Failure is Not Fatal: My Résumé of Failed Ventures

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Failure is Not Fatal

Updated: 15th October 2019

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

It’s right to admit when you’ve got it wrong. If we all did this more than we do, the world would be a much better place that’s for sure.

So… I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and tell you about some of my failed ventures. Most of these were attempts to make it online, but I’ve added some that were offline prior to becoming interested in the Internet.

The purpose of this is twofold as I’d like to show you that in my case:

  • Failure is not fatal.
  • You can learn from your failures.

Before I begin, props to Pete McPherson of Do You Even Blog. I felt inspired to write this after reading Pete’s post “My Failure Resume“. I urge you to read it… it’s amusing, informative and honest and Pete writes in a very self-deprecating way, which is refreshing in a world full of pontificating gurus!

So… in chronological order, here is my entrepreneurial failure résumé!

Offline Ventures

My Offline Non Fatal Failures

Vodka Jellies

A friend and I had the idea to sell homemade vodka jellies at a music festival in the early 2000s. We were pretty young and pretty stupid at the time, and we thought we’d make a killing.

We made a batch of around 800 shots, with provision to have more shipped in “when” we ran out: we were pretty confident we would.

However, we lost 150 shots pretty much on the first day when a boozy reveller visited our tent to buy some and fell over our table. He had a bigger entourage than ours and he explained in a very loud, confident and excitable way that he wouldn’t pay for the stock he’d wiped out.

We decided that a violent dispute would likely not end in our favor and so we took the hit.

We had no refrigeration facilities and our remaining jellies reverted back to a semi-liquid state.

My friend and I also suffered diminishing enthusiasm because of the temptation to see bands and the revelry the festival offered… late nights and hangovers do not drive ambition!

We did manage to shift the remaining, semi-jelly stock on the very last day of the festival through a combination of bar drought across the festival and heavy discounting… and were lucky to just about break even.

Lessons Learned

  • Be better prepared.
  • Don’t be half-assed if you’re trying to make money.
  • Keep your focus and don’t be casual.
  • Don’t sleep in!
  • Failure is not fatal!

Car Body Repair Business Side Hustle

I knew with a guy who repaired car bodies, from scratches to full on dents in the bodywork. The company he worked for (a local business) was flat out with work, so I did a little research in the area and thought I saw a market.

I asked him if he’d like to set something up on the side and he agreed to help out. So we found a small garage with a very cheap rent, and set up a budget body shop. I probably invested a few hundred pounds (perhaps $250) for set up costs and he was to invest his knowledge. Both of us would add our sweat equity.

We were all ready to go… but we had no idea about how to market the business. We did no promotion online because we worried about paying for any form of local advertising.

So I had the brilliant idea of not investing on promotion to save costs. It was a masterstroke strategy that resulted in no-one ever hearing about us!

We gave up after about two-months of part-time effort… it was intended to be a side hustle after all.

Lessons Learned

  • Businesses need promotion… you cannot hide your light under a bushel.
  • Side hustles require a lot of effort sometimes.
  • Failure is not fatal!

Online Ventures

My Online Non Fatal Failures

I discovered the idea of affiliate marketing and making money online around about 2005.

Some of my first forays were frankly embarrassing and I’m slightly ashamed to admit them let alone reveal them.

Thankfully there isn’t much evidence online from those days that proves how awful they were. However… I do have some things I can present that will give you some idea!

So let’s do this!

Thin Sites

Looking at this is painful for me. I made a bunch of very thin affiliate sites targeting very specific keywords phrases around products.

The idea for all these thin sites was to rank high for low-volume long-tail searches for high(ish) value products from Amazon in the hope of getting a commission. They were also all monetized with Google Adsense.

The sites were all built in WordPress and all used the same theme so looked pretty similar.

Looking back, they were all pretty awful.

Back in 2005 the look of these sites probably wasn’t that out of the ordinary. But they were thin and all of them would likely suffer a Google SEO penalty in an instant these days.

toro-snow-blower.com

TSB

oakley-visor.com

OV

homedics-massager.com

Homedics Massager

I could go on but I had many, many sites like these so I won’t bore you with screenshots. Other choice domains were:

  • keurig-coffeemaker.com
  • jack-lalanne-juicer.com
  • innotekdogtrainingcollar.com
  • honeywell-humidifier.com
  • patio-doctor.net
  • mr-repellent.com

There were more but I’m sure you get the picture now!

In fairness these sites all brought in steady commissionss and Adsense revenues… each site was a small earner but collectively they brought in a good side income.

I appreciate they look as spammy as a tin of spam in a spam shop in Spamchester, but all the content was unique and none of it duplicated, copied or spun.

However, the strategy was definitely spammy, from the domain names to the over-optimization of content for products.

These sites were live for several years. However, running so many like this became difficult to manage alongside the more useful and profitable sites I had, so I let them die out.

To be honest, I didn’t like having them because I knew that I couldn’t build a long-term business with sites like this.

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t spread yourself too thin (no pun intended).
  • I learned a huge amount about WordPress, hosting, content marketing and monetizing sites through affiliate marketing.
  • The importance of passion for your site topics… I certainly wasn’t passionate about any of my thin sites.
  • Failure is not fatal!

Product Review Affiliate Sites

get-camping.net

Get Camping

I started much more of a passion project in 2008. I love the outdoors and related gadgets so I had a real interest in reviewing products in this niche.

Again, I built the site using WordPress. While the theme wouldn’t set the world on fire these days, it was quite an advancement on the thin sites I’d cut my teeth on.

I started generating traffic through content alone and made affiliate commissions.

It took an awful lot of work to update though and I had a few other sites that were making good money at the time. Because of this my commitment to it waned in favor of looking after my cash cows.

It’s a pity really as my personal finance cash cows died during the credit crunch. Had I kept going with get-camping.net, it might have been an authoritative site now… though I probably would have migrated it to a .com.

Lessons Learned

  • When the going gets tough… keep going.
  • If you enjoy your work, that’s probably a sign.
  • Don’t react too soon when you face a dilemma.
  • Failure is not fatal!

Educational Blogs

spanish-talk.co.uk

Spanish Talk

Spanish Talk is a site I’ve had since 2006. It’s still a live site but it hasn’t been updated for a few years now. I’ve always figured I’d go back to it at some point, but that point hasn’t arrived yet.

It’s an early site of mine, and it’s technically not a failure… though neither is it a roaring success.

I’ve monetized it primarily with Adsense and it probably makes me around £20 ($24) per month. Not quite retirement material, but that’s a steady £240 ($293) per year so I can’t complain.

Lessons Learned

  • Follow your passion.
  • Passive income is possible.
  • If you don’t work to grow your site… erm, it won’t grow!
  • Failure is not fatal!

eCommerce Sites

After working for eCommerce businesses as an employee and as a freelancer since late 2010, I’ve helped many companies increase their sales online.

I learned a lot and thought… why don’t I do it for myself? So I did.

ardentcandles.com

Ardent Candles

Started in 2016 (though I’d had the idea much earlier and sat on the domain), Ardent Candles was a Shopify store selling scented and unscented candles.

I bought physical stock from a number of suppliers and promoted them through content marketing, PPC advertising and eBay.

My initial investment in stock for launch was around £3,000 ($3,600 approx.) and Shopify set up fees of roughly £200 ($245). There was also an ongoing monthly cost of £29 ($35) for my Shopify and eBay subscriptions.

My wife and I ran Ardent Candles for the better part of 3 years before we closed it down earlier in 2019. The principal reason for us was sales were too seasonal, but we had to work year round to support the boom periods.

I never want to depend on a seasonal business.

December through to March / April generated good sales, but the rest of the year was a donkey named Broke!

I haven’t done the detailed maths on this, but I overall that I lost around £1,500 roughly overall over the three year period. We took no wages from the business during that time and obviously put in some hours managing the store, stock and pick, pack and dispatch, so there’s a sweat cost too.

It was a good experience though and I don’t regret going for it, even though it was a financial failure. But at least it wasn’t fatal.

Lessons Learned

  • Creation and management of Shopify stores.
  • Shopify themes and coding in liquid.
  • Creating eBay stores.
  • Promoting seasonal products takes as much work as promoting year long products.
  • eBay fees are high: subscription, percentage of sales and PayPal commissions.
  • Trade fairs provide a good injection of sales, but are expensive.
  • Failure is not fatal!

britishartco.com

The British Art Co.

Around July 2016, a friend of mine who knew about Ardent Candles approached me with a proposition. The proposition was to build, manage and promote a website, similar to Ardent Candles, to sell original art.

There would be four of us:

  • Two investors (one of which was my friend).
  • One employee to manage the finding products, customer service and dispatch.
  • And me handling anything webby!

The spec for me was to build the eCommerce store and attach an eBay store to it. For my sweat equity, I was offered a quarter share in the business.

This was super appealing so I agreed.

Go Live

The site and eBay store went live around September 2016 and we started selling almost immediately. In fact this kept up until early 2018.

Throughout this period we had been reinvesting all profits back into the business to buy more stock. Our inventory was growing and things were looking very promising.

The news that one key member was leaving the business changed the fortunes of the business dramatically. Since she was the only person able to work full-time in the business, we all had to chip in to handle stock, customer service and dispatch.

Since it was only ever intended that the investors and I would be part-time, being as involved as we were in the BAU activities of the business was a pain.

The investors tried to recruit for someone with the same skillset but couldn’t find anyone.

I believe my remaining partners lost their appetite for the business pretty soon after our employee left as they believed she was irreplaceable. She was exceptional, and a highly qualified art historian, of that there’s no doubt.

I put forward a couple of names who would have done well, but as I say I think the investors had already decided to call it quits. So in late 2018, we all decided to move on.

All the stock went to auction to to recoup the investment we’d put in and the business closed.

It was a pity really since although the British Art Co. was not making any profit, sales were growing, traffic to the site was increasing, our mail list was beefing up and the stock inventory had grown to almost 1,000 pieces of original art.

I still own the domain!

Lessons Learned

  • The importance of listening and adapting your beliefs… if there’s good reason.
  • How important it is to listen to your gut and believe what it tells you.
  • Customer acquisition in eBay.
  • Failure is not fatal!

Summary

I’ve been pretty lucky really. Having taken some calculated risks and experienced some failure, lost some time investment and burned a few bucks, I’ve learned an enormous amount.

I’ve learned far more in fact than I would have learned sitting in a cubicle for a soulless multinational… something I’ve had a taste of: you can read my bio to find out more if you’re interested.

I guess the big takeaway for me (if you haven’t guessed!) is that failure is not fatal… at least up to this point it hasn’t been for me!

That’s it for now… especially as this was only supposed to be a 1,000 word post!

Paul

Pinterest Failure is Not Fatal Share

I’m happy for you to share some of your failures in the comments section if you’d like. It would be good to hear more from others… we can all learn something from each other!

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