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The Art of the Pivot: What to Do When Your Best-Laid Plans Don’t Work Out

If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again… It’s the refrain of Aaliyah’s best-known song and the axiom of so many children’s stories. It’s also a lesson that many an entrepreneur has had to learn, often by experience rather than decree. Failure is the proving ground for folks like us who have chosen to forge their own career path. How we respond to it can mean the difference between quitting from burnout or growing through perseverance. If you find yourself in a place that’s not quite working despite your best efforts, it may be time to “pivot,” or look for a new opportunity related to your original objective.

As a jewelry designer with nearly five years of experience owning a small business, I’ve experienced my fair share of disappointments and straight-up flops. From poor sales at craft shows early on, to marketing to the wrong demographic, to making a large investment that didn’t generate the return I’d expected, I continue to learn these lessons the hard way. But what I’m also learning is how to bounce back, and it’s a little bit easier each time. With every obstacle I come up against, I get closer to my individual niche in the market. I’m still in progress, but here are a few lessons I’ve gathered along the way about how to leverage failure to your advantage:

1. Let yourself feel it (and take detailed notes)
It’s ok to be disappointed, frustrated, and even angry when your plans don’t work out. You’ve put a lot of work into your mission, and negative emotions are a natural and normal response. Just make sure you don’t get stuck in that place.

Instead, grab a paper and pen (or open up your favorite note-taking app) and record some notes. Ask yourself and answer honestly, “Did I fully do my research and lay the groundwork for this project? What could I have done differently for a better outcome? Do I still want to pursue this path, or could this be an indication that there is a better way for me?” The more you reflect, the better equipped you’ll be to move forward, whether you’re headed in a new direction or taking another stab at your goal..

2. Always have a contingency plan
If you’re taking a big risk, make sure you have an idea of your worst case scenario and what your next step would be to recover. For example, if you spend X amount of money on that big bridal show and don’t see the return on investment you’re expecting, what would that mean for your business? Is it an expense you can float for a while, or would it mean financial ruin? Think through the entire process before you get there, walking through all of the possible outcomes and ways you would respond in each scenario.

3. Look for the bright side (and don’t be too hard on yourself!)
The best piece of advice I’ve received after a bad investment resulting in unforeseen debt came from my financial advisor. She told me, “ There have been a lot of times in my business that I don’t feel like I got a ‘bang’ for dollars spent, but it’s always a learning experience, so I wouldn’t

think of your debt as ‘bad,’ just as tuition you paid to discover more about your business and help it work even better than it did before.” Reframing what I’d mentally categorized as a total failure helped me to see the experience as a whole and identify parts of it that were positive. When I cleared away the glaring disappointment of how much money I’d lost, I was able to identify smaller successes within the experience that I could still use to elevate my brand and generate positive buzz – which in turn resulted in more revenue.

4. Find your cohort
If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time in the Rising Tide Society, it’s that I am rarely alone in any given situation as a creative entrepreneur. Look for the people in your community who are going through a similar phase and find ways to lift each other up. Then, you’ll find yourself within a group of like-minded friends whom you can lean on in those hard times and who can join you in celebrating your wins!

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Image by Rebekah Emily

5. Master the “art of the pivot”
Over time, I’ve learned to utilize the setbacks I’ve experienced in growing my business as tools for identifying my niche in the market and which potential customers I should be targeting as clientele. If you feel like you’re continuously running into closed doors despite your best efforts, try looking around you for another path. You don’t have to scrap your original idea. Instead, try “pivoting” to something else that is related to your original idea. Maintaining an open mind and flexible attitude can empower you to grow in an unexpected but wonderful new direction.

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