How To Recover From Business Setbacks


How To Recover From Business Setbacks

by ICC on February 11, 2018
February 11, 2018 / by / in ,

Things rarely go according to plan, and that maxim certainly applies to business as much as anything else. Whether you’re growing a start-up or running an established juggernaut, it is very unlikely that the road will be without twists, turns, potholes and sudden stops. Whether it’s losing a primary client, a valued employee, funding shortages, scandals, or utter act of God, you are almost certain to encounter setbacks with your business. However inevitable these problems may be, they do not necessarily spell disaster. Here are some tips to keep things moving up, even it may look down.


No matter how confident you are in your business, a significant setback can be a seriously unsettling experience. Like any emergency, it is important to remain calm and assess the situation objectively. Don’t make snap decisions that you will later regret.

After a calamity, it is normal to feel stressed, disappointed, depressed and even afraid—these feelings are to be expected, although they’re certainly not helpful. In order to avoid making critical decisions based even partly on emotion, you should take the time to consult as many people as you can. Even asking friends and family outside of the business could yield potentially brilliant approaches that you may have missed. Look for positive people with can-do attitudes—misery does NOT need company.

Don’t have many positive business-minded people in your circle? Consider branching out further. Post questions to relevant LinkedIn groups or Reddit forums . . . Chances are that someone’s been there, and can share what they learned. In the end, the first step to responding to a business setback is to take a breather, and examine the situation—and your options—in full before deciding how to react.


This is going to sound frustratingly cliché, but the importance of a positive mindset cannot be overstated. If your business is sinking, it may be unrealistic to expect to see the silver lining, however you should strive to at least identify the opportunities at hand. At the very least, this is an experience to learn and grow as a professional.

Don’t focus on the past, especially not now. Accept that a mistake was made, or a variable overlooked; acknowledge it, but don’t place blame. The most helpful thing to do right now is to simply acknowledge and accept what has happened. Focus on moving forward.

This step is especially important to achieve before moving onto the following . . .


Depending on the size and scope of your setback, you may need to step back, look at your business critically, and ask some tough questions.

  • Is it financially viable to continue? There will certainly be situations where this is simply not the case, and in such contexts, it may be best to move on.
  • Do you still believe in the company? The tough reality is that sometimes a setback is just the first sign of a significant foundational problem, and it’s simply better to walk away and start over.

Granted, many setbacks will initially appear worse than they really are. Remember the above points: stay calm, be objective, assess your options. The majority of setbacks will be just that—setbacks. Chances are there will be a way around.


If you’ve analyzed the issue and believe that your business can survive, it’s time to get moving. Don’t sit around and let the vultures move in—as the saying goes, more is lost through indecision than wrong decision. Nobody says that this part will be easy. The fix may involve cutting corners—whether through laying off employees, or moving to a smaller office, or some other unfortunate compromise—and there’s no use griping about it.

Aside from the brass tacks, you’ll also need to address the issue to your employees, clients, or maybe even the press. Don’t sugar-coat it. People don’t want to hear excuses. Own the problem, acknowledge it, and deliver your plan for recovery—that’s the only thing that is going to set people at ease.

Regardless of your action plan, you will need to remain flexible. This applies both to your resources and your mindset. Fixing your setback may involve delaying a planned purchase or expansion. You need to be able to rearrange your priorities in order to best fit your new circumstances. You should be flexible with all aspects of your business, and willing to go so far as compromising long-term goals in favor of new and realistic shorter-term goals.


Time and time again, businesses tank or experience a near-miss and their founders credit their health or family for helping them pull through and keep things in perspective. Working around the clock to set things straight will likely hurt more than help the situation if it compromises your health. Whatever happens, you want to be able to face it objectively and actively—to do so, you need to take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Spend time with your family and friends. Make time for what you love. Not only will this help clear your head, but it will keep you grounded, and allow you to view the problem from the perspective of what really matters.


Denial will get you nowhere. It probably wasn’t just someone else’s fault, and that sort of thinking will hinder your development as a business professional. Instead of finding someone or something to blame, simply acknowledge the failure, and own it. Learning can only truly occur when blame has been set aside.

Specifically, try to identify the foundational issue at the root of your setback. Poor customer service? Unrealistic expectations? Mismanaging of funds? Figure out what you can do in the future to make sure that whatever happened won’t happen again.

Setbacks are a reality of business. We only really learn when we fail, and how you deal with your setback is more important than how it came to happen in the first place.