Starting a business can be an exciting time in your journey as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, it also comes with uncertainty. Fear of failure is inevitable no matter how prepared you are. One thing to remember is that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to pursue your vision in spite of it.
What Causes Fear of Failure?
About 20% of startups fail within two years, and 45% go out of business within five years. These numbers alone are enough to make you think twice before starting a venture. As an entrepreneur, you might be afraid that you'll run out of money, lose business to your competitors or fail to attract buyers. Perhaps you're thinking that your products or services are not good enough.
Fear of failure, or atychiphobia, is completely normal, but this doesn't mean you should allow it to control you. Instead, you must embrace your fears and take calculated risks. Entrepreneurship is an emotional journey that has ups and downs. Be prepared to fail and start over more than once.
More than one-third of Americans are afraid to start a business. Fear of failure is often driven by perfectionism, negative thoughts, irrational fears, poor self-confidence or past traumatic events. Perfectionists, for example, are afraid to step outside their comfort zone and expose themselves to uncertainty. They fear criticism, rejection, shame and other consequences of failure.
Atychiphobia can be linked to a fear of rejection or lack of confidence among other factors. If you've ever failed at something and ended up feeling embarrassed about it, these emotions can haunt you later in life. People raised by overly critical parents may feel the constant need for validation and reassurance. Those who started a project and failed may fear they lack the skills needed to succeed in life or business.
Fear of Failure and Entrepreneurship
These emotional factors can work against entrepreneurial efforts. Fear keeps you running in place. You may spend years developing a great product but feel too scared to take the next step. There will always be a risk of failure, but if you don't try, you'll never know what you're capable of. That fear of failure suppresses new ideas, inhibits innovation and keeps you from reaching your full potential.
Up to 5% of the population, especially type A personalities, experience atychiphobia. As an entrepreneur, you know that failure isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a valuable learning experience and can pave your way to success, yet failure has many ramifications that could ruin your life, from social stigma to bankruptcy.
Like it or not, fear and uncertainty remain omnipresent as a new business grows. Even if you become successful, you can still lose everything in the blink of an eye. The only way to succeed in business is to overcome your fears, adopt a growth-oriented mindset and be prepared to learn from your mistakes. Stop procrastinating, evaluate your options and focus on what you can control.
Fear of failure can ruin your business. How can you expect to learn and grow when your mind is limited by negative beliefs? If, say, you're afraid of making a sales pitch to a client, you might subconsciously create obstacles to avoid completing that task. For example, you may schedule the phone call late in the evening when your client is likely unavailable so that you can later blame the circumstances rather than yourself — simply put, you're sabotaging your business without realizing it.
Failure Is Essential for Success
Some of the world's most successful people failed more than once on their way to success. Steve Jobs, for example, feared death. In his 2005 commencement speech, Apple's founder said that all other fears just fall away in the face of death. He actually failed several times before building the largest tech company in the world.
Traf-O-Data, the first company founded by Bill Gates, went out of business shortly after its inception. Back in the early '90s, he launched a database project that proved to be a complete failure. Instead of giving up, Gates learned from his mistakes and used them as a stepping stone. Today, he is the richest person in the world.
J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen King and Michael Jordan have one thing in common: They used failure as a learning tool and never gave up. For example, Stephen King's first book was rejected 30 times before being published. Every misstep in business is a chance to learn. It's far worse to not try than it is to fail.
So, what can you do to overcome your fear of failure? What if something goes wrong? The truth is that nothing can guarantee a successful outcome, but this shouldn't stop you from trying. Consider these five tips to conquer your fears and push through to success with your small business.
1. Define and Embrace Your Fears
Best-selling author Tim Ferris developed his own strategy for overcoming fear of failure. He recommends defining and documenting your fears, imagining the worst-case scenario and making a plan to prevent those things from happening. Next, think about what you could do if something goes wrong. This way, you'll be better prepared for the unexpected and have a backup plan.
Think about what you are really afraid of and then come up with a plan to mitigate the risks. If you fear that your product isn't good enough, consider testing it before investing more time and money. Release it as a minimum viable product, collect feedback from potential clients and make improvements accordingly.
Perhaps you're concerned that if you launch a product and no one buys it, people will think of you as a failure. Nothing could be further from the truth. Failing in business doesn't make you a failure and says nothing about your potential. Regrets are worse than failures — would you prefer to spend the rest of your life wondering "what if?" or take a chance and see what happens?
2. Analyze All Potential Outcomes
Fear of failure often stems from uncertainty. Once you've defined your fears, try to distinguish between real and imagined threats so that you can address the potential outcomes. For example, losing a major client may affect your profits, but it's unlikely to ruin your business. If that's something you're afraid of, don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Remember that failure is relative. What matters is how you approach it and respond to it. Perceived failures allow you to learn and grow as an individual. Even if something goes wrong the first time you try, it won't necessarily be the case on your next move. By failing, you'll learn valuable lessons and avoid making the same mistake twice.
The thing you're afraid of is a prediction, not an actual threat; there is a chance you may fail, but you may also succeed. If you don't try, you'll never know. Think of the worst-case scenario and plan how to mitigate or avoid the consequences. The better you plan, the easier it will be to handle potential challenges.
3. Face Your Weaknesses
Sometimes, the only way to find your strength and overcome the fear of failure is to face your weaknesses. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. For example, if you're not too great at social media marketing, you may have a hard time running an SEO agency. Therefore, the potential risk of failure may increase.
However, this doesn't mean you should give up your plans. Instead, focus on what you do best. Perhaps you're a skilled copywriter or digital marketer. In this case, you can start an SEO agency and outsource social media marketing.
Take the steps needed to tackle your weaknesses. For example, you may improve your social media marketing skills by attending seminars on the subject or working on personal projects. You can hire an in-house marketing team and oversee their work.
4. Let Go of Perfectionism
Perfectionism is a dream killer for many entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, this self-destructive belief system fuels procrastination and fear of failure. First of all, you cannot please everyone despite your best efforts. Perfection is relative; some customers will love your products, while others will see them as unnecessary or problematic.
Second, perfectionists often get stuck in the status quo and avoid stepping outside their comfort zone. This desire to be perfect keeps them from taking risks and reaching their full potential. They may also find it difficult to adapt to new circumstances, which may hinder creativity and innovation. Furthermore, they tend to check and recheck everything, obsessing over the small details.
There is no such thing as perfection. This belief system may lead to exhaustion, burnout, frustration and missed opportunities. Chronic procrastination is a common issue among perfectionists. Since they're never satisfied with their work, they choose to put things off rather than take risks and make mistakes.
This personality trait can work against you and affect your business as a whole. The best thing you can do is to stop the all-or-nothing mentality. Embrace your weaknesses, build self-reliance and let go of unrealistic expectations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can make a world of difference — and no, you won't come across as weak if you ask for help.
5. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
The key to overcoming fear of failure is to break out of your comfort zone one step at a time. Start with small things, like switching up your routine or making short speeches at networking events. Get involved in projects that relate to your skills. An aspiring graphic designer, for instance, could offer his services to local businesses.
If, say, you're a copywriter or blogger, you could start a website and post content regularly. Promote your posts on social media, engage with your readers and measure the impact of your work. Over time, you'll fine-tune your skills and gain the confidence needed to start a copywriting business. Likewise, if you're good at crafts, you could sell your creations on eBay or Etsy and open a brick-and-mortar store later on.
Look at fear as a challenge, not a threat. By doing so, you'll perform at your peak and rise to the occasion. Plus, you may discover new opportunities along the way. For example, if you start an online store, you may realize that you enjoy the marketing side of things rather than the actual sales.
Entrepreneurs learn from every failure — and so should you. Turn your fear of failure into a catalyst for growth instead of letting it hold you back. Regardless of the outcome, take it as an experience and ask yourself: Did anything positive come from this situation? Remember that failure in business is just a brief stop, not a death sentence.
- Investopedia: Top 6 Reasons New Businesses Fail
- GraphicSprings: The Most Fearful and Fearless Countries When It Comes to Starting a Business
- PsychCentral: Atychiphobia: 3 Signs You Fear Failure
- TED: Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals
- American Express: Why Being a Perfectionist Could Ruin Your Business
- Psychology Today: Why Fear of Failure Can Keep You Stuck
- Enterprise Research Centre: Fear of Failure and Entrepreneurship: A Review and Direction for Future Research
- Inc.: Why Fear of Success Is Holding You Back More Than Fear of Failure
Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.