If You Build It They Will (Most Likely Not) Come: Overcoming the Failure to Launch

Written by Baily Hancock

I was not always a person who embraced failure well. For the majority of my life, I pretty much achieved whatever I set out to, whether it was getting the lead in the school play or winning the coveted role of “Principal for the Day” in fifth grade. Perhaps my many early achievements were to blame for causing my first failure to feel catastrophic rather than just par for the course.

As you’ve probably already gathered, I was a goal-setting, over-achieving, ambitious kid growing up. So much so that I won every Student Government seat I ran for from sixth to eleventh grade. It wasn’t until senior year that my reign came to a screeching halt with the devastating loss of Senior Class President to someone who had never run before. I was absolutely blindsided, flabbergasted, and heartbroken. How could I have lost to someone with ZERO experience?! (If you didn’t read that in the overly-dramatic tone only able to be executed by a 17 year-old high school girl, then do it over.)

Once I was (mostly) finished with my meltdown, I was able to see quite clearly why I hadn’t won even after basically grooming my classmates to vote for me for six years. I didn’t try. I didn’t make a single poster. I didn’t campaign. I’m not even sure I asked my own friends to vote. I had rested on my laurels and assumed that my record spoke for itself. Instead, someone who wanted it more swept in and got it by showing up and doing the work.

For a very long time I took that lesson to heart. If I wanted something, regardless of how easy it should have been to get it, I worked at it. I fought for it. I put in the time and effort, and didn’t assume it was a given. Fast-forward 15 years later, and I found myself re-learning almost the exact same damn lesson.

This time the failure + lesson came in the form of the unsuccessful launch of my first online course, The Career Experiment. I spent over a year creating, teaching, and refining the curriculum, and by the time I turned it into an online course I had taught it in-person to well over 300 people to rave reviews. After all that hard work, I finally pressed “publish” on the course landing page and prepared to have passive income rolling in. Instead, one person signed up. ONE. PERSON.

Why did it fail? Much like my Senior Class Presidency failure, I didn’t give the marketing and promotion of it nearly as much effort as I should have. I incorrectly assumed (those damn assumptions will get you every time) that since the material was really freaking good, that would be enough for people to come running. I didn’t want to play the typical online course launch game, so I opted out. You know, the “free lead magnet to free webinar to automated sales email funnel” thing that we’ve all no doubt been sucked into at one point or another. I figured the course’s reputation would speak for itself, and once people found out about it they’d immediately fork over their $199 to sign up.

The massive ego smash that came after having one person sign up taught me a very clear lesson: it doesn’t matter how good something is, if you don’t properly share it with the world it will sit there unnoticed. “If you build it they will come” does not apply with online products. So, when I launched my second online course, The 1-Year Career, one year later, I brought it hard. I promoted the shit out of it, and because of that I had a successful first cohort and an even more successful second.

Failures always roll deep with lessons, so if you’re going to fail (which, spoiler alert, you will) you may as well leverage the lessons that come with it.

Photo by Monica Linda Photography

Photo by Monica Linda Photography

Baily Hancock is a Collaboration Consultant and Career Happiness Strategist who teaches people how to collaborate with their community to achieve their goals, whether that's making a career change or growing their business. Her 10-week online course, “The 1-Year Career” helps people figure out how to make big moves with small steps, and on her podcast, "The Baily Hancock Show" she interviews people who have done just that.

Chelsea Francis