The Importance of Failing Fast

By Carlos Portocarrero

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I’ve gotten some emails from readers asking to write a few words about Ramit’s Earn1k course so they can get my impressions of it. So today I’m covering one of the topics he emphasizes early on: failing fast.

Here’s how most of us expect to start making money on the side:

  1. Brainstorm ideas of what to do
  2. Create a list of 20 ideas
  3. After much harrowing thought, narrow down to five
  4. Think long and hard about which one of those five is “the one”
  5. Pick out the “winner” and don’t stop until you’ve succeeded
  6. Keep trying
  7. If you fail, try doing it a little differently
  8. Try again
  9. Keep Trying
  10. You can do it!

Ramit doesn’t roll like that. First of all, he won’t cheer you on like a self-help guru—he’ll tell it like it is and then leave it up to you to make it happen. If you are lazy or expect it to be easy, it’s your own damn fault.

Persistence is a great quality to have, but sometimes it isn’t the smartest. And when you’re starting a freelance business (or even a real business), it’s crucial not to overdo it on the persistence. Unless you are very clear on the type of life you want to lead (freelance interior designer) and aren’t willing to compromise, then you’re going to have to learn to fail fast.

That means making the following sequence happen as quickly and efficiently as you can, so you can repeat it over and over until you find something that works:

  1. Brainstorm ideas
  2. Choose one
  3. Test it
  4. If it fails, move on to the next one
  5. Repeat

First of all, that sequence is shorter. Second, it’s much more efficient that knocking your head against the wall until you start to see some progress. You’ll wind up exhausted, frustrated, and dumber than when you started. But it’s important to understand that the odds of our first idea being wildly successful are very small. How many times have you heard a successful entrepreneur tell a horror story about a colossal failure in their past? It happens to everyone—at least the successful ones.

Failure isn’t something you might bump into—it’s something you most definitely will crash and burn into. So you have to be ready to get out of the fire and start over instead of trying to salvage the burning wreckage.

This Is Not Easy

Part of this is that we’re programmed to want to seem persistent. Few of us actually are, but if we quit after encountering some difficulties that makes us feel like quitters. And in our society, quitters are synonymous with losers. And losers suck. And none of us want to suck. Unless that’s your freelance idea—sucking—in which case my advice is to fail fast so you can move on to the next one.

An Example

Say you want to get a new job. You’re an accountant and you want to be a newspaper writer because you’ve always liked writing, you read a magazine article that makes it seem like your dream job, and you’ve had your head in the sand for the past few years.

You could find a job with a paper, quit your old one, and live it up. Right? A few months later you realize you’ve made a big mistake: newspapers are dying, the pay is crap, you haven’t written anything since that story about the sock and the drawer in first grade, and you’re only eating pasta and butter for dinner these days on account of the shrinking bank account.

What do you do?

You could “try harder” and “get better” to see if that makes a difference (it won’t). You could keep at it for a few years to “get some experience,” falsely assuming that once you do you’ll be able to command a higher salary. You could sit down one day and say to yourself, “I don’t care about money—I just want to be happy. I’m going to keep at this and somehow make it work.”

Which is fine, but it’s not very smart. Here’s how you should’ve done it:

Find a freelance/part-time position at a newspaper. Or even an internship. You do it while you still have your accounting job. Do you like it? How does the pay project if you did it full time? Do it for a month or two and after that make an executive decision: keep trying or kill the experiment?

You kill it and move on to the next thing—now you’re failing but you’re failing smart. What then? You start your own blog. One of the articles you read during your experiment talked about how blogs were making a lot of newspapers irrelevant. So you start your own and you write as much as you can, learn, and try to get better. A few months later you ask yourself again: is this worth doing? is it helping me reach my goals? I would hope the answer would be “yes,” since blogging is awesome and can only help you out in the long run.

But if it doesn’t, you kill it and move on to the next thing.

What This Has to Do with Ramit’s Course

Failing fast one of the pillars of the Earn1k course. Without it, you wouldn’t get very far. Even Chris highlights how important this is in his Empire Building Kit.

The key is that you have to fail smart and you have to fail fast, which means you have to put your idea through a rigorous process that will leave no doubt in your mind when it comes time to move on to the next thing. The last thing you want to have is a bunch of regrets about the newspaper career you could’ve had.

So to sum it up: fail smart, fail fast, and move on to the next thing. If you do it right and you’re persistent you’ll eventually find a winner.

This post was included in the Carnival of Financial Planning and the Carnival of Money Stories.

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