Ask any entrepreneur for an honest description of the life they lead, and they’ll describe a life of putting out fires, never-ending stress over finances, and persistent fear. Not only are entrepreneurs more likely to be stressed out and “worried a lot” than other workers, they are twice as likely to suffer from depression and two-to-three times more likely to suffer from addiction.
In short, running a business is hard. So, it’s no wonder that business owners are frequently afraid of key elements of their business. From major changes to the necessity of stepping outside of their comfort zone, these common fears can slow down growth and exacerbate those fears. Let’s look at how to tackle them head on and address the higher levels of stress most business owners face.
The Constant Fear of Failure
Businesses are defined by their innovations and ability to stand out in the crowded marketplace of ideas. The thought of failing to do so is terrifying. But for a business to succeed, it needs to constantly be moving. That’s where the idea of “minimum viable product” comes from. Just put something out there, iterate on it, and grow.
The fear of failure many business owners face can be debilitating, slowing progress to a crawl as they struggle to take the next leap and push the company forward. To tackle it, you should:
- Reframe how you define success – don’t let hard numbers on a spreadsheet define success. Reframe your goals to include intangibles – new skills you can learn, ideas you can develop, or experiments to run.
- Visualize your successes – Maintain a positive attitude, even when things get tough, and visualize what success looks like. Not only does this help prepare you for the struggles ahead; it contextualizes your fear to minimize its effect.
- Use failure as a learning experience – Failure is your best opportunity to learn new things and improve. After what you perceive as failure, ask what you learned, how you can grow because of it, and what good things have happened that you can focus on.
A Counterintuitive Fear of Success
Humans want to be comfortable. They like things to stay the same. Reliable. Supportive. The thought of a fundamental shift to how things work can be terrifying. Success often represents significant change and that can be hard to prepare for.
The fear of success holds entrepreneurs back from trying new things. It stalls new projects and keeps them from investing money. In some cases, they stand still for so long that they risk failure. To tackle it, you should:
- Define what scares you – Why are you afraid of success? Is it because of something that happened in the past? Are you wary of changes in the future? Know where your fears are coming from to better address them.
- Watch for negative feelings – When you feel bad about what you’ve accomplished, write it down. Try to note what specifically made you feel bad.
- Write down how you’re holding yourself back – Many people don’t realize they are self-sabotaging. Document what you are doing to hold yourself back. Procrastination. Avoidance of meetings. Poor performance. These can all be indicators that you’re actively avoiding success.
The Persistent Fear of a Cash Crunch
Not all fears are existential. The most tangible fear faced by business owners is over cashflow. Having enough money to make payroll, produce goods, and continue to grow is a constant struggle. One missed invoice by a customer can throw your entire operation into a tailspin if you’re not careful.
As something that almost all entrepreneurs deal with, cashflow issues can create dozens of other problems. To address this fear and prepare for potential downturns, you should:
- Cut unnecessary business expenses – Remove variables that can lead to the cashflow crunch you are worried about. Carefully manage your expenses, reigning in anything you don’t strictly need.
- Clear debts and avoid using credit – Pay in cash when possible and only take credit when it’s a planned component in expanding your business.
- Look for short term funding options – Don’t panic when cashflow becomes an issue. Look for short term funding options that can fill gaps when invoices are overdue, or an unexpected expense cropped up.
- Keep your books in order – Make sure you’re aware of your current cash situation by keeping your books balanced. That way, you don’t have surprises when bills are due or a customer payment is late.
All the Things Outside Your Control
Running a business is not a job. It’s a collection of different jobs – some of which you directly control and others you don’t. You’ll find that business ownership entails facing dozens of issues that will be outside of your control. Fear of these uncontrollable variables can be paralyzing and lead to unnecessary stress.
To avoid getting bogged down by fear of what can’t be controlled, consider the following:
- Join mastermind and local business meetups – Spend time with other business leaders who have experience dealing with similar issues as you. They can help put your fears in perspective.
- Get a mentor or a business coach – A business coach or mentor will help you become more self-aware and push you to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. They can put things into perspective and help you identify when you are afraid of things you can’t control.
- Take breaks to get perspective – Business owners tend to work more hours with fewer breaks than other workers. Take at least part of your weekends off. Go on vacation at least once a year. Set aside holidays and other time for your family. That time away can help you recharge and reduce unnecessary stress that feels out of your control.
The Next Big Venture Out of Your Comfort Zone
As a business owner, there are several tasks you’ll need to perform that will pull you out of your comfort zone. Speaking in front of investors. Networking with other business owners. Traveling to conferences. Running conference calls.
Whether you’re an introvert who is uncomfortable in large social settings, or your imposter syndrome makes you feel out of place with other business leaders who you deem more successful than yourself, there are things you can do to improve.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of firsts. You will constantly be doing things you’ve never done before as you grow your business, meet new customers, and generate new interest in your products. Remember that you are not alone in any of this. Almost every other business owner has felt the same at some point, no matter what public face they put on it. Take time to reflect, work with colleagues and mentors, and document your successes to overcome those fears and continue to grow your business.