feel better. Sometimes a little tangible evidence that you are awesome makes all the difference.

Be Your Own Advocate – or Enlist One
If you want to start approaching bloggers, buyers, or anyone else who is in a position to help you with your business, but are feeling too shy about it, pretend that you are talking about someone else. This is something I often have to revert to, and it might sound nuts, but it works – think about how you can go on for hours praising another seller’s knit hats or vintage store, but when it comes to describing your own work, you just get tongue-tied.
So, instead of letting your fear of sounding silly paralyze you, psych yourself into pretending that you are talking up a friend’s work, or the work of your favorite artist, or a client, and give your gorgeous art as much credit as you would someone else’s.

If you are still feeling like you can’t get started, consider finding a Check-In Friend (COF). If you’ve ever read a diet book, you will see that they often suggest going on the diet with someone who can help keep you on track, and I suggest doing the same thing with your business. A COF is someone who you check in with every day, or at least once a week, to tell him or her what business tasks you have accomplished. They are there to challenge you not to let inertia hold you back. On Monday mornings I meet with the fellow members of the Ladies Independent Design League to go over our weeks and create deliverables to present to the group for the following week. Sure, it’s nerve-wracking having to actually create a task list, and then try to accomplish all the things on it, but when my turn comes to present, not only do I realize that I have gotten a lot done for my business, the other ladies also give me wonderful suggestions and I get to hear what they’ve been doing for their businesses. Sometimes a little outside support is the kick in the pants you need.

And if you are still feeling like you aren’t good enough, be honest with yourself – you are usually your harshest critic. Give yourself a pat on the back though – you started a business and got as far as posting some items online, right?
Deep in your heart you believe in your work enough to share it with the world. Just keep that in mind and you can get anything done.

What are some business hurdles that you’ve had to face, and what did you do? Post your answers in the comments below.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: