When it comes to advice about starting a business why is it that no-one talks about the elephant in the room? The elephant called fear. We all experience fear in different ways and amounts before we start anything new including starting a business. So what are these fears and how can we overcome or handle them?
Here’s the biggest one first – failure
Now there’s a word with ugly feelings attached to it. We all hate failure and can probably remember every time it happened. Or can we? Actually, what we are remembering is the emotions we felt when we thought that others were aware of our failure. And now that we are older and wiser we need to get over reacting with those same emotions. So what can you do instead?
Start by writing down exactly what failure would really look like for your new small business. I’ll bet you’ve never done that before whenever the fear of failure has held you back. You need to use precise language and numbers. You need to dig down into exactly what it means to you. And the reason for doing this, so that if you choose to feel fear but start a business anyway you can measure and examine exactly what is happening and whether or not you are failing.
If a customer isn’t happy and wants a refund when every other customer is happy is that failing? If you don’t sell as much as you hoped in the first month but made some sales and covered your costs is that failing? Is finding out that your target market is different to what you first thought so you change your marketing plan failing?
All of these examples are just steps that happen when starting a business and they happen to everyone so no, they are not examples of failures. And when you compare experiences like these to your exact criteria for business failure I think you will feel the same. That’s why knowing exactly what you mean by failure has so much value in making decisions.
Another technique for starting a business and reducing the fear of failure is to start smaller. Starting smaller offers you the opportunity to test out the market to see if customers want to buy what you are selling without big financial obligations. In business terms it is often referred to as the “minimum viable product” and it offers you the chance to give it a go – maybe even doing free trials to see if you can make it successful.
Through this technique you can find out if your customers recognise the problem you are trying to solve and are willing to pay for your solution. And, if the answers are positive then you will be in a great position to grow your business successfully. But if the answers are negative then you won’t have wasted a great deal of money or time while you figure out a better product or service to offer them.
Have you thought of giving yourself business milestones so you can measure how you are doing after starting a business? The first paying customer will be one milestone but after that would the first 10 or 100 be the most appropriate? Sales revenue could be another and so could reaching breakeven point. Your first great Google review, your first and then 10th and 100th customers who learnt about your business from word of mouth and many other steps along the way will assist you in measuring your success and overcome those fearful moments.
But what if you don’t reach the milestones? Then it will be a realistic time to see what isn’t working, make changes or even decide not to continue at all if you wish. Most importantly you will be making decisions based on facts not fear.
So what other fears are stopping you from starting a business?
Loss of income can certainly be frightening
Not knowing where your money is going to come from especially when you still have bills to pay is certainly a fear that most of us have when starting a business. But there are ways of ensuring that this fear doesn’t stop you too.
Maybe you can start the business as a part-time one and still continue to earn your normal income while you test out how strong the market is for what you are offering. Many businesses start in this way. It will be hard of course because you need to put in the hours when you would normally be relaxing or doing family things and hobbies but it is one way of overcoming the fear.
Another way to manage this fear is to find ways to reduce your expenses as much as you can before starting a business. Do a realistic budget and see how low you can go so that you will have less to worry about before your business becomes profitable.
And you can also focus on making your business profitable as quickly as you can by doing your best not to spend more than absolutely necessary on getting it underway. Depending on your business idea it may only take a small number of customers to make a profit if you haven’t spent a lot of money on assets.
For others of you making sure you have an emergency fund before you start a business is a great way to avoid the fear of loss of income. Knowing that you can survive without an income for a period of time is very reassuring and can be used in conjunction with a number of the other techniques mentioned.
Whatever strategies you use to overcome or manage this fear just be careful that you don’t wait until you can afford to start a business without a plan for how you will achieve this. You will never suddenly become able to do so – you need to make decisions about money and take action so starting a business becomes a goal with a date not a dream.
Here’s a really emotionally charged one – letting people down
What if you start your business and it isn’t successful or takes longer than planned to be successful – will you be letting people down? Especially your family or friends that helped you get your business started.
You won’t be if you make sure that the people who matter to you and to your business are fully on-board with your reasons for starting a business, your strategies for getting underway and the possible time-frames involved.
If people don’t understand how you are going to run your business and have expectations that cannot be fulfilled then they might feel that you have let them down.
If instead you recognise how important their approval and support is and make sure that you communicate clearly with them throughout the process of starting and growing then this is unlikely to happen.
Having a business plan which you can show them, including a marketing plan and cashflow forecast, is a great way to give them more facts about what you intend to do. It will also show what you are basing your projections on and what your income is likely to be.
They will realise how carefully you have thought it all out and how important it is to you to be successful in starting a business. It will be much easier to get their support once they can see that you are really serious.
You then need to communicate with them regularly – about the good times and the not so good times. Don’t let there be surprises and it is unlikely that they will be unhappy with your progress.
You also need to understand that people who care about you don’t want you to feel unhappy, unfulfilled or bored by the work you currently do. Maybe you think they will be harsh critics but actually they want to be your greatest supporters – you just need to tell them how.
Another fear that can hold you back is fear of trying something new
We love our comfort zone. We love our regular habits even when they bore us and make us grumpy. Getting out of our comfort zone and trying something new is a very uncomfortable place to be – unless. Unless you understand that it won’t be new for long and that challenging yourself by starting a business and achieving something new could be the most exciting time you have enjoyed in years.
Sure you will not know how to do everything perfectly at first – you might not even know how to do some things at all. You will try different tasks and some will be successful quickly and some will take a while to master. But every day will be interesting, even exciting and you will discover that trying something new is actually a great way to make your whole life feel more worthwhile.
When you were a baby you couldn’t wait to try new things. You sat up, crawled, walked, fell over, learnt to get up and discovered the joys of making noises – especially the ones that got you the most attention.
When did you become afraid of trying new things? Recognise what is causing you to hold yourself back and learn to overcome your comfort at doing what you have always done. Be excited by the idea of starting something new – starting a business for yourself.
One way to challenge yourself and to learn to overcome this fear is to set a goal of trying one new thing every week (or better – every day) until you come to realise how much pleasure new experiences bring you. Starting a business is likely to be very new for you and that’s why it can be so rewarding when you overcome this fear and embrace the ‘new’ every day.
So here’s the other big one – fear of selling
The concept of creating a product or service might fill you with delight. You may recognise how your skills and attributes are perfect for starting this business. But you are terrified of actually having to sell your product or service to others for money.
We often have a concept of salespeople as pushy, tricky or so confident that it is easy for them. In reality, it is only easy to sell when you are talking to people who want what you are selling to them and when you believe that your product or service will genuinely help them solve a problem.
Helping people is easy, it isn’t scary and it shouldn’t make you unhappy. And that’s what selling is these days. Helping people who have problems that your business can solve.
So you can forget about how hard it will be to sell to people and focus instead on how lovely it will be to help them and how they will want you to be successful so they can buy from you again and again.
You don’t need to worry about having to be pushy you just talk about your business as being something that you believe in and enjoy. Now that wouldn’t be so hard would it?
So what is the biggest fear (or fears) that prevent you from starting a business? Is it fear of failure, loss of income, letting people down, doing something new or selling?
Whatever you are scared about there are plenty of ideas in this article which will help if you give them a go.
It might take a bit of time to work your way through what you need to do to overcome the fear but imagine how wonderful your life could be if you accepted the challenge and started a business which went on to meet your goals and aspirations and created great happiness for you. All because you were prepared to overcome the thing that was holding you back. Give it a try.
The Biz Coach NZ