I was just listening to Dan Miller’s excellent podcast, and he mentioned that during a recent webinar for prospective entrepreneurs, the most frequently cited reason for not starting a business was fear. Sometimes fear of failure, often fear of success.
I wish I had an easy answer for that one. I don’t. The truth is, starting a business is scary as hell. It can feel exhilarating and terrifying. It can get you jumping out of bed with a million ideas to make things better, and it can keep you awake at night when you’re not sure how you’re going to pay your people or your bills.
There is a cold aloneness that can sometimes creep in, make it seem like starting a business isn’t worth the risk. The good news is, there are ways to deal with it. Here are four ways I have dealt with fear that worked for me:
1. Start small. Notice I didn’t say, “Stay small.” But when you’re starting a new business, the last thing you want to do is get in over your head before you have a chance to prove your idea is going to be successful. Successful might mean more money, or it might mean more time—you get to decide. But whatever it is, test your business idea before you throw yourself in the deep end.
I have a friend who started a food company. He and his wife invested more than a quarter of a million dollars on production equipment (ovens, packaging machines, etc.). He leased space for production and offices. He bought expensive advertisements. The business didn’t make it, and he ended up with crippling financial stress as they cashed in their retirements to avoid bankruptcy.
I have a friend who wanted to go into the cake/pie/dessert baking business. She asked my advice about leasing space. I told her to sublease space from someone who already had the equipment and test her idea out—she would know within three months if she should move forward. Within a month, she was sure she didn’t want to be in the dessert business. The work was long and tiring. What was fun at home was misery as a business. She saved herself a world of heartache by testing on a small scale.
2. Hustle. All successful entrepreneurs I know hustle. Working hard takes the edge off fear—it’s hard to sit in fear when you’re on the go. It’s hard to think about two things at once, and if you’re thinking about what action you can take to make your business better, you don’t have much time to give in to the fear.
When I started my first business, I worked hard. Crazy hard. 12-16 hours a day, seven days a week kind of hard. Was I scared? Absolutely. I had negligible start up capital, no marketing or sales experience, but I did have two employees and an office. I was afraid a lot at first, so I worked to fight the fear. Eventually the fear subsided, and the days became more normal (it’s all relative for entrepreneurs, as you know. “Normal” meant getting down to 10 hour days, 6 days a week, plus a few hours on Sunday). Still, I doubt that I would have made it if I hadn’t hustled. I would have let the fear take control, and it just might have buried my business.
3. Find a teammate. Sometimes a teammate is a business partner. Be careful with that. It can sound so appealing. Spread the risk, spread the work. But if you don’t pick the right partner, it can be a disaster. I know this from personal experience, but I can’t talk too much about it for legal reasons.
I can tell you this, though—if you are the one burning the midnight oil while your partner is goofing off, you will resent her. If you are the one sacrificing for the sake of the business while your partner is having “business meetings” at the local steak house, you’re going to have a hard time. You think you know someone well? You’d better, because you might be stuck with them for a very long time.
Sometimes a teammate is a spouse or significant other. That’s awesome when it works, but make sure you have complementary personalities. If your stress stresses out your significant other, you’re both in trouble. On the other hand, if your SO is level headed and can encourage you to work through the fear, you’re in luck.
4. Work with a business coach/consultant. If you’re like me, you’d probably try any of the other suggestions on this list before considering working with a business coach/consultant. I get it. I was just like you. I didn’t have money to hire anyone else to help me—I already had two employees to help with the tactical work of my business. I was busying trying to make enough money to pay them, and minimizing expenses seemed like my only option.
Eventually, though, I realized that I was going to go crazy or lose the business or both if I didn’t get some help. Not answering-the-phones type help. Not data entry help. I needed someone to tell me what to and how to do it. I needed someone to guide me as I worked my way through the challenges I was experiencing. I needed someone to show me solutions where I could only see problems; someone to give me perspective and hold me accountable to do what was most important.
Honestly, that’s why I do the business consulting I do now. I know what it’s like to go it alone, what it’s like to be afraid, to have a million questions and a million concerns and not have anyone to talk to. It sucks. It can suck the life out of you. No one should have to go it alone.
I also know the profound disappointment of hiring a consultant who doesn’t understand what it’s like to start a new business and try to grow it from the ground up. So many consultants I know have never started a business, never had to worry about payroll. They have no idea what it’s like to be on the hook for everything and everybody. If you’re going to hire a coach or consultant, make sure they have done what you are trying to do.
Those are four of my favorite ways to move forward in the face of fear: start small, hustle, find a teammate, and work with a business coach/consultant. All four strategies have all made an enormous difference in my life and have allowed me to go from fearful to successful.
How do you deal with fear? Shoot me an email and let me know.