Before I started M-Powered, I worked in a couple of different companies. My first “serious” office job was in a language school and translation agency in Galway, where I was responsible for marketing and public relations. I would like to tell you about two of the biggest mistakes I made while I was there. One of them even involved the police! (It was over 10 years ago so I think the Statute of Limitations has expired on this minor infraction!)
But why am I telling you these embarrassing stories? A couple of days ago, I read one of my favourite newsletters written by a Polish business coach Agata Dudkowska where she said that 90% of people make a lot of bad decisions and mistakes before finally producing something good. It seems only 10% of us are geniuses who solely create masterpieces!
The fear of failure can be paralysing and prevent us from pursuing our creative and entrepreneurial goals. This can be especially true early on in your career and – in the case of your own company – when you can see the impact of mistakes so clearly on your bottom line. Who of us doesn’t have an internal critic, second guessing all our choices and filling us with doubt?
So, why not share failures? At the very least, it may give some of you a laugh, and at most, it demonstrates that screwing up is normal and all part of the process of growing professionally and growing your business.
Screw-up # 1:The “Sick my duck” leaflet
It was my first leaflet campaign. My boss went on holidays and told me that I have free reign to create my own vision. Because it was for a language school, I thought it would be great to use a common language mistake to promote our English courses. I searched the Internet and came up with a phrase:“Sick my duck”, which is an incorrect pronunciation of the phrase… well, you can imagine!
I thought it would be catchy! The idea was to deliver 7000 leaflets to houses all over Galway. I designed the leaflet and ordered printing, but – perhaps clairvoyantly? – that night, I dreamt of 7000 children reading my leaflets and asking their shocked parents what the phrase meant. The next morning, I rang the printers first thing and cancelled the order.
Was it a golden opportunity lost? I think not! I haven’t regretted that decision since 😊
Screw-up # 2:The “Big Foot” campaign
Undeterred by the failure of “sick my duck”, I unleashed another ambitious PR campaign shortly afterwards, dubbed the “Big Foot” campaign.
I was inspired by a successful teaser campaign that had been launched in Poland. In several major cities, people were seen walking around holding dog leashes that were rigid and so gave the appearance of being attached to an invisible dog.
It sparked widespread intrigue and curiosity and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that we learned the campaign was for a new beer called “Dog in the Fog”. It was so effective that I still remember it years later, even though the beer itself has long been discontinued.
So, I developed a teaser campaign idea for our school. I wanted it to surprise and fascinate people and have them asking the question: “Who orchestrated this?!” (Spoiler alert: it worked.)
I created templates of giant footprints that could be filled in with chalk. Once evening, I surreptitiously tested my creation on Shop Street (Galway’s main pedestrian street). I thought it looked good! I hired a group of university students and asked them to chalk hundreds of footprints throughout the city centre, all leading back to our language school.
They set out at night. Unfortunately, although perhaps not surprisingly for the West of Ireland, it rained shortly after all the footprints were completed. In the morning, the chalk stuck to peoples’ shoes and got tracked into shops. The police showed up to our school not long after and asked if we knew anything about this “act of vandalism”. It was even reported in national media! We decided to keep quiet about our involvement, although it would have definitely made our company famous nationwide…
While these aren’t my proudest examples from my professional career, they certainly taught me a lot. And make for some fun stories! I’m definitely much more careful in my marketing decisions these days, but I hope I never lose that original creative spark that inspired these shenanigans!
So, what have your business mistakes taught you? Sometimes, we can be hard on ourselves over mistakes but I invite you to reflect on them as a learning experience, and maybe with some humour too!