A woman seated on the steps reading

I opened my travel agency on Dec. 16, 2019. I closed it on Jan. 30, 2020. My agency lasted one month. I named it Terra Madre, Mother Earth. It was the right name, just the wrong business. 

In June, I decided to partner up with the franchise Giramondo. I was supposed to inaugurate in September so I signed a lease. The bureaucracy of Giramondo delayed the opening, and I ended up paying rent for an empty store. The more questions I asked, the fewer answers I got. By mid-January, I was overwhelmed and broke. 

Still, it was a life lesson. Here are five positive lessons I learned from a business failure. 

Research and learn.

As soon as Giramondo said yes, I was all in. I had gone to their headquarters, and I had spoken to their managers. I put complete trust in the company, and I didn’t see the warning signs such as the monthly deposits I had to make to use their system. Often, they answered me slowly, and my calls bounced between offices. 

I chose the wrong partner and even the wrong accountant. I didn’t know what papers I would need, how to do a balance sheet and how to register my transactions. Not to mention taxes, which is a whole other headache. Italian bureaucracy is a nightmare, and I thought all I needed was a calculator and my goodwill.

Next time, I’d take my time to research the market and the franchise. I’d also learn the process to make sure I understood it. Ignorance is not always bliss. It’s important to educate yourself as a new business owner.

Ignorance is not always bliss. It’s important to educate yourself as a new business owner.

Have an emergency fund.

Money was a big question mark for me. After years of juggling between under-paid jobs and unemployment, my bank account was waning. I somehow convinced the bank to loan me $14,000. It seemed like a lot. It wasn’t. 

I had to pay government fees, the accountant and Giramondo. I had to pay rent, a deposit and a real estate agent’s fee. I had to pay utilities, and I had to furnish the store. The $14,000 went quickly, and when I opened the agency, I didn’t have much left. 

Next time, I will make sure to save enough money before starting my business. When you are starting out, you should always have an emergency fund for extra support. There are many expenses that pop up when first launching a business. It’s important to expect the unexpected. 

Slow down.

Most of my mistakes were caused by impatience. After years of not so great jobs, I felt like I deserved a chance. So I pushed the accelerator. I went on like a tank, destroying every obstacle in front of me without realizing there were more beside me. 

I didn’t stop to question the process. I was eager to prove that I could do it on my own, that I was strong and resourceful. I didn’t need anyone, I thought. I could overcome any obstacle. I felt powerful. In reality, I was just scared. I was afraid that if I slowed down, then the castle I had built would fall. Only losers pull the brakes, I thought. Turns out, I was the one losing. 

Only losers pull the brakes, I thought. Turns out, I was the one losing. 

Next time, I will take slow, baby steps. As a new business owner, everything may seem pertinent in the moment. You may rush to dot all your i’s and cross your t’s, but in reality, patience allows you space and time to learn and grow at your own pace.

Don’t do it for other people.

Before my business adventure, I felt like a failure. I graduated from an American college and I worked in the United States for five years. Yet, when my visa situation forced me to move back to Italy, none of that mattered. For months, I sent at least 20 applications every day and got maybe three interviews. I was frustrated and hopeless. 

That is until Giramondo came around and, finally, someone believed in me. It was the chance to show everyone else what I was capable of and to shut up my family, who always asked about the work and never about my happiness. Now, I realize that my motive behind opening Terra Madre was to prove something, not to achieve something.

Next time, I will do it for me. If you are motivated to prove naysayers wrong, this drive will not keep you fueled for the long haul. Your greatest motivator and motivation should be yourself.

If you are motivated to prove naysayers wrong, this drive will not keep you fueled for the long haul.

You will make mistakes.

Accept them. Easier said than done, right? I know because I am demanding. Indeed, I am the worst judge of myself. It’s not the best attitude to have, especially when starting a business. 

No one is perfect. No one knows it all, and it’s not always your fault. You can’t control everything, and there will always be obstacles and surprises in life and in business. No matter the amount of research and studying, anything can happen. 

I made mistakes when I was opening my travel agency, and I can finally accept them. I am an imperfect person dealing with imperfect people in a confusing world. And that’s OK. When I closed the agency, I felt angry, sad and defeated. Now that time has passed, I feel relieved. I wanted it to be the right moment, but it wasn’t. 

I have learned and next time, I will do better. There will be a next time. My business failed, but I did not fail.

Have you ever launched your own business? What were some downfalls you encountered early on and what did you learn?

Image via Raisa Zwart Photography

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