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Like Mo Farah, should entrepreneurs practice and prepare for setbacks?

Watching British long-distance runner Mo Farah romp to victory in Olympics 10,000m final, after falling earlier in the race, got me thinking: should we all be ready for setbacks and know how to respond accordingly?
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It’s something he’s been training four years for, putting in weeks and weeks at high altitude and sacrificing up to six months of the year with his young family. Farah, unbeaten in the 10,000 since 2011, became the first British track and field athlete to win three Olympic gold medals.

He now has gold medals for three of his four children, and will look to find one for his youngest when he takes part in the 5,000m final on 21 August.

But it all could have been so different if Farah had not managed to pick himself up, dust himself down and re-focus after his ankle was clipped by training partner Galen Rupp half way through. With all of his endurance training, sleeping in an tent that reduces oxygen and sprinting work, I wonder if he works on getting back into a race if he hits the deck.

The same goes for business owners. If you’re sailing along and producing solid yearly turnover growth, surely it makes sense to think about dealing with a setback.

Failure and setbacks are events that can prove to be the making of an entrepreneur. The lesson’s learnt are invaluable and serve to create a more resilient and prepared business builder. Take Jo Malone for example. As the woman behind her eponymous brand, when it came to setting up her second business she made the mistake of giving it the same name as someone selling sex toys. Sharing the top of Google search with a vibrator retailer wasn’t really what she wanted for her fragrance collection.

Then there is the famous story of Henry Ford, the man behind Ford Motor Co. His first company, Detroit Automobile Company, went bankrupt in 1901 because of high prices and low-quality products. His second attempt wasn’t much better either, it collapsed due to a partner dispute. Ford’s third go at entrepreneurship almost went the way of the previous two – but was saved (perhaps through lessons learnt before) at the last minute and he went on to pioneer innovation in the automobile industry.

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These are two great examples of business leaders who didn’t let setbacks get in the way of their ultimate goal. But it still begs the question, can preparation help avoid failure whilst still absorbing all of that valuable learning.

Surely it’s worth having a think about what might happen to your company if, suddenly, your biggest client announced it wasn’t going to do business with you any more, or your bank withdrew that line of credit you were so reliant on for cash flow purposes.

I don’t know if falling over, or being tripped, halfway through a 10,000m or 5,000m is part of Farah’s training – but if it was it sure would help him if it happened in front of a stadium crowd of thousands and TV audience of millions.

Business plans are meant to map out where you want to take your business in the future, and how you’ll get there. But taking stock every now and then to think about how you might best react to set backs or unexpected events is just common sense.

Upper Street’s Julia Elliott Brown recently told the story of how her business went under to The Telegraph. Describing how she and her business partner went after growth above profit, they simply ran out of money and had to sell assets to a competitor. Planning how to function with reduced capital and investor pressure is just like Farah working out what he would do if he tripped on the biggest stage of them all.

Not being phased by hurdles and seismic shifts in your environment are what make great business leaders and sports stars stand out from the crowd. As the old saying goes, fail to prepare and prepare to fail.

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About Author

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Real Business. He is also the editor of Business Advice, a title focused solely on a section of the business community currently underserved – micro companies. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative.

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