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Failure. It’s a loaded word in the startup world. Eric Ries told founders to fail fast in his quintessential book, “The Lean Startup.” Other entrepreneurs swear that failure is what led to their ultimate success. And yet, fear of failure still holds many business owners back.
What if I don’t make any money?
What if I lose all my money?
What if there’s no audience for my product?
What if? What if? What if?
Fear is a natural emotion. If we didn’t have it, we would touch a hot stovetop with no concept that it could be a disastrous idea. Even in running a business, fear is a good thing. It’s what drives us to try harder, and it compels us to succeed, no matter what it takes.
So how can you actually benefit from your fear of failure?
- Let it guide you to a well-thought-out plan
One of the top reasons startups fail is lack of planning. If you’re sort of winging it, you have no strategy for what you’ll do if a large client doesn’t pay you one month or if your revenues dwindle.
Use your fear of failure to ensure that you have not only a well-developed business plan but also a marketing plan. Constantly think not just about today and tomorrow, but about down the road as well. Yes, you may need to deviate from the plan (you’ve got to be adaptable to be a startup founder), but at least have a map for the general direction you’re going in.
- Use it to be hyper-aware of your surroundings
I have a cat who likes to hunt outside and I always notice that when he comes inside, he’s still got his outdoor cat sense on. He jumps at every sound or fast movement. His ears are up. This should be you while running your business.
What is your competition up to? What changes are happening in your industry that could impact sales? Are you communicating what your customers want through marketing? All of these things are ever-changing, so you need to be constantly vigilant.
- Let fear light a fire
The enemy of success is complacency. You might be chugging along in your business and feel like there’s no real reason to push to grow it, but you’re stagnant. A business that doesn’t evolve grows moss on it like a big fat rock.
You may not want to expand operations or hire more staff. That’s not the only way to grow. But consider offering other products, exploring a new market, or hiring one employee to help take the load off of you. You’ll be surprised what one tiny action can do in terms of shaking up the energy of your brand for the better.
- Use it to get laser-light focus
Maybe you have the opposite problem. You dream of ways to build your business. You have grandiose ideas that you probably will never execute out of fear. But as a result, your business suffers because you’re often chasing rainbows when you should be sitting at your desk, focusing on the mundane tasks that are required in your work.
You can’t expand in innovative ways if you don’t take care of the important stuff first. Set to-do items on your calendar and block off time to work on them. Don’t let yourself get distracted. You’ll do more for your business if you simply sit and focus on one thing at a time.
- Leverage fear to make decisions
Maybe your fear of failure makes decision-making difficult. You’re so paralyzed at the prospect of making the wrong decision that you either punt on the decision or make one without really rationalizing it.
If you’re overwhelmed by your options, sit quietly and meditate on it. Explore what might happen with each option. Then ask your gut: which one feels right? Sometimes your instinct knows better than your brain which decision is best for your business.
- Explore those what-ifs
Here’s a fun game: play “Worst Case Scenario.” Take your biggest fears and dive into what it would be like if they were realized.
I run out of money and can’t pay my staff.
You could choose your own adventure in a couple of directions here:
- I can’t pay my staff and have to lay them all off. Some sue me. I go broke and shut my business down.
- I take out a line of credit at the bank and cover my debts for the short term. I work even harder to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and start setting aside money in savings to prevent that cash crunch.
In reality, the first one probably isn’t going to happen unless you let it. But exploring the worst case scenario can help you see that it’s an unrealistic fear. Coming up with a positive alternative shows you that it’s possible to problem solve even the stickiest issue.
Don’t fear failure. Instead, leverage it to focus on what you really want for your business to succeed.