What’s really holding you back from starting your own business? These 31 tips will help you face your fears and finally get the guts to become your own boss.
Most startup articles focus on the mechanics of launching a business. But the inner journey to starting a business is just as important as writing a business plan and getting financing. I learned this the hard way.
With a business plan and hard-earned savings in hand, I didn’t have the guts to leave my job. After quitting my job and taking it back twice, I developed techniques to help myself build courage and break through my fears. These techniques worked–and when I quit for the third time, I was finally able to let go of my job and start Profit Strategies in Lake Worth, Florida, in 1998.
What started out as a marketing consulting firm eventually evolved into an entrepreneurial advocacy business. After accepting a contract with a Small Business Development Center, I taught more than 500 entrepreneurs the techniques I used to help myself. In 2003, I wrote Employee to Entrepreneur: The Employee’s Guide to Entrepreneurial Success, coined the term "Emotional Endurance," and developed Emotional Endurance training programs. Today, I present Emotional Endurance techniques at conferences in the United States and abroad, host The Entrepreneur Hour Radio Show (Mondays at noon EST, www.wbzt.com), moderate an online discussion group on business networking site Ryze.com, and head up a series of online interactive seminars titled "Getting the Guts".
The following 31 strategies are ones I share in my book and in my workshops. They’ve worked for me and can work for you, too:
1. Say yes to your yearning. You don’t have to know at this moment what you will do or how you will do it. Simply acknowledge the inner voice that’s been nudging you to venture into the world of entrepreneurship. Write "Yes! I accept my yearning!" on a big piece of paper, and post it on your wall, just to remind yourself that you are moving forward. It took me two years to write down those five words, but once I did, I began to see the possibility of being my own boss.
2. Start a journal. Use it daily to write down your ideas, goals, feelings and whatever is going on in your life. Keeping a journal helps you get to know yourself better, and you’ll see your progress when you look back. My journal was especially helpful to me when I was scared and could read about times when I felt confident.
3. Write down your goals. Studies have revealed that people who write down their goals are five times more likely to achieve them. When would you like to start a business? Leave your job? How much money would you like to have saved? Set goals, and work toward achieving them.
4. Visualize your success. Create a vision of what you desire as an entrepreneur, and write it down. In my business counseling experience, the clients who created visions were most likely to experience them. Ask questions like "What kind of office space do I want to work in?" and "What kind of clients do I want to serve?"
5. Create and read affirmations. Affirmations are "I am" statements about what you want to happen, written in the present tense as if they are already happening. "I am a successful entrepreneur" is a good one to start with. Create a list of 10 to 20 affirmations on index cards. Hang them where you’ll see them and read them daily. Affirmations helped me believe in myself, and launch and grow my business.
6. Evaluate your beliefs. Grab a sheet of paper and write your beliefs about yourself, money, your business and the future on the left. See if these beliefs reflect what you want to believe. If not, write your new beliefs on the right, and add them to your affirmations. One client of mine discovered that his beliefs about money were actually his parents’ beliefs, so he created new beliefs that were more closely aligned with his goals.
7. Do what you love. This helps you discover and clarify what you want to do as an entrepreneur. If you don’t know what you love to do, think back to what you loved to do as a kid. When I was a child, I loved to teach imaginary children math. When I started my business, I began giving seminars locally; I now present at national and international conferences.
8. Do something different every day. Shake up your routine, and get used to change. One of my clients thought this would be an easy exercise, and she later told me it took her three days just to get up on the other side of the bed. Her little changes helped release her fears and prepare her for starting a business.
9. Act "as if." Start acting as if you are your own boss. Feel what it’s like to make your own schedule and generate your own revenue. Once my clients started doing this, they realized it built their confidence.
10. Go out and scare yourself. Are you afraid of doing something, saying something or going somewhere? Do it afraid! Being afraid and doing it anyway builds courage and confidence. One of my clients made up the maxim "Do it afraid!" to help her take action and challenge herself to do things that scare her.
11. Spend time in nature. Do some gardening, or take a walk on the beach or in the forest. Natural environments offer clarity and inner peace and can be especially nurturing during times of transition and change.
12. Accept all your feelings. You can expect all kinds of feelings as you start or even think about starting your own business. Feelings like vulnerability, uncertainty, doubt, fear and insecurity are all normal and expected. Create a positive inner dialog with yourself, and talk about your feelings with a trusted friend. Remind yourself that you are OK.
13. Finish unfinished business. Make a list of things that bother you and need to be completed, repaired or finalized. Make room for your new business by finishing the things on your list one by one. My list included things like fixing a leaking refrigerator, letting go of a grudge and weeding my garden.
14. Get educated. Knowledge is power. Take classes or attend seminars to learn practical skills to start, market and grow your business. One client who was starting his business attended a press-release writing workshop; the new skills he acquired resulted in his business being featured in a newspaper.
15. Accept and believe compliments. When people first told me they enjoyed my presentations, I didn’t believe them. Over time, I accepted and believed the compliments and built my confidence about my speaking abilities.
16. Acknowledge your gifts. Recognize and acknowledge your gifts and special talents. What would you like to do even if you weren’t paid for it? I discovered I was a writer when I wrote an award-nomination letter for a friend and she won. Eventually, I began getting paid for my writing talents.
17. Give up excuses. If you hear yourself making excuses, write them down and become consciously aware of them. One of my excuses was that I was not the entrepreneurial type. I changed this excuse into the following affirmation: I am capable of doing whatever I set my mind to.
18. Eliminate "I can’ts." Become aware of when and why you say "I can’t," and change it to an open-ended question like "How can I?" One client changed her "I can’t" statement from, "I can’t get a loan because my credit is bad" to, "How can I get a loan?" She met with a debt consolidator, worked on repairing her credit, started her business with savings and eventually got a loan.
19. Accept confusion. Confusion is part of the process of starting a business. Write about it in your journal, talk about it with friends, and know that it will pass. I realized through my own experience and the experience of clients that confusion passes most quickly when we accept it.
20. Know there is no "right" time. Entrepreneurs have started businesses in debt, with little money, with lots of money, with little experience and in all sorts of circumstances. One of my colleagues started her business with $30,000 in debt and a whole lot of perseverance. Last year, she won an entrepreneur of the year award.
21. Start small. You don’t need to start your business with a big bang. Be realistic and ask yourself, "What do I really need to start a business?" Then start. One client came to me thinking he needed a $25,000 loan to start. He left realizing he could start his business without any loan at all.
22. Say no when you mean no and yes when you mean yes. Next time you’re asked to do something, say yes or no depending on what you really want to do. If you haven’t decided yet, say, "I’ll have to get back to you." One of my clients practiced this exercise, and it expanded her sense of self-worth, resulting in her raising her consulting fees.
23. Resist self-judgment. If you hear yourself saying things like "That’s a stupid idea," gently remind yourself that you’re choosing to accept yourself as you start and grow your business. My clients often find that as they become more accepting of themselves, new and creative ideas come to them to help grow their businesses.
24. Stay out of overwhelm. Next time you feel overwhelmed, write down what situation, thought or feeling prompted you to feel overwhelmed. Do this each time you are overwhelmed until you see patterns develop, and then decide what action you need to take to stay out of overwhelm. One client realized that paying bills was overwhelming, and he constantly paid bills late. The actions he took included meeting with an accountant, paying bills on a schedule and getting accounting software.
25. Expect resistance. You can expect to feel resistance within yourself as well as from those around you. Work through resistance by acknowledging it and doing what you need to do anyway. I remember feeling excited about facilitating a planning session, something I had never done before. The night before the session, the excitement turned to resistance and fear. I felt the resistance, got through it, and have been facilitating planning sessions for three years now.
26. Answer your "what ifs." What if it doesn’t work out? What if I don’t make any money? Use your journal to write down your what ifs, and answer them. For example, to answer "What if I don’t make any money?" you may respond, "I can get a part-time job while building my business."
27. Practice patience. Next time you’re in a traffic jam or waiting in a line, practice patience. One client discovered that by practicing patience, he became more patient with himself and the process of entrepreneurship.
28. Overcome the "not good enough" syndrome. I’ve seen clients miss opportunities when they turned down or did not pursue projects because they thought they didn’t have the right selling skills, the right brochure or the right product. The next time you feel compelled to turn down an opportunity, figure out what would be necessary for you to accept it. Realize that you know enough to grab that opportunity today.
29. Ask for help. When you’re most challenged and least likely to ask for help, reach out and ask. That’s the time you need it most. My clients and I can attest to the power and clarity that comes from asking for help when we least want to ask for it.
30. Trust your instincts. Others may tell you that you’re crazy for giving up a good job or for starting a business. But no one knows you as well as you. Trust what you know, and take action accordingly. The more you act on your instincts, the more instinctive you will become. Trusting my instincts led me to become the entrepreneur that I am today.
31. Treat yourself with tlc. Seek to meet your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional needs by finding balance in all you do. My clients have found that they have more creative energy and can accomplish tasks in less time when they take good care of themselves.
Enjoy the journey!
By Suzanne Mulvehill, April 2005