Small Business and the Concept of Failure

Small Business and the Concept of Failure

At my BNI meeting yesterday, I presented a “positive” quote to close the meeting, a feature of the meeting’s agenda. Because the concept of failure has been on my mind of late, I provided this quote attributed to William Shakespeare:

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

Many business leaders will speak of the concept of failure and the need to risk failure to be truly successful. Even someone as successful (and surprising) as Gene Simmons has said that failure “means nothing.” Simmons notes that if something is not working, move on the the next thing.

Easy for him to say, he has hundreds of millions of dollars and a fat cushion for failure, right? Well, that may be true now, but KISS started off as a garage band with no specific prospects, so that was a risk.

I meet with people all the time who have an idea for a business, an invention, or simply an idea to make their work or personal lives better. And they never do anything with it. I am just as guilty as the next guy of this mindset–maybe even more so.

Lawyers by nature tend to be pretty conservative in terms of risk. We are after all trained to identify and to the extent practicable ameliorate risk as much as possible. But every business owner who has leapt off the ledge and just gone for it runs the risk of turning into what my high school physics teacher described as “pancakes and syrup” (figuratively) on the pavement. So rather than avoid risk and the possibility of failure, business owners have embrace it, hence the growing popularity of Failure Club.

So what does that have to do with lawyering? Well, I have taken the risk of going out on my own as a solo, so I do understand the fear of starting a business. There are risks and nothing I can do or say, either for myself or my clients, can eliminate all risk. But at the same time, I can, as a lawyer, empathize and sympathize with my clients about those fears because I share them and experience them.

The value of a good small business lawyer is not just in the legal work they can do for an owner. We cannot eliminate all of the risk. We can identify it, perhaps even quantify it, but we cannot eliminate it. When an owner comes to me and asks, “Can you help me?” I say sure. “Can you make this risk free?” That I can’t do, not in a million years and not with a million lawyers.

I do not see my role as an advisor to small businesses as existing to say “No.” I do no substitute my business judgment for that of my client. I will help identify risk, I will help manage risk, but at the end of the day, I cannot take the risk for any business owner but myself.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” John F. Kennedy.