THE BLOG

What to Do When You Mess Up As an Entrepreneur

06/22/2015 06:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Nobody likes to admit when they've made a mistake and risk the embarrassment, reputation-sullying, or potential wrath from the person who was wronged. This is especially true of Millennials, who were raised with participation trophies and parents with a propensity for telling them they were perfect no matter how big a flub they made.

However, as an entrepreneur, one of the best skills you can have is admitting when you're wrong and to genuinely apologize for it. Actually, this is one of the best skills to have, period. It will improve your professional relationships, personal relationships and ultimately yourself.

However, this is really a skill that should be learned and honed since you were a child. But if that didn't happen? Don't worry -- there's still plenty of time to work on it.

It's human nature to want to cover up your mistakes and move on as quickly as possible (hoping nobody noticed). This tactic works to your advantage in an era where "scandals" are happening constantly, people have the attention spans of goldfish and where it might seem like everyone forgets your faux pas just a few days later. However, only the people it didn't really impact forget. The ones who were truly impacted or hurt by your mistake remember.

The Stages of Messing Up

Spoiler alert: Everyone messes up, including entrepreneurs. This is a big learning experience with a steep learning curve, and you're not going to get it perfect the first time--or ever. Having a mentor in your corner can be a huge help, as can partners who help keep you accountable. If you know you've made a mistake, ask yourself:

  1. Who does this impact?
  2. Can I fix it?
Reach out to those it impacts immediately, explain the situation and explain what you'll do to remedy the problem (if possible). Apologize genuinely, and then explain what you'll do to prevent this from happening again.

If the problem can't be fixed (such as if you lost your co-founders' investment in a bad business deal), how are you going to take responsibility? You may not be able to get "that" money back, but you certainly owe it to your co-founders to pay them back in some manner. It may take time, it should definitely take a written agreement and you'll have to deal with the fact that they may not trust you financially for a while. Again, a genuine apology is needed, but accepted apologies don't mean all is forgotten. It just means they're showing you grace. Try to remember, you will fail at some point. I've failed so many times. Get past it.

Own Your Mistakes


The worst thing an entrepreneur can do is trying to bury mistakes without addressing them. Some people will flat-out deny they're to blame, even when they clearly are. Others will try to find a scapegoat, maybe throwing a partner or employee under the bus.

This is the "flight" part of the fight or flight mentality. Remember you're an entrepreneur--a born fighter. This is one of the hurdles on your path, albeit one you put there yourself. Tackle it head-on and use this opportunity to hone your character.

There may even be times when you owe the IRS money for taxes. Own it, file an extension and start paying off the your debts.

Learn For Your Mistakes


Mistakes happen, and if you're lucky the people it impacts will be understanding. However, if these mistakes happen more than once, it's a pattern. If you don't learn from these mistakes, you're bound to repeat them.