Back Office Secrets
with Jenny Shih

Reframing Failure: How to Turn a Flop Into a Success

Every entrepreneur has a great idea that flops, myself included.

It’s not if or when something flops that matters – it’s what you do next.

Some people have little freak-outs.

Others dive into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

A third group calls it quits.

The funny thing is that none of those reactions change anything. A failure is still a failure.

Or is it?

Here’s what I believe: Unsuccessful endeavors do NOT make us failures. At least, not unless we want them to.

Pinball paddles

My First Big Failure

Back when I was a career coach creating my first product, I spent hundreds of painstaking hours on it – I wanted it to be perfect.

When launch day arrived, I took a deep breath and clicked “send” on the announcement to my list, posted on Facebook and Twitter, and opened my inbox, waiting for my very first purchase confirmation.

I waited. And waited.

On day one, I had zero purchases.

Day two? Zero.

Day three? One hope-inspiring purchase. And every day after that? Nada.

Panic set in. I needed to make a living with this business, and I had a mortgage to pay! If people weren’t buying this labor of love, what could I possibly create that they’d actually want?!

The answer: I had no freaking idea.

So what did I do? I gave up. I blamed myself for the failure and called it quits on the product.

Looking back, I missed the most important step we need to take when a failure happens: reframing. This simple but powerful concept – which I had totally forgotten about – comes from my first career in the sciences.

The Game-Changing Failure Reframe

With my first failed product, there were dozens of potential ways I could have turned my launch into at least a partial success. But because I was so quick to blame myself, I never got curious enough. Instead, I threw in the towel and scrapped the project.

This doesn’t need to be you.

Instead, think like a scientist.

Think about it: everything we do in our business is an experiment. We have an idea, make it a reality, and then test it on our target markets.

But somewhere along the line, we ALL make a huge mistake. And we associate our self-worth with the success of our business.

Huge mistake quote

When something goes wrong, instead of saying, “That approach didn’t go well,” it becomes, “I’m a failure. I’m never going to make it. I’m doing it all wrong.”

Scientists take the opposite approach. They’re 100% objective. They know they won’t always get ideal results in the first round, so they approach every experiment with an “I’ll do my best and see what happens” attitude.

If something goes wrong, they don’t take it personally. You won’t see a scientist throwing test tubes on the ground in a panic, declaring they’re “just not cut out for science.”

Instead, they investigate what didn’t go as expected and determine their next steps. After all, experimenting is all about figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and failure is an essential part of this process.

When you apply this experimental concept to your business, you’ll be amazed by what follows. Suddenly, you’re no longer taking results personally. You open yourself up to new ideas, opportunities, and possibilities. It’s like hitting a magical reset button, letting yourself move on to the next phase unscathed.

Reframing Changes Everything That Happens Next

Once you’ve reset your thinking, you’re primed to turn your failure around. The next step is to investigate.

Make your curiosity stronger than your doubt.

After my first failed launch, I figured I created the wrong thing. In reality, it was probably my marketing skills that needed some work. If I’d taken the time to examine the whole affair more closely, it would have been easy to pick up on. Instead, I threw those hundreds of hours of work into the garbage.

So the next time you hit a wall, ask yourself a few important investigative questions:

“Did I talk it through with anyone else?” As in, did you share it with your mastermind group, coach, or anyone other than your dog or your spouse? If you haven’t gone over it with the people you know can help you, do that immediately.

“Did I put enough effort into marketing?” Did you tell your list at least 3 times? Share it over Facebook? LinkedIn? Reach out to your colleagues and close friends about it over email? Give a sign-up deadline? Create and execute seven backup plans to give it a solid go at selling?

From this place, you can see what other support you might need to turn your failure around.

Also, get strong support in your corner.

We all know a successful online business requires a blend of smart marketing, business sense, good ideas, strategic execution, and crazy determination. But you don’t have to do it all alone.

When you’re first starting out, you don’t know how to do all of these things yourself. And often, you don’t know what you don’t know! This is where a business coach can step in and show you what you might not even realize you need to consider in order to make your next go a success instead of a flop.

Reframing Before You Launch

Now that you understand how powerful it can be to approach a failure with a scientist’s mindset, let me let you in on a little secret:

You can apply this same concept BEFORE you launch.

That’s right. Learning from my early mistakes, I now look at everything in my business as an experiment, right from the beginning.

I don my scientist’s hat. I get curious about how to make my product or program work. I get other people’s eyeballs on it. I reach out for support. And I create seven backup plans to ensure success.

It works like a charm, every time. And even when I don’t hit a home run, my self-worth doesn’t end up in a ditch somewhere.

So whether you want to ensure that your next endeavor doesn’t flop or you’re already recovering from one, with this clarity, you’re ready to make smart decisions instead of reactive ones.

And that is EXACTLY how you turn failures into successes.

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About Jenny Shih

Jenny Shih of is a coach and consultant for small business owners. Her clients are “idea factories” with growing businesses who need help planning, strategizing, streamlining and systematizing. She helps new entrepreneurs define their niche, learn the basics of marketing, and start making money. And she helps experienced entrepreneurs set up systems so they can get out of the daily grind and spend more time doing what they love.

Jenny is the author of The System Flight Kit, everything you need to create effective systems in your business, and The Idea Flight Kit, a step-by-step guide for turning your ideas into something real. Download your copies right here. They’re FREE!


  1. Hi Jenny,

    The good old: plan – do – check – act in action. Great!
    I love “reframing”, it makes the splash sound less hard event it is not.

  2. Most failure reframing comes to the realization that we should focus on what other people already want, instead of what we want to make.

    You don’t learn this lesson without failing, I don’t think.

    • I’m not sure I agree that we should focus on what other people want. Yes, we do need to use their words in our marketing, and in fact, it’s essential. However, I never suggest to my clients that they create at the expense of their own desires.

      Businesses that spring from what we’re most here to give are the ones that succeed. It’s what I teach my clients and it’s what I follow myself. It works very well.

      Failure reframing is about seeing what you did not as “bad” or “wrong” but as an opportunity to improve. Maybe that’s marketing or maybe it’s focusing on what we really want to create, not what other people want.

      This has been my experience.