“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” says hockey great Wayne Gretzky. A lot of people don’t take that shot when it comes to launching their own business. Should you ignore those doubts echoing in your head? Mark Ford suggests that perhaps you should listen to them… and act accordingly.
How to conquer the fear of failure
By Mark Ford
When business writers talk about why so few people become entrepreneurs, they cite “fear of failure” as the number one challenge.
I agree. Fear of failing is a real factor. But to overcome it, you need to figure out what it means in more specific terms.
When I feel trepidation about starting a venture, I’m not worried about something as abstract as “failure.”
I worry mainly about three things…
I sometimes worry I don’t have the knowledge or skill to make the idea successful. I worry I might lose all the time and money I’m about to invest in the idea. And I worry if word gets out that I didn’t succeed, business people will think I’m a fool. Especially those people who doubted my idea in the first place.
Best-selling author Seth Godin talks about that first fear. He says, quite correctly, that most people who buy books on entrepreneurship never get beyond the dreaming stage because “deep down inside they don’t think they have what it takes to succeed.”
I don’t know if that is the most common fear of starting a business. I wish it were. But I’m afraid too many entrepreneurs have the opposite problem.
They don’t realize they don’t have what they need to succeed.
How to overcome your fear
If you have that fear, you should respect it, because nine times out of ten, it is valid.
My number one rule of wealth building is to invest only in what you know. If you think you might not know enough or have the right resources, then you probably don’t.
The solution to that fear is to put your plan on hold and acquire the experience to know what you need to know.
If your fear is being shamed by a failure, you can and should move forward. You can overcome this kind of fear by doing what I’ve talked about previously: Imagine the worst possible outcome and visualize being emotionally okay with that.
Another thing you can do is be a bit humble when you are announcing your venture.
Rather than bragging about all the money you will be making, keep the claims small and try a little self-deprecating humor: “This is probably a terrible idea, but I’m going to try it.”
Small (but essential) steps to success
If your fear is losing your time and money, then you need to follow the protocol I outline below before you launch a new venture:
- Keep your current job and all your current income.
- Start the business in your spare time at home.
- Spend the first few days creating a short business plan. Identify your product and why you believe you can sell it. List the media where you can advertise. Do a quick and dirty cost/benefit analysis, etc. The entire plan should be no more than four pages.
- Spend as little money as you can in the following few weeks, testing your “optimal selling strategy” — your plan for selling your product: how you will position it, how much you will charge for it, what media you will use to advertise it and what sort of advertising copy you will use.
- Find a corner of the overall marketplace where you can test your selling strategy cheaply. If your ultimate market is retail, for example, you could consider selling your product on Sundays at a flea market.
- Create a cash flow projection that will allow you to ramp up your marketing if the initial testing is positive.
- If possible, get someone to act as your mentor — a retired business owner who is willing to teach you what you need to know and encourage you to take the steps you have to take.
Fear is a good and useful emotion. Successful entrepreneurs don’t deny it. They overcome it sensibly and cautiously, by taking baby steps and proving the optimal selling strategy before going big.
If you feel you have what it takes, then don’t let either the fear of embarrassment or the fear of losing time and money get in your way. Keep your risk low and your dreams high.