I attended a workshop last week with a group of startup and small business owners at various stages of their business journey. Some had not yet launched their business, others were in the startup phase and others have been operating for a few years. Amongst the newbies especially, there was one common emotion which seemed to pervade their actions (or inaction).
Fear can be horrible emotion. We all experience it during our lives. It is intrinsic to the way man evolved and, at the most basic level of our brain function, fear is necessary for our survival. Fear tells us when to run from that tiger coming towards us (the classic “fight or flight” instinct).
Fear and anxiety
But in this century, most of us are actually experiencing anxiety, which is closely related to fear, and occurs as the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable. If not managed and used to our advantage, anxiety can become an excuse for inaction at best and completely debilitating at worst.
Successful entrepreneurs are probably used to the constant feelings of anxiety. By definition, an entrepreneur is a creative person who is trying out a new idea, which may succeed or fail. But if successful entrepreneurs didn’t conquer these emotions, or at least ignore them to an extent, they wouldn’t be where they are today.
“…at the most basic level of our brain function, fear is necessary for our survival. Fear tells us when to run from that tiger coming towards us (the classic “fight or flight” instinct).”
Ways small business owners can conquer fear and anxiety
From the outset, I should note that these tips do not apply to those who are suffering severe anxiety or who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. In those cases, the individuals should consult their physician and/or psychologist for assistance.
These tips are designed for startup and small business owners who are finding fear and anxiety has become an excuse for not moving forward with their business plans.
Acknowledge how you’re feeling – without judgement
Accept that this is how you feel. Your feelings of fear and anxiety are not a reflection of how good or professional or mature or emotionally stable you are. It’s just how you feel. Just that. So accept it without judgement.
Understand why you feel this way
There is a reason for this feeling, even if you don’t know what it is yet. Try to explore what is triggering these feelings of angst. Ask yourself: “What am I really afraid of?”; “What’s the worst that will happen if I take this action?”
By breaking down your fear this way, sometimes you realise that what you fear most is change. But we forget that, as small business owners, we are in control of how fast the change occurs. If you need to move in baby steps, do it! It’s your life and it’s your business.
What if you do nothing?
Ask yourself what would happen if you do nothing? Maybe the answer to that question is nothing would happen and your life would continue to be happy and comfortable. Maybe that’s OK with you.
But maybe the answer to this question is that you’ll have to remain as an employee in an unfulfilling job, or perhaps you won’t realise a particular dream you’ve had for a long time.
This can often prompt you to move forward. And it can help you as move further and further down the path. As they say, it can help you “keep your eye on the prize”.
“…if successful entrepreneurs didn’t conquer these emotions, or at least ignore them to an extent, they wouldn’t be where they are today.”
Do your research
Have you done your homework? Perhaps your fear is triggered by a lack of information and knowledge about what you’re getting yourself into? If this is the case, then do the research. Assess the pros and cons of your business venture. Answer those questions that might be mulling around in your head.
(And if you don’t know what questions to ask, read my article Ready to start a business? 10 questions you should ask yourself first.)
Forming a defined path, and writing down the exact steps, to launching your business can be all the inspiration you need to conquer the fear and anxiety and move forward.
Find someone to hold your hand
It is daunting going it alone in business, even for most seasoned professional. If that’s stopping you from moving forward, consider a business partner. Or if that won’t work for you, find a friend who can support you as you move through your journey. Perhaps someone unbiased to bounce ideas with and give you their honest opinion. Or just to hold your hand when things get tough.
Talk to an expert
One step further from finding a friend is to find an expert to guide you through. This can be a professional coach or mentor, or a small business consultant who can work with you to define your business plan, strategy and roadmap.
Take baby steps
Remember that you are in control of your life and your own journey. So take it slow. You may feel more comfortable keeping your day job during the startup phase. Whatever you do and however you do it is up to you. Good things take time. Slow and steady wins the race. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Find whichever cliché you identify with and remember it!
The key is to move at a pace which you are most comfortable with and ensure that you are checking in with your emotions at regular points of the journey. And it’s best to periodically revisit these seven steps. Because that is what most professional, mature and emotionally stable people do.
* Feature image sourced from Death to the Stock Photo.
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About the Author: Angeline Zaghloul is an expert in business strategy, client management and business processes, and is the Principal of Peer Business Consulting, a Sydney-based consultancy providing strategy and operations support to startups and small businesses.
* Portrait by Markus Jaaskelainen.