Starting a business requires a mastery of skills: In addition to technical knowledge and familiarity with your industry, there is also a strong mental component. We’ll never know how many businesses never get started because the would-be founder lost his or her nerve at the last minute. Perhaps even more tragically, certain seriously flawed businesses exist because the founder was unable to get beyond a certain fear or block.
The following are three of the biggest fears that you must face and overcome if you ever want to be a successful entrepreneur.
This is certainly a common fear, and one that prevents many people from ever taking action. You might think that entrepreneurs, by definition, are people who either don’t have this fear or who are able to overcome it, but I would argue that most of us have it to one degree or another. It’s that little voice in your head that whispers all of the things that could go wrong. Whenever I notice the fear of failure creeping into my consciousness, I consider the consequences of taking no action at all. In most cases, this ends up being a scarier prospect than the possibility of failing; I can at least learn from any mistakes.
One of the greatest challenges is learning how to distinguish the irrational fear of failure from the helpful, intuitive insight that something is not right and needs attention. I have found that the best way to tell the difference is by identifying whether or not the fear is general or specific. If it’s something specific, you can rationally analyze it. If it’s vague and general, its more likely to be a mental block that you need to smash through.
This fear is a little more subtle and, therefore potentially even more deadly than the fear of failure. While one can keep you from even starting a business, the other can cause you to pursue a wrongheaded strategy even when there’s clear evidence that you need to change your approach.
This is an ego-based fear that makes you stay the course because you’re emotionally invested in a certain way of doing things. In one of my earliest business ventures, I soon realized that I was making the mistake of not listening to my customers–or even asking for feedback. Fortunately, I was able to recognize this problem soon enough to turn things around. As it happened, my business ended up moving in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. In order to make these changes, however, I first had to overcome my fear of being wrong.
If you want to succeed with a business, you must deliver something that someone wants. This much is obvious. However, it doesn’t follow from this that you should (or can) please everyone. The desire to accommodate everyone is another fear that can be hazardous to your enterprise. You have to identify your market and focus on pleasing these people. If you try to be too broad, you may end up spreading yourself too thin. When you create your website, plan advertising campaigns or build social media pages, you want to focus your efforts on those people who your products or services are truly meant for. If you try to include everybody in your message, you can end up making your message too vague and alienating your actual market.
You also have to watch out for the fear of displeasing employees, partners and anyone else you work with. Every business leader must, at times, make decisions that will be unpopular with someone. If you have anything larger than a one- or two-person enterprise, for example, you will probably have to fire someone at some point. This is never pleasant, but it can be necessary to ensure that you are only working with people who share your vision and who are truly contributing to it.
Depending on your own personality, you may have none, one or all three of these fears to one degree or another. Even once you’ve gotten past fears, you must be vigilant and make sure they don’t resurface. A fear of failure, for example, may make an appearance when it’s time to scale your business. Fears are natural and nothing to be ashamed of. What makes successful business leaders unique is their ability to transcend their fears.
Shawn Porat is the CEO of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a non-traditional and out-of-home media placement company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.