start up business

Making Failure Pay Off for the Next Venture

by Jeffery A. Timmons

Listen to Beverly Morrison [transcript], who lost her house and $80,000 in cash because of a cosmetics business that failed. She bounced back from her mistakes and started over, this time in what has turned out to be a winning venture. Her climb out of despair and financial ruin is a saga that contains several classic entrepreneurial lessons.

“I cried for about 30 days straight in my house because I knew that, you know, I had a lot of problems and I cried and I cried and I cried. And then one day I just said – I was reading the paper because I said, ‘Well, now I really have to go find a job.’ I have to go crawl back on my belly to the courthouse and ask them for my job back.

And I had that thought around and actually made the phone call and decided not to and I still had a job. My job hadn’t been filled. So – but then I was reading this ad in the paper one day about transcribing, so I called up and answered the ad.

It was for film transcripts. I didn’t even know there was such a big need for – in the film industry for that kind of work and all this other stuff out there. I’d done it but I didn’t know that – to put it all together as a businessperson.

So I did – I did that for about a month. I worked, like, during the month of December and then I decided, well, geez, let me ask them if I can work at home, and so I did. And then I got a little rinky-dink computer, a little IBM XT, and I started to type from home and they loaned me a transcriber. I didn’t even buy one. And then when I decided to buy one, I asked them could they charge it for me at Staples because, you know, I – I just had limited funds at the time because, you know, I’d gotten myself into a mess. So I started getting referrals from – from one client to the next and, you know, the word spread about our work and WGBH has become one of our biggest clients.”

“And then my friends also told me, you’re crazy, you need to go and get a job. You have a $2500-a-month mortgage, you need to go get a job. And I said, ‘No, let me just try this for a while.’ And actually the one – if I hadn’t tuned out my friends the second time around – and I thought I was making a mistake because they were – it was almost proving to them that they were wrong, that – you know, I’d had this major failure but I could really do a business. I could run my own business and I was meant to run my own business. So it was sort of proving it to my friends, too. And it’s funny because they all told me there is only so much money you can make typing by yourself. I said, ‘I know, but, you know, in about a year I could probably hire a couple of other people and – you know, and spin-off from there.’

Just from year one to now, which is year four and half in this business, I’ve seen it grow from a $3,000 that I made in my first year to being in the almost $200,000-a-year business.”

This type of documentary material is a powerful learning tool. In Morrison’s case, it tells about two key aspects of entrepreneurship: personal motivation and finding the right opportunity. Her story is also a crystal example of staying with a vision and growing the business, two other key ingredients in the process. If she can do it, so can millions of other people who share similar drive and determination.


The Keys to Entrepreneurial Success, Copyright 1995 Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Inc., Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation