It’s can be too easy to look at our most successful entrepreneurs and think it’s been a smooth upward trajectory from small business to a multi-million dollar company with hundreds of employees and huge turnover.

The truth is it’s not often that way at all. Almost without exception, anyone who has built a business up into a great success has hit some snags along the way. It’s inevitable, especially if you’re treading a new path, one where the only way to gain knowledge is by learning what not to do - often the hard way.

Failure, be it small or large, is kind of unavoidable. There will be moments where you doubt whether you should ever have even started your business at all; and others where you wonder just how you’re going to climb out of the pothole you seem to have fallen into on that rocky road to success.

What separates successful businesswomen from the crowd is their ability to deal with setbacks and work out a way forward. Sometimes it’s a mindset thing, pulling yourself out of the dumps so you can see a way clear to some creative thinking. Sometimes it’s knowing when to persevere with an issue and when to give up and change tack completely.

We spoke to two women, one from a fledgling business and one a well-known international success, to see what they have to say about getting back in the saddle when you

anyone who has built a business up into a great success has hit some snag

Sophie Gilmour - Bird on a Wire

Sophie comes from a family of restaurateurs and in 2013 gave up her fledgling career in law to open Bird on a Wire - a free range chicken and fresh salad eatery, which has subsequently become incredibly popular with Aucklanders. So popular in fact that she’s been able to open a two more branches in Takapuna and Orakei Bay as well.

But behind the success there have been some serious stumbling blocks to overcome. Running out of cash and having people chasing her for money was an ongoing problem in the first few years and an IRD liability to the tune of $180,000 was another headache she could definitely have done without.

“The phone call from the IRD was horrific and the stress was almost suffocating. There is no certainty with the IRD. They don’t tell you it’s going to be okay, they just ring you and come down on you like a tonne of bricks and keep reminding you of their ability to liquidate the company.”

Sophie is a solution-focused individual, which undoubtedly was an asset in this distressing situation. “I knew we had to manage communication with the IRD so they knew we were doing something to sort it, and then spend some time working out what was needed to resolve the problem.”

We called on people we knew were experienced in the area so they could help us. We collectively reviewed our business model and worked out whether we still had a profitable situation. Once we knew we could make it happen, it just had to be head down, bum up and work through it. If the numbers hadn’t worked out we knew we would have had to pull the pin. It's definitely important to know when to persevere and when to give up.”

while putting your head in the sand is tempting when things are so stressful, recognising the seriousness of the issue is important and being willing to pull out all stops to sort it

One of Sophie’s biggest learnings was the importance of facing the problem head on. “While putting your head in the sand is tempting when things are so stressful, recognising the seriousness of the issue is important. You can’t shy away and you have to be willing to pull out all stops to sort it. And also being prepared to sacrifice or compromise the way you thought things might have been, in order to get through it is key. There’s no point in worrying about the small things, when there may not even be a business to worry about.”

And if things do go horribly wrong and it can’t be salvaged, Sophie has some great advice for putting things in perspective. I remember talking to Mum when things were really bad and she said “It's going to be okay, your children are not falling off life rafts in Aleppo - at the end of the day it’s just chicken.” You have to have perspective and know it’s all going to be okay one way or another at the end of the day, and if it’s not, it’s not the end.”

Dame Julie Christie – Media Entrepreneur

Julie Christie is a household name when it comes to television, but you don’t invent wildly successful TV concepts, produce iconic reality shows and win awards in a ruthless industry such as hers without tasting failure a few times. “I come from an industry where every time a show doesn’t rate, it’s a failure,” she laughs. “So failing or not failing is judged on a daily basis at 9.30am and you need to learn to overcome it fairly quickly.”

This doesn’t mean that Julie thinks failure is a fun thing to deal with, she just knows after nearly three decades it’s part of being in business and it’s all about learning how to deal with it quickly and move on. “The only way I’ve known how to deal with failure has always been with success. I guess when ratings are no good I think about whether the audience didn’t come, or if they came and left the show. Either way there’s clearly there’s something wrong with it and no matter how good you think something is, there’s no denying when it doesn’t sell - and you need to change something to make it work.”

One of Julie’s biggest brushes with failure was four or five years into her career in TV production. “I was doing four to five million in turnover and TVNZ had a change at the top of management and decided to take all TV shows in house.” Julie found herself deprived of her business overnight with staff expecting their wages. It was a dark and painful period but her genetic makeup wouldn't allow her to wallow in self-pity for any length of time. “I had people to pay and could see my business going down the tubes, but I worked twenty hour days and did three or four people’s jobs to make it all come right.”

at the darkest times I remembered that nothing I was facing was like the adversity my mother faced when my father died, leaving her with seven kids to raise on her own

And come right it did. She turned to TV3, who were not making local TV shows at the time, with her new concept involving the Mark Ellis/Matthew Ridge partnership which went on to be an enormous success for 11 years. “You must believe in yourself and that you can make things work, or you shouldn’t be in business. I knew I had ideas that would succeed and that there would be a way out. And this time I made sure I protected my IP so it could never happen again.”

Julie also has thoughts on getting perspective when things go wrong. “I guess at the darkest times I remembered that nothing I was facing was like the adversity my mother had faced when my father died leaving her with seven kids to raise on her own. I learned from my upbringing that you don’t give up. You just work harder to make it right. My mother could never give up so why should I think I could? There will always be a way, you just need to find it, or change what you do slightly till you have something people can’t resist.”