Fear. It’s the four-lettered feeling that as entrepreneurs, we need to get familiar – better still, friendly – with, because it isn’t going anywhere. From elevator pitch to breaking million-dollar deals, you’ll be bombarded with fear at every stage of your business journey, and sadly, no amount of exposure will build up immunity to its initial sting. But after a few years in the game, and a few failures of my own, I know that the remedy lies in how you respond.
Here are the ways I’ve found to smile (and succeed) in the face of the typical fears every entrepreneur will endure.
1. Fear of not being good enough
As an entrepreneur you’re going to hear a hell of a lot of no’s and the sound of many a slamming door, so having an unwavering, tenacious and insatiable self-belief is crucial – scrap that, it’s everything if you want to eventually succeed. But, it certainly easier said than done. Take comfort in the knowledge that even the most successful among us started as non-believers. Author Elizabeth Gilbert, who I admire on so many levels, certainly did. Long before penning her first best-seller, Eat Pray Love, she would moan that she was talentless. “Defending my weakness? That’s seriously the hill I want to die on?” she wrote in her latest book Big Magic, citing the saying: “Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.”
Stop with the negativity and consider this: most of the world as we know it was created by people no smarter than you, with no more hours in the day than you. You are no different, no lesser than or less capable of changing the world than the likes of Oprah, Nelson Mandela or Steve Jobs. If you take that on, fully absorbing its power, you will be relentless in your pursuit.
2. Fear of launching empty-handed
Here’s the thing. Most new product launches fail (the stat on the street is 80 percent), so you don’t always have to sweat for months over a hefty business plan or dish out dollars on prototypes and digital fodder in preparation for launching something if you aren’t even sure it will fly in the marketplace?
I’m a big believer in the ‘back-of-the-envelope business plan.’ When an idea hits, I get scribbling – jotting down an overview, indicative model, potential markets and suggestive marketing – just enough to have something to shop around with potential partners and drum up some pre-sales or consumer interest. If I get a bite, I’ll go in guns blazing and elevate things to the next level of strategic planning. If not, I’ll kill it and move on to something else, and quickly.
There is a place for more thorough, careful consideration of a new venture, but I’ve found that for the most part, entrepreneurs simply need to begin. Not having a polished product isn’t something to fear, it can be favorable, and leaves wriggle room for tweaking (or a total 180-degree turn) when the market says, “Thanks… but no thanks.”
3. Fear of not having enough money
Nothing thrills me more than breaking a deal, and it isn’t always money that’s on the table. In my early (cash-poor) days in business, I quickly learned the importance of putting a value on everything you have and do. Everything from your product, content, venue, public speaking prowess, networks, social platforms… whatever is in your hand that could be valuable to others. You can leverage it all by partnering with non-competing, like-minded people or businesses who share your audience. Then, you simply need to get creative.
The arrangement you settle on can be multi-layered, or simple and linear – created in any number of clever iterations. Promote me on your product and I’ll pop it in the goodie bags at my event. I’ll attach my brand to yours for a clothing collaboration in exchange for exposure in your stores. Style my shoot and we’ll give you the photos for your site. These types of arrangements can save you $5000 or $200,000 and in the early days of business, they can be the difference between survival and success. And don’t be afraid to reach out to big brands (Uber delivered shelter kittens – do you remember?).
4. Fear of failure
I’ve failed. Many, many times. Once, my publishing business sent a client’s book off to the printer with duplicate pages. Another time, that same vertical of the business screwed up the color matching on a cover, rendering its author a very attractive hue of an Oompa Loompa from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Don’t worry; we didn’t screw up the majority of our projects, but those two were big, costly fails. Even still, I didn’t begrudge them or the staff responsible, not for a second, because they pushed our company forward with knowledge and wisdom. They also reminded us that we’re only human.
Failure, historically, is a filthy word, but it’s also an essential element of business. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” The key is to fail fast, and well. Those ‘back-of-the-envelope business plans’ ensure a steady stream of speedy fails, leaving energy, time and money for the gems. And when a blunder sets you back, financially or otherwise, learn to move on from it quickly. That is one of my biggest personal pieces of advice, don’t get too attached to the outcome of your pursuit.
As the business has grown, there have been bigger issues (read: failures) that have tested this rationale, but I have managed to stay grounded in this belief, to work with staff for new solutions (rather than berate them) and to let the situation move us all forward.
5. Fear of success
It may sound obscene, but this is actually a thing. Just ask author and philanthropist Marianne Williamson, who famously observed, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
The other side of success is unchartered territory, riddled with unknowns. What will happen if you finally get there? What will you strive for then? Will you call it quits? But fear not, success. Your definition of it, much like the horizon, recedes and redefines with each win. Ask any successful entrepreneur if they’ve made it and you’ll hear a resounding “no!”.
And if your fear is based on becoming a sell-out, or a changing as a person, simply come back to your core values. Write them down and keep them at hand to refer to as each decision arises. Make peace with the idea of positive progress, right before you get back to work!
What are your biggest entrepreneurial fears and how do you handle them? Let us know in the comments.
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