American inventor Edison lights way for start-up rookies

Growing up, the American inventor Thomas Edison was one of my idols. Just the thought of how his invention of the light bulb transformed the world has always left me feeling inspired. However, as a child I never imagined he might have failed at anything before perfecting his invention. That was until I came across one of his famous quotes on the light bulb. He said: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Mr Edison could not have said it any better. He did not consider his failed attempts as an impediment but rather as a learning experience that added to his experiment.

Building on Mr Edison’s quotes, here are three ways we can all learn from our business mistakes, and use failure to help a small business grow:

First, many entrepreneurs believe that the best way for a business to grow fast is to start off big, with a big team and huge office. I remember when I first wanted to launch my consultancy business, my friend urged me to rent a dazzling office and hire employees. Though I appreciated her enthusiasm and trust in my business, this is not always the best option.

Many start-up entrepreneurs often discover this the hard way. They rent the big office and take on staff, but soon are faced with a multitude of expenses before the business has made any strong profits. By doing so, entrepreneurs fail on a financial level and bear all the costs that could have been avoided had they started small.

As a small-business owner, it makes more sense to form partnerships or agreements with other companies that could help you with your services. For instance, when I started my communications consultancy I outsourced some aspects to sister companies that I formed an agreement with. That way I kept my expenses low, and our benefits were mutual. My partners outsourced aspects of their business to me as well, and we did well along the way. It meant I did not have to worry about unnecessary expenses and could focus on growing profits, while at the same time utilising the strengths and experience of my partners.

Secondly, as much as we plan, our plans can fail. Why? Because we spend too much time planning and not enough hours executing. So many plan their futures, but when the time comes they do not get to live their dream because they did not work enough to make it happen. As a start-up entrepreneur you may feel the urge to control every aspect of your business. If you could also control your workday, you probably would have done that too. But as much as we plan, things might not necessarily turn out the way we intend. An article by Fortune magazine says that 70 per cent of chief executives fail not because they have drafted a poor strategy, but because they have failed in executing it.

Thirdly, as a small-business owner in the start-up phase, when you are trying to build your client base, you might find it difficult to say the word no. I know I had the urge to be everywhere and do everything. I wanted clients fast, but thankfully I came to my senses as I knew this approach would backfire. If you are successful in the early stages and people start realising your potential, you might be sought after y people who want to tap your knowledge. At some point you will have to say no; dedicating valuable time to giving free advice if those potential clients add nothing to your business will take you away from growing your enterprise.

Additionally, do not work on a project you are not interested in. Your work will reflect that. Instead, focus on projects you really enjoy, because you will dedicate more of your energy towards them. By rejecting short-term opportunities that do not interest you — even if the paycheque is decent — it will allow you to build a portfolio you are passionate and proud of in the long term. In life and when building a business, failure is inevitable. It is part of the process and the learning curve. Instead of dwelling on it, learn from your mistakes and those of others. Also, it is always comforting to know that even the greats out there have failed.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai.

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