How to Face Your Fears for Success in Business
Many entrepreneurs are urged to “be fearless” – but being fearless isn’t always wise. Stressful situations often trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response. For example, if you come across a bear in the woods and he wants your picnic, you can either:
- Attempt to scare the bear away
- Run away
- Or back away slowly and let him have your picnic
Adrenaline-fuelled fear would prompt most people to eschew option one – and rightly so. After all, it’s hardly worth risking becoming lunch yourself over a few PB&J sandwiches.
Many would feel compelled to run, but this wouldn’t be wise either. Combined with knowledge – the knowledge that bears often pursue people who run – fear-driven self-preservation should recommend option three as the wisest course of action.The same principle applies in business. It’s all about facing your fears, weighing up risks and acting accordingly.
1. Common fears
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy and your business will face risks from its very inception, throughout its growth until you sell up or close it down.While every business is unique, entrepreneurs must face several common fears to succeed. Here are just a few and how to tackle them.
2. The unknown
The unknown seems impossible to prepare for, so no wonder it terrifies people.Donald Rumsfeld was widely mocked when in 2002 he said “there are known unknowns [...] but there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.” But the then Defense Secretary had hit upon an important notion.
Describing the concept that had inspired Rumsfeld’s comments, Nicholas Nassim Taleb wrote in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable that “not long ago people could imagine only white swans, because white swans were all they had ever seen. And so people predicted that every next swan they would see would be white. The discovery of black swans shattered this prediction. The black swan is a metaphor for the uselessness of predictions that are based on earlier experiences, in the presence of unknown unknowns.”
In business, a ‘known unknown’ could be the durability of a particular consumer trend – will your products be more or less popular in 10 years’ time than now? You cannot, of course, prepare for the ‘unknown unknowns’ – which of course could be benign – but research is key to turning the known unknowns into meaningful insight.
So research thoroughly the sector you want to enter, write a solid business plan that covers multiple conceivable eventualities and, if you’re buying a business, ask business sellers searching questions.
Starting or taking on an existing business requires a substantial amount of money, so it comes as no surprise that raising finance is generally the biggest concern for entrepreneurs.
Initial capital is typically generated from some combination of personal savings, bank loans and independent investment. If you’re unable to generate a reliable revenue stream by the time this initial capital runs out, then you’re at risk of loan defaults and, ultimately, liquidation.
Ease your financial fears by limiting your personal exposure (should the business fail then the business, not you personally, becomes insolvent) and secure manageable loan terms. Be wary, too, of borrowing from friends if delayed repayments are likely to sour relations.
4. Lack of Expertise
Another common entrepreneurial fear is that of being too inexperienced or lacking expertise. Again, preparation and research are essential for acquiring such expertise.
5. Consider these two Key Factors
Product/service: to start a business you need a viable product or service. It doesn’t have to be a perfect prototype or the best in the market. Few products start out as the polished, finished article and there will be plenty of room for subsequent changes and improvements.
The entrepreneur: Any entrepreneur who claims they never make mistakes is lying or deluded. You are not expected to make all the right decisions straight away. It’s how you learn from these mistakes that matters.
6. Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is intrinsic to all of us, but you shouldn’t let it stop you making important decisions. Many business owners fail – sometimes multiple times – before they finally succeed – Steve Jobs and Henry Ford, to name two.
Business owners should embrace the risk of failure as the price of success, so don’t let it set you back. Instead, think of failures as important stepping stones. They will only mark the end of your entrepreneurial life if you allow them to.
7. Fear of Success
It may sound absurd but fear of success is also common among entrepreneurs. With success comes responsibility – for your staff, your shareholders, your children’s inheritance – and the more you achieve, the more you have to lose.However, a successful business owner always aspires for the next milestone and believes he or she can reach it.
Running a business isn’t for the mindlessly fearless. It’s for people who face and embrace their fears, harnessing them as a motivational or educational tool to help them make the right decisions.Believe it or not, fear can be an asset, not a liability, in business.