5 Ways I’ve Failed at Business (for better or for worse)

5 ways I've totally failed at business

Running your own business is hard.

  • I don’t have the answers.
  • I stumbled into this business accidentally. I didn’t form it because I’m a “business expert” or “have a lot of experience”.
  • Most of the time I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • More often than not, I just do what I want or what I feel is “right” or “best”, and hope for the best.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of successes. I’ve also had a lot of failures. All of those failures affect my business in one way or another. Some of them forge who I am today in a good way, but others have a more negative impact.

Some of these are actual mistakes (like #5!), others are ways I’m probably sabotaging my growth (#3 and #4), and others are more like choices that would just make many other business owners cringe (like #1 and #2—eeks!).

1) I don’t like marketing or promoting myself… or sales in general.

At the end of 2015, I had a plan. It was basically a big, epic marketing plan. I was going to launch new products, start hosting webinars, create sales funnels… it was going to be glorious.

It didn’t happen.

Or maybe it started to happen, but then died a swift death.

Shortly after dipping my toes into this new area of “epic marketing”, I realized how much I hated it.

  • I felt gross about the whole process.
  • I felt salesy.
  • I felt like I was shoving everything in peoples’ faces.
  • I didn’t feel genuine.

That’s not to say that people who do epic marketing or sales funnels aren’t genuine… that’s not what I’m saying at all. It just didn’t feel right for me.

Instead, I had a super low-key product launch.

When my Master Customizer e-course launched, I didn’t want to send out a huge email sequence bugging my subscribers about the launch. I didn’t want to promote it in every blog post for a month. I didn’t want to host a series of webinars to promote my course.

As a reader, I hate it when someone’s entire blog/newsletter becomes all about one single product/offer. I’m fine with one email—maybe two—but not three, five, seven, twelve. I didn’t want to be like that.

So instead of going all epic marketer (which probably would have made me more money), I had a super low-key launch. I sent out one (maybe two, I can’t actually remember) email to my subscribers and mentioned the e-course in maybe two relevant blog posts.

It was a super low-key launch with moderate sales, but I was happy with it. The people who were truly interested bought it and the ones who weren’t didn’t. That’s cool with me.

2) I stopped trying to build my email list.

Earlier in 2015, I got into the big content upgrade craze. I put all my ‘free’ downloads behind an email wall, so you had to subscribe to my mailing list to get the plugin/PDF (or whatever). This grew my mailing list like crazy. My email list prior to this took me about three years to build. I more than doubled that number in just a few months.

Then I removed my content upgrades.

But you may have noticed that all my content upgrades are now gone and I’m back to 100% free downloads (no email required).

Just like the marketing, I started to feel icky about it. I wasn’t tricking anyone. I fully disclosed that you’d be added to my mailing list after putting in your email. And I even sent out a welcome email inviting people to unsubscribe if they didn’t want to be on my list.

All things considered, I think I approached content upgrades in a pretty good, honest way. But I still didn’t like it.

I want to be proud of each person on my mailing list.

I used to always be really proud of my list. It was full of people who loved my content and then made the explicit decision to subscribe in order to keep getting it. My new list wasn’t something I was proud of. Even though I didn’t trick people into signing up, it felt like I had.

I don’t know what my email list plan will be like in the future, but I do know that I want to go back to the days where I had a list I could be proud of… a list that was full of people who truly wanted to be there.

3) I suck at collaboration.

I’ve unintentionally burned a lot of bridges with other awesome business owners because I suck at collaborating.

I’m independent and like to do stuff on my own. I’m the kind of girl who preferred individual projects over group projects at school. Business is turning out to be no different.

  • I’ve had people approach me asking me to promote their products. If I said yes, it would have probably been the start of a great relationship with that person. It easily could have led to collaborations, them promoting me in return, etc. But instead I said no because “I don’t promote products I haven’t personally used”. They always understand, but I feel like that just kills the relationships.
  • When I have occasionally done collaborations, I’ve often dropped the ball halfway through, which usually means they’re not interested in working with me again. I push people away.

Collaborations help businesses grow, expand, and reach new audiences. But I keep sabotaging my opportunities.

4) Constant topic flip-flop (books » coding » books?).

What’s my blog actually about? This isn’t the first time I’ve struggled with this.

It all started with books.

Nose Graze started as a book blog. Shortly after launch, I started talking about blogging and coding as well, but even those posts were directed at book bloggers. It was still a book blog.

Books and coding together.

A few years later, I shed the ‘book blog’ label but I still struggled with my identity. My blog slowly became less about books and more about WordPress and code.

Almost 100% coding and WordPress.

In 2015, my blog became like 95% WordPress/code and 5% books… if that. Sure, I was still kind of in the book blogging community, but my blog had become firmly about using and coding for WordPress.

Back to books? Really?

But now, I feel myself gravitating back to books. Maybe something about BookExpo America just reignited my passion for book blogging.. but I feel like I miss it.

What do I do about this constant change?

If Nose Graze were purely a personal blog, I’d say, “Fuck it. Do whatever you want. Make your blog wherever you want.” Change isn’t a bad thing. People change, and blogs can change with them.

But Nose Graze isn’t purely personal. It’s intertwined with my business. What I blog about affects my audience, and the audience I attract (or chase away) impacts my business.

  • Blogging more about code chased away so many of my book loving followers.
  • As I started blogging about more advanced code, I failed to attract an audience for that. I think many of my tutorials are just more advanced than my readers are interested in.
  • If I do want to go back to books, is it too late to bring those book loving friends back?

It’s hard to keep a “passion business” going when your own interests and passions keep moving around.

5) That Tweak Me v2 update that was mostly successful… except when it wasn’t.

I recently did a big overhaul of my Tweak Me v2 theme. This update involved a lot of function renames and re-coded template files. Most people wouldn’t recognize any differences, unless they had their own child theme.

At the time I thought I was doing a pretty decent job of ensuring it went through smoothly.

  • I did extensive testing on my own.
  • I released the update to my hosting clients about two weeks early. This allowed me to work out any problems before I released it to nearly 300 other people, and just generally see how the update went. (It went fine.)
  • I emailed all my customers to tell them about the update and who it would affect (people with child themes). I encouraged everyone to do the update on a test site first to make sure it went smoothly.

For almost all my customers, things went fine. But there were maybe three people who were pretty badly affected by the update (at least one of which basically hates me now).

I guess in my defence, these people either self admitted to seeing but ignoring my instructions email or just didn’t follow my instructions. But I still accept responsibility for what happened. It all boiled down to a lack of client education that I could have made better.

  • Many of my clients don’t know if they have a child theme or not (something I should have realized as a result of a recent survey I did). This means some people thought the update wouldn’t affect them, when it actually would, because they didn’t know they had a child theme.
  • Some people who had a child theme thought that meant they were no longer using Tweak Me v2 at all, so they thought the update didn’t apply to them.
  • Many of my clients don’t know how to create a test site, which means they’d ignore that piece of advice. This is also something I should have anticipated.

My email should have been clearer. I should have worked harder to make the update easier.

In general, the update was just too much work for the small amount of clients with a highly custom child theme. If I could do it all over again, I would have worked harder to make the update backwards compatible, or released the updates in smaller steps.

I’m disappointed in myself for disappointing some of my customers.

Making mistakes sucks, but try to use them as a learning opportunity.

Some of the things I mentioned will probably never change (like hating marketing), but others are definitely “lessons learned”. If I do another big theme update in the future, I have a better idea of how to handle it.

What are some mistakes you’ve made?

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I'm a 30-something California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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  1. “As I started blogging about more advanced code, I failed to attract an audience for that. I think many of my tutorials are just more advanced than my readers are interested in.”

    ME!! I’m that audience/reader! I love the advice you give in the Unstoppable Basecamp FB group and I’ve been stalking your blog recently as I try to dive deeper into creating themes without a Framework + (hopefully) a plugin.

    I’d love to see even more behind-the-scenes tutorials on your process, setup, etc. But of course, only if that’s what you want to blog about.

    When I first started reading your blog, I admit I was confused by the book posts, but now I’ve just ignored them (no offense). But I stay subscribed to your email list because I want to know when you have a new tech/developer based post.

    All that to say, I think you should just keep doing what you’re doing. If it’s working for you, then that’s ok!

    1. I’m so glad to have you Melissa. ♥

      I would definitely blog more about my process! I think those types of posts discourage me since they get so fewer comments than others.. But it’s nice to know there are some lurkers like you out there still reading. 🙂

  2. Hi! I just wanted to say that I appreciated your blog post so very much. I am a web designer and food blogger and a lot of what you wrote about I can relate to very well. You being vulnerable enough to share this was what I needed right now and makes me feel less alone as a business owner. You’re awesome <3

  3. I don’t think it is ever too late to return to book blogging. I’m still hanging around and I bet a lot of others are lurking on your blog somewhere 🙂 You are still a big name and I think it would be fairly easy for you to ease back into book blogging if you want to.

    1. Thank you Mel. 🙂 We’ll see how it goes I guess!

      It’s always lovely to see you. ♥

  4. Someone told me about your site while hunting for a plugin. It looks like you’re doing a good job! I had problem very similar to yours. I used to write about self-publishing and related topics. I started back in the late 1990s. By the time 2009 rolled around, I converted everything over to WordPress and started getting interested in themes, plugins, etc. So that’s what I started writing about.

    I lost most of my audience when I did that. I just couldn’t get them to “see” the possibilities I guess!

    Truth by told, I got sick of talking about self-publishing because everybody and their brother (maybe sisters, too?) was doing so. Information is like a commodity. The more there is of any one kind, the faster people get sick of it and want to move on to other things. It’s like eating your favorite food… every day… month after month. It gets old.

    Fast forward to 2016. I’m now convinced I have an answer – at least for myself. What’s the one thing people need but run out of in your market? Some run out on a daily basis and need an ongoing infusion of this one thing.


    Actually, I can give it several different labels all pointing to the same basic thing. It can be called; hope, inspiration, encouragement, motivation, etc.

    It’s the one thing (no matter what topic you write about) people always seem to be in need of because almost everything in life is harder than you think it’s going to. No matter what you’re doing or trying to do in any area of life – money, health, relationships – even using tech, you’ll find people confused, disheartened or ready to give up. Any niche you can thing of has discouraged people in it. It’s with all this in mind that I’ll be rebooting two of my existing blogs over the summer. I’m just going to go with it, not overthink, it and see where thing go from there 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience Jim! You make a lot of really good points. 🙂 And you’re definitely right that when I start seeing a bunch of content on the same thing, I get reaaaally sick of it. It gets old fast.

      I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you! Best of luck!

  5. I am one of your problem childs. I read those posts with all the neat things you can do, and want to follow along, but always end up lost. But in the back of my mind, I always remember that I’ve seen a post about doing something or other on your blog and end up back here doing searches. (Or bugging the crap out of you) I am sorry about that by the way. I think for the 5 ways you may think you’ve failed, you’ve excelled in many. So many people recommend you and have great things to say.

    1. Thanks so much Tanya. 🙂 And you’re right, it’s important to remember and celebrate our successes too!

  6. I LOVE this post! I relate to every damn thing about it. I had to chuckle when I read what you wrote about feeling icky with about marketing, etc., because I just bought the Master Customizer a few days ago (am seriously digging it), and I just HAD to get the new theme course within an hour of opening your email this morning! And regarding content upgrades, I feel the same way. My new blog won’t require any opt-in to get them. I want people to really want to subscribe to my list and not do so because it’s the only way that they can get my freebie.

    I don’t read your book posts, and I’m not yet ready to work through your advanced coding posts, either. But I’m looking forward to that day when it arises. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have even the slightest interest in coding anything, and now I just want to do nothing but focus on it. Wtf?! Haha. Your site inspires me – the simple aesthetic, content, and how you explain things so that they just make sense. But really, your integrity really strikes a chord with me, and I find myself wanting to read what you write because I trust and relate to you.

    Anyway, lots of bloggers combine random topics. Chris Guillebeau combines traveling the world with entrepreneurship, food bloggers often have photography-oriented side hustle, etc. Just sayin’.

    1. Thank you Kristi!! I’m so glad to hear you’re excited about the courses. 🙂 🙂 Send me an email if you have questions about either of them! ( girlsonwp@nosegraze.com )

      It sounds like you’re on the path to be a serious coding ninja! Go you!

      1. Haha I’m looking forward to becoming a coding ninja! And thanks – I will definitely reach out if I have any questions. Thanks!

  7. I think I’m one of the rare readers that loves both your coding/business posts and your book posts, haha. The whole opt-in/email list thing is a touchy topic. Email lists are super important but like you, I want the people on my email list to be big and meaningful, not just someone subscribing so they can get a piece of content.

    The funny part about the whole marketing and email list thing is right when I saw your email this morning about your new course, I was ready to sign up! Looking more into it!

    1. It’s so nice to see someone who’s interested in all my topics! 😀

      And yes, you’re right. It is a touchy topic. I don’t judge people who do want to go the whole content upgrade route, but I’ve figured out it’s not for me. It clearly works and has helped people get wildly successful, but it doesn’t feel like the right move for me and my business.

      Feel free to send me an email if you have questions about the course. 🙂

  8. Hi Ashley, Thank you so much for this post! As you said, it’s all about learning from your mistakes and your honesty shows that.
    It’s really refreshing to read honest post like yours! Thank you.

  9. Creating test sites is actually something I’d be curious to learn. I sometimes download free themes as part of an optin or service, and I’d love to play with the back end before deciding whether to use it on a site, vs. just looking at the developer’s demo.

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Ashley!
    I’m still new to blogging, and there have been many times where I was conflicted to decide what my blog is about. I started as a book+film blog, and then I began to write about travel as well, which is a completely different thing. I love those topics so much that I try really hard, and am still trying, to somehow blend those three and make the blog enjoyable to read. And yet, I also want the blog to become a business as well, although I still don’t know how. Like you said, if my blog were a purely personal blog, I wouldn’t have to hesitate about what I should write. Deep sigh.
    Once again, thank you for sharing this!

  11. Certainly appreciate your honesty Ashley and I can relate to it in many ways. All of the list building and marketing overwhelms me. I am one that love both books and learning how to code. Your blog has become one of my go-to places for coding tutorials. I appreciate you sharing your extensive knowledge.

    1. It’s always a pleasure to see a fellow book lover interested in coding. 🙂 Thanks Wanda!

  12. I’ve been reading nosegraze since it was strictly a book blog. I love coding, WordPress, AND books so of course I love everything you post. Also, I see you as one of the rare voices in the blogging/solopreneur/online business/whatever-you-wanna-call-it arena that cuts the bullshit and tells it like it is.

    Like you said in another post, I’m over being sold to. I’m over content upgrades, I’m over webinars, and I’m over free worksheets. None of those things are necessarily bad, but when the intent behind them is to sell, sell, sell with no regard for the people on the other end it’s no bueno.

    I’m done with people telling me what I should be doing to start my business and grow my blog. So much so, in fact, that I keep putting off launching my website. I’ve stopped signing up for freebies, stopped attending webinars, and unsubscribed from 80% of the newsletters I was on because I don’t want to be influenced by the online business sales circlejerk. I want to launch on my terms.

    I just want to share helpful shit and meet cool people. If I’ve helped them and they like what I’m about and want to jump on my email list, hire me, or buy something from me, that kicks ass! If not, I don’t feel right about trying to trick, cajole, or coerce them into it. So I guess my business mistakes would be perfectionism and letting the rampant inauthenticity around me derail my progress.

    (P.S. I’m not hating on people who use webinars, worksheets, and content upgrades in their businesses and if it works for them, awesome. It’s just not my bag. I’m frustrated with those who tell me that if I don’t do things that make me feel like a sleaze I won’t be successful.)

    1. I agree with everything you said Nicky!

      And I quite often find that those freebies aren’t actually useful. Sometimes it’s clear they were just released to grow subscribers and the actual content is a huge disappointment. Of course that’s not always the case—some people deliver great freebies. But I definitely see a large amount that were just scrapped together and thrown up there to generate subscribers.

      There was one in particular I keep coming back to. It was a paid/boosted post on Facebook about “An inside look at a five figure launch” or something. It was made to look/sound really interesting. I thought I was getting epic behind-the-scenes with stats, real numbers, and real takeaways (“Here’s what worked”, “Here’s what didn’t”, “Here’s what we earned”). The result was a super generic “how to launch your product” checklist with zero substance, and zero real behind-the-scenes info. (They didn’t even talk about the REAL result of their launch. No real numbers or anything.) It was nothing specific to THEIR launch. It was just like, “Do a webinar,” “Promote on social media,” “Email your list.” Well duh.

      I’m sick of everything having an agenda.

      I miss people who just put out really good content because they were passionate about it.

  13. I wish I could follow along with your tutorial but most of them are WordPress. However if I ever move to WordPress I’m sure they’d be very helpful.

  14. Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing your business experiences. I can relate to the part about using marketing methods that didn’t feel right.

    I often recommend the article I’ve linked below for anyone in business who either doesn’t like marketing or struggle with developing and sticking to a marketing plan.

    The author, Beth Grant, developed a system for business owners to find the marketing method that best suits their personal preferences. She found patterns in people that lead to her coming up with terms to describe the different ways people provide solutions to others and to describe how people persuade others. To find your marketing style, you select the solution providing style and persuasion style that you think best represents the strengths you currently have. It is possible to have more than one marketing style.

    These are the 4 Natural Styles of providing solutions according to Grant.

    “A Guru Star has an “I know best” approach to offering solutions. It’s kind of like this: “Buyer, you have a problem, or desire for something better, and I know how you can solve it. Just do what I tell you to do, and you can have what you want.”

    A Truth Guide has a “you know best” approach to offering solutions, meaning, It’s like this: “Buyer, you have a need or desire for something. I’m going to use my expertise to empower you in finding the solution or discovery you long for.”

    A Connector has a “they know best” approach. Instead of acting as the expert, they get their joy from connecting people with someone else’s solution or product. So it’s like this: “Buyer, you have a need or desire for something. I’m going to connect you with the person or solution that is right for you.” A Connector, first and foremost, is a center of influence.

    A Supporter is someone who gets their joy from serving others, or whose business is a pillar in someone else’s business. Examples of Supporters are entrepreneurs who are writers, publicists, event planners or accountants.”

    These are the 3 Personal Persuasion styles as described in the article.

    “A Charismatic person has a charm, confidence or energy that attracts people and keeps them engaged. We all know charismatic people, as they tend to be out front and in the spotlight.

    With Conversational people, their essence comes through in their voice. Or, there is something that happens through the act of talking with them that puts people at ease and causes them to want to take the next step.

    Compelling Creative is a talent, skill or idea that is so incredible, it causes the person to buy. The deciding factor here is whether the talent, skill or idea can stand on its own. So, even if you stink to high heaven or your voice is like nails on a chalkboard or you have the charisma of a houseplant, people would still want to buy from you because your talent, skill or idea compels them to.”

    I found the article to be helpful. Plus, I love to read personality type/assessment test articles.

  15. This post is a really great read for us, especially part four because we’re brand new to the blogging world and there’s just so many things we want to talk about. We feel like we might not attract a loyal audience or an audience at all if we branch out too far and leave our blog with a sense of inconsistency.

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