For two years, I’ve been looking for ways to improve our skill set in the interactive arena at WilsonMcGuire Creative. The web has become increasingly important, making up 20% of our business last year. When an interactive friend and his colleagues expressed an interest in a partnership, I jumped at the opportunity.

It was a catastrophe. I invested in computer equipment, software, servers and phones, certain this team would only complement our own. We didn’t come to terms on the partnership. The collaboration never seemed to develop. And new web business didn’t come. After six months and a significant financial loss, we cut bait.

Why was this a failure? We’re still scratching our heads. But we learned some expensive (and valuable) lessons:

1) If every detail of a partnership deal isn’t worked out, don’t move forward until it is. Optimism is a positive trait in business, but cautious optimism is even better.

2) Never trust someone else’s math unless the investment is coming out of his or her own pocket. What looked like a great business model on paper wasn’t supported in day to day business. And if you’re the only one with skin in the game, you’re the one who’s going to get burned.

3) Don’t force it. If it doesn’t feel like a fit, it probably isn’t. There was no natural collaboration in skill sets. We anticipated a lighter workload with banner ads and interactive advertising being handled by the new team. Instead, our design work increased with no relief in other areas. They anticipated more work from existing clients. That didn’t come to pass.

4) Don’t sell yourself short. In my enthusiasm to strengthen our team, I overlooked our existing strengths. Because our company philosophy has always been to treat interactive as another medium in which we advertise, we’ve been entrenched in web work for five years. Turns out, we know almost as much as the “experts.” Having programmers on staff didn’t change our structure, strategy or creative work. And outsourcing back end programming is far more cost effective than having a full time employee. Who knew?

5) It’s ok to fail. We didn’t prosper through this, but we DID survive. And I would do it all over again – because I would never have been convinced it wouldn’t work until I actually tried it. I know that about myself.

In the end, business is a lot like sports. If you don’t go for it, you’ll never score. And if you don’t get hurt every once in a while, you’re just not playing hard enough.

We played hard and lost. But, hey, we gave it a shot. Have you been playing hard enough?

Here’s to the next game!