What are you afraid of? I don’t mind confessing that I have issues with claustrophobia. This manifests when I get inside an MRI machine. Even an open CT scanner gives me the heebie jeebies. My heart pounds in my chest and my blood pressure goes through the roof. I don’t know what happened in the past for me to develop this fear, but it’s a cross I bear. I’ll never forget the time I heard about a poor soul who was exploring a cave and got stuck deep inside – upside down – and no matter how hard they tried, rescuers could not get him out. Within days of that story, I found myself in an MRI machine for 45 minutes. It took every ounce of my fortitude not to completely freak out.
I don’t know of a single entrepreneur who doesn’t experience a fear of something. There is the fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of being in social settings, fear of spiders (and snakes), fear of death and a wide assortment of other phobias that we may experience at a personal level. And then there’s what I consider to be “entrepreneurial fears.” Let’s examine a few of them and their antidotes.
- Competition – “I’m afraid that the competition will overtake my company. I’m also fearful that someone is going to steal my business concept and crush us.” There’s a lot to unpack here. The forward-thinking entrepreneur will see competition as a healthy factor in his or her business life. If we have the right mindset, we can use competition to make us better. How? We do this by understanding exactly what our customers need and want and tool our product or service accordingly. We know that the competition is probably studying the customer in similar fashion – we just have to do it better!
- Ideas – “My ideas are no good. I’m afraid that I’m just not creative enough to win in this business.” No one knows our ideas better that do we. And it’s not so much about having fresh new ideas as it is our ability to iterate on those we already have – or that someone else has. Look at Facebook for example. Many students of the Facebook phenomenon point out that the company has rarely had a new idea. They simply steal ideas from other developers or companies and execute them better.
- Failure – “I’m afraid to fail and I’m afraid of what others will think of me if I fail.” This is one of the most common entrepreneurial fears that I’ve heard during my career. Unfortunately, this fear reflects a misunderstanding about what failure is. Too many entrepreneurs confuse “failure” with “defeat.” Failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. It’s part of a process that we undertake to achieve success. Success is built on failure. Without some failure along the way, how do we really know that we have succeeded in optimal fashion?
- Money – “I’m afraid that my money is going to run out before I succeed.” There are entrepreneurial stories abound where the founder was down to a triple digit bank balance and somehow pulled a rabbit out of a hat and turned things around. I also know that there are many more stories of businesses that folded when the cash spigot turned off. In the entrepreneurial world we learn how to improvise. We learn how to stretch a buck. We barter and trade. Better yet, we always have a Plan B in our hip pocket . . . just in case. Having a little bit of the “cash-strapped” fear is actually a healthy thing as long as we use it in a positive way to maintain focus on scaling our enterprise.
- Talent – “I’m afraid a competitor is going to steal my best people; or my best people are going to walk across the street and start their own company.” Here’s the thing. If we provide the best value for our team, they’ll stick around which is the same philosophy we adopt with our customers. Sure, employees want to be fairly compensated, but loyalty goes beyond pay and benefits. Developing a dynamic culture goes a long way toward talent retention. So does making people feel that they and the contribution they make are genuinely valued. In the companies with which I’m involved, we don’t lock up our team members with long-term contracts or non-compete agreements. Instead, it’s incumbent upon us as leaders to show our team every single day how they are in the right place with our firm.
Being afraid can either be paralyzing or motivating. Smart entrepreneurs overcome fear to propel themselves to great success.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.