Fail Forward


Tuesday, January 13, 2004


“The secret of success is to go from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.”–Winston Churchill

With all due modesty, I have perhaps experienced more marketing success in my own businesses than any other person whose audience is entrepreneurs.

So then, does the subject of failure really belong on these pages? My answer: Absolutely!

Indeed, I don’t know of a more important success subject.


I submit you can never succeed big until you first discover how to fail.  And that it’s OK, and even desirable, to fail.

Plus, I’ve never seen or heard anyone talk about the subject in a realistic way.

Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not advocating being cavalier about any of your endeavors.

Indeed, doing all you can do to succeed in every activity is the path to high performance.

However, let’s say you or a loved one fails a subject in school. Providing you’ve applied yourself as best you can, nothing terrible happens.

You can always take the class over or change subjects.

Why spend endless hours punishing yourself or others?  It’s not fair.  And it’s a waste of time.

First, I’m going to show how to develop “an immunity to failure.”

I feel I’m eminently qualified to write about failure.While I’ve been blessed with a success level beyond my dreams, contrary to popular belief, in marketing and copy campaigns I’ve failed at least three times more often than I’ve succeeded.  And this continues.With new businesses of my own, my record is 21 successes and 2 failures.

My experience in direct marketing is not unique. A friend, Joe Sugarman, famous for BluBlocker sunglasses and one of the best copywriters ever, states he is thrilled if one out of 10 marketing campaigns is a success.  And his prime audience is consumers, one of the toughest to penetrate.

With copy projects for clients, especially for an entrepreneurial or health audience, I have major successes about 3 or 4 times out of about 10 attempts.

Here is the good news. If I succeed just 10% of the time, I continue to earn fortunes for my clients.And since I usually own equity in the company, for myself as well!

Tip: The secret to marketing success—risk small and “roll out” big.

Indeed, while they may not publicize it, every highly successful person I know, whether an entrepreneur, politician, or executive, fails far more often than they succeed.

So do the world’s best athletes.

On your path to success you, too, will undoubtedly fail far more often than you will succeed.

Here is the important point. It’s not your failures that can cause you the problems. It’s how you react to them that makes all the difference.

When many people experience even a single marketing setback, such as an ad that doesn’t pull, they get so discouraged and down on themselves they never try again. Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a choice that’s within your power.

In Europe and Asia in particular a failure of any kind, especially in business, is considered shameful.Unfortunately, it’s even socially unacceptable.

For example, at least two entrepreneurs I know in Switzerland didn’t succeed their first time out. Now they do not even show their face at our tennis club. They are too ashamed!

This aversion to failure keeps the vast majority of Europeans from taking risks and becoming entrepreneurs.

The most forgiving country in the world as to risks,