Overcome fear of starting a business

Starting your own business holds the promise of time and material freedom. It is possible to start a business where the business concept is bankable, with an existing market and opportunity to scale it sustainably.

Yet every new level has a built in new “devil”. These are limitations, challenges and constraints that need to be managed and properly addressed.

Often times the budding entrepreneur is high on dreams but low on resources; high on passion but low on planning; high on the end vision, but low on how to start. 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.

In the past 14 years or so, I have had the privilege of walking with a host of different kinds of businesses; business people and entrepreneurs. Not one of these was immune to the common challenges or inoculated against the variety of fears they were facing.

Yet there are some principles that may help you be more prepared, robust and clear in your approach.

Fear of starting

The first fear of an entrepreneur is the fear of starting. You’ve got a great business idea, you’ve shared it with a couple of people and they think it’s viable, you’ve done some form of market research and you can see some market potential and now it’s time to start.

But you find yourself pausing, procrastinating, and over planning. Rather than actually starting your business, you are still stuck strategising. This is the first fear that every entrepreneur faces – the fear of starting.

Most entrepreneurs don’t know where to start when first setting their ideas in motion.

Start out by finding someone who achieved the goal you’ve set for yourself. Read about the person, the structure of her business and reach out to see if they can offer advice or information.

At the Rapid Incubator and Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College, we have the privilege of a growing relationship with various Rotary clubs. One of the great value-adds that these men and women will bring is that of real world experience as they mentor our beneficiaries. See if you can “tap” into an experienced mentor in a similar way.

Fear of failure

This is certainly a common fear, and one that prevents many people from ever taking action. Most entrepreneurs 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 thinking, 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.

So is the fear specific or general? If it’s something specific, you can rationally analyse it. If it’s vague and general, it’s more likely to be a mental block that you need to power through.

The statistics of business failure can be disconcerting. A well- known statistic is that over 50% of small businesses that start, will not last beyond three years.

Fear of the unknown

Another common fear entrepreneur’s face is the fear of the unknown.

As an entrepreneur one thing that is guaranteed on this unusual journey is that nothing is guaranteed.

This is a disturbing fear of being an entrepreneur and even successful entrepreneurs still experience this fear. Any business can go up in flames; anytime, any day. Size and success doesn’t protect you from this fear because the future is unpredictable.

Starting out as an entrepreneur is scary. That sense of the unknown can leave you like a deer in the headlights and possibly immobilise you. You will only really learn by doing whatever it is you want to do.

Preparation, which includes having studied your market, audience and competition, as well as conferring with others, like mentors and investors, does help to considerably reduce the fear.

Financial fear

One of the challenges of starting and running a business is that of funding.

To tackle this problem, entrepreneurs seek funds from several sources; some look to family and friends and others look to investors and banks.

The weight of paying these funds back can be harrowing.

Another financial fear, peculiar to entrepreneurs is the fear of not being able to pay the bills. This is especially peculiar to entrepreneurs who had left their jobs to be their own bosses. Having left the comfort of regular paychecks, the reality of not having enough money to cover living and business expenses can be paralysing.

Our Rapid Incubator and Centre for Entrepreneurship Advisory committee is led by Luvuyo Rani who is regularly recognised for his achievements in social entrepreneurship and having built a stable of 40 internet cafes in the Western and Eastern Cape.

Yet he also began with serious financial challenges; skepticism by some and the real possibility of failing. Thankfully, he has modelled perseverance and successfully scaled his business.

Again, these two financial fears are very valid. It’s ok to be afraid of outstanding and it’s totally human to be scared of being broke.

Fear of inadequacy

Some would-be entrepreneurs are paralysed by fears of inadequacy. They question themselves, their talents and abilities, as well as their products and ideas. Do I have enough experience? Am I suitably qualified?

Rather than get bogged down in what you don’t know, give yourself credit for what you do and focus on these. Make a personal talent inventory and then list skills necessary for your business. If you find inadequacies, make a point to learn what you don’t know.

Consider attending one of these events: Pitch and Polish; #YouthstartCT; Workshops through the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA); National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and local business incubators.

Also consult with mentors and successful entrepreneurs to gain perspective. Build a relationship with local business development organisations to leverage and grow your business knowledge.

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. Email Steve.Reid@falsebay.org.za or visit www.falsebayincubate.co.za