The host had run out of questions about a blog I had posted on Forbes and so when the interview ran short she opened it up to questions from listeners of her Midwestern talk show.
"I think I have a good idea for a company," began the third person who called. "But I am scared to death about starting. Any advice for me on how I can overcome my fear?"
It was really too bad we only had 10 minutes left, I could have gone on for much longer.
My starting point was this: I don't know if fear is helpful as a motivating force, as many people have argued, but I do know it is normal.
Going into the unknown—and that is exactly what you are doing every time you start something new—is by definition scary. That fact may be the biggest reason so many do not start anything new. They are literally frozen in place by their fear. The fear of the unknown keeps them from beginning.
The primary cause of that fear is the very real fact the new idea might fail. And that fear, in turn, triggers three worries of it own.
1. A lower self-perception. You think because your idea failed-or might fail—you are, or will be, a failure. Who wants to view themselves that way? The guaranteed way not to fail is not to start.
2. You worry about what other people will think if your new venture doesn't work out.
3. You are afraid of the lasting consequences that could come from a failure. There is a very real fear that not only will the unsuccessful attempt use up valuable resources—money; time and reputation capital—but you will have also jeopardized your current status and position in the attempt.
As I said, all those fears are natural. But saying the fear is natural is not particularly helpful nor does it give you a plan to eliminate it.
I think the following can help.
When we think of the something failing, we are usually imagining a full blown venture that hasn't worked out. We picture ourselves having invested hundreds (or thousands) of hours of time and untold money to get our idea up and running. And if that were the case, the failure would certainly be devastating.
But you don't have to approach starting anything new that way.
Let's use a couple of extreme examples to hammer home the point.
Sure, you could quit your day job to see if you could turn your hobby of building bird houses into a full-fledged business. Or, you could build a few and take them to local craft fairs and post pictures of them on a retail site like eBay and see if anyone is interested.
If they don't sell, it is no big deal. You are not out very much either in time or money. And if they sell, you can take another small step toward making Bird Houses R Us a reality. (Maybe you think about selling your plans as well as the birdhouses, or you hire a retired neighbor to build them for you.)
Similarly, starting from scratch a new pizza joint at Fourth and Main could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months and would cause a substantial hit if it failed.
But, how much time would it take to survey potential customers and give away samples of what you plan to offer to see if you are on to something. If people don't like what you have, or tell you they are really happy with the pizza place two blocks down, your "failure" is small.
The idea here is simple. If you break the idea of starting something new down into extremely small steps, the risk diminishes and so should the fear.
It also gives you early confirmation that you are onto something or could reveal you need to do more work before you take another step.
There are three other benefits to taking this approach.
– You can get started right away. No elaborate planning is needed. You take a small step and see how the market reacts
– You don't need a lot of resources to take that small step.
– You can quickly respond to market needs and reactions.
What we have just explored works for established entrepreneurs as well.
Just because you have succeeded once doesn't mean you won't have fears when you try for an encore.
Taking small steps should help.
Paul B. Brown is the author of Own Your Future: How To Think Like an Entrepreneur and Thrive in an Unpredictable Economy.