Last week was National Small Business Week. Every year at this time the North Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida celebrates with an awards luncheon singling out small business owners in their region who are outstanding. This year was their 25th anniversary and we were honored to be their keynote speakers.

Earlier in the day, they asked us to present a workshop to their VIP members and supporters. These folks were already successful, so we had to give them something special that would help them, hopefully, in a unique way.

We shared one of our favorite business principles, which is “Make Mistakes W-R-I-T-E,” (not just right)! We had plenty of experience in making mistakes; so much in fact that we got good at it. We actually developed a process for making mistakes that greatly improved our company and caused our acquirer to remark, “Wow! This is the best documented company we’ve ever seen!”

It all starts with giving your people permission to make mistakes. They are going to make mistakes whether you give them permission or not, but without permission, they are going to deny the mistake, cover it up, or blame others. They prefer to think it never happened, and go off to the next thing.

You can’t blame them. They’ve been programmed since grade school not to make mistakes. After all, a mistake would get you marked down, give you a lower grade, and could go on your record.

Yet, by giving your people permission to make mistakes w-r-i-t-e, you encourage the improvement of your documents and your very way of doing business. How? By asking your people to identify all the documents that need to be changed, clarified, or created to make the mistake less likely to happen again. Something written must be created, changed or improved. It may involve policies, procedures, checklists, sign off sheets, or even clauses in contracts.

The next step is circulating the new document to get everyone’s sign off of understanding. Then, and this is an important part, thanking the person publicly for improving your business!

Now, everyone knows that you celebrate mistakes – when they are used to refine your business process and ultimately help with training, communication, and profitability.

Sure, you have to apologize and make any one hurt by the mistake whole again. But when you show a customer or a vendor that you are changing written materials to prevent a reoccurrence, they are more likely to not only forgive you, but give you more credibility. They saw you in action. Remember, people judge you by how well you handle a mistake. So, why not do it really well?

And what about those outside vendors, that salesperson, or that difficult customer? Surely, many of the mistakes are their fault, right? We say, “Aim, don’t blame!” When you blame the other guy, you disempower yourself. Rather, take action and clean up you own backyard. What can you do to make the mistake less likely to happen again?

We once had an executive who commented on our unrelenting campaign to tweak, write, and rewrite our documents in the face of any mistake. He complained, “You guys are trying to make everything idiot proof!” We responded, “No, we are trying to make it idiot resistant!” to which he responded, “But even now, as we speak, they’re building a better idiot!”

So, the best way to stay ahead of the “improved idiots” out there is to make mistakes write, and build your business on the back of your mistakes – like we did!


Who We Are

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey Barefoot Wine Founders

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.

They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.

Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular brand building site at

To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact