Managing the Fears of
Starting a Business
Only a fraction of the people who consider starting a business actually follow through and launch one. Many factors hold them back. But none is more daunting than fear.
Any encore entrepreneur is sure to have an occasional brush with fear. Fear that the business will fail. Fear that you won't find enough customers. Fear of losing your life's savings. Fear of being consumed by the business so that you have no family or personal life. I could take pages expanding this list.
My purpose here, however, is not to chronicle fears, but to offer strategies for coping with them. Here then is a seven-step process for managing the fears which may come with owning a small business.
1. Recognize that fear "comes with the territory."
By its very nature, a business startup entails risk. Risk means that we're dealing with threats. And we are wired neurologically to respond to threats with anxiety, apprehension, and fear.
Now, some people are by nature more risk-averse than others. In general, successful entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk than the general population. Still, great fortunes have been made by people who admitted later that they were terrified when they stepped out on their own to start a business enterprise.
2. Acknowledge your fears.
Once you realize that fear comes with the territory, there's no shame or embarrassment in admitting your own fears regarding your startup. You can't cope with fear while still denying it.
Remind yourself that there's nothing disgraceful about being afraid. After all, how do people become heroes? By transcending their fears with courage and bravery. Without fear there's no such thing as courage. And if fear is okay for heroes, it's okay for you.
So admit your fears to yourself. And if you have trusted mentors or friends who listen well, discuss your fear with them. One of the best ways to defuse the intensity of fear is by talking about it. And having a conversation like this will also embolden you, because it gives you an ally who can support you as you confront your fear.
3. Write your fears out on a sheet of paper.
Don't dismiss this tactic lightly. It's powerful. For reasons that I don't fully understand, fear loses much of its grip once we describe it in writing.
And note that I said "in writing." Describe your fear using an old-fashioned pen-to-paper approach, not a computer. When you do this, intensity drains out of the fear. It's as though the fear passes down your arm, through your fingers, into the pen, and then onto the paper. In a sense, the fear is now outside of you.
Over the years this technique has worked for dozens of my clients. They've told me repeatedly, "Once I looked at my fear spelled out on paper, it was no longer so terrifying. I had cut it down to size."
4. Outline your recovery plan if what you fear materializes.
I call this "looking beyond the fear." If the business fails, what would you do to start over? If you lose your savings, what concrete measures could help you rebuild them? If the business becomes all-consuming, what steps will you take to reconfigure it and regain a healthy life-balance?
You don't need to supply exhaustive answers to these questions. Just jot down a few bullet points which sketch out a plan of action. Think of it as your contingency plan. The point of this exercise is to reassure yourself that life will go on — and a very wonderful life at that — even if the horrendous thing that you fear becomes reality.
In our heart of hearts, of course, we all know that life will go on if our fears come true. So you might think it needless to do this exercise. Yet I've found that you can't always put fear in its place with some vague assurance that "life will go on." To diminish fear or even disarm it altogether, we need a precise picture of exactly HOW life will go on. This exercise develops that picture.
5. Avoid obsessing on your fears.
There's an old saying, "Fear feeds on itself." It certainly does within groups. And if we are not careful, it will do so in our own minds. Once we start dwelling on a fear, it has a way of spawning other fears. Soon they dominate us.
Still, there are times when we can't seem to distract our mind from a given fear. Perhaps we wake in the middle of the night and a fear starts haunting us. If we spend time thinking extensively about what we're afraid of, we open the door for fear to become obsessive.
You can close that door by utilizing the contingency plan that you developed in step 4. Remind yourself that whatever happens, life will still go on. Bring your contingency plan to mind and start picturing ways to enhance it. This gets your thoughts off of the fear and onto a plan of action. By doing so you deny obsession the soil in which to take root.
6. Picture yourself facing down your fear and succeeding.
Champions in every field will tell you that visualization works wonders. By vividly picturing what you want to happen, you encourage your unconscious mind to align its resources to accomplish that outcome.
Since fear originates in the unconscious mind, do battle with it on its own turf. Spend a few minutes now and then painting a mental image of you acting boldly and decisively in the face of the fear. See yourself as uncowed and unintimidated. By using this technique faithfully, you will program your unconscious mind to make the fear less ominous.
7. Make fear your ally by using it to motivate you.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Just think of the products which are marketed successfully by playing off of your fears.
So put your fear to good use. Let it energize you. Find a way to use the thing that you fear to keep you focused on activities and priorities which will hold what you dread in check. In this way you convert your fear from being an enemy into serving as an ally.
But a word of caution is in order. While fear is indeed a powerful motivator, it should never become your primary motivation. We are all motivated by some combination of what we want and what we don't want. Entrepreneurs should be motivated above all else by what they want, by the dream that they long to achieve.
Even so, if you are dealing with a stubborn fear that just won't go away, then put it to good use by letting it spur you to action.
Your Two Choices with Fear
Fear itself is inevitable. We never know when some unforeseen event may trigger it. This leaves us but two choices. We will either manage our fears. Or our fears will manage us. Success with your business startup depends largely on which choice you make.
Share Your Wisdom
In dealing with your own fears, is there a particular strategy that has proven especially helpful? Share it with our community of readers by leaving a comment below.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on January 27, 2014.