The importance of fear to the small business owner

rock climbingFear can be useful to an entrepreneur. Fear can be the thing that makes you pick up the phone and make those sales calls, when you’re afraid you’re not making your numbers. It can keep you from leveraging yourself out too far into debt, when you’re afraid it doesn’t make sense for your business. It can be the thing that keeps you going late at night to finish a project, when you’re afraid of missing a client deadline.

It also can be debilitating. When you’re overwhelmed by fear, it can paralyze your efforts to grow the company. It can keep you thinking small, and make you miss big opportunities. Fear can make you pass on risks that might be worth taking. Let yourself get too mired in fear and you’ll give off a vibe that’s almost visible. And that’s not the first impression you want potential clients or customers to get.

If you own your own business, fear will be a constant companion. You might as well get comfortable with him. Don’t think that just because you started your company for a less stressful work life that you can sidestep the scary parts. Fear is part of the balance, actually. Fear can be exciting, if you let it be

When I started my first ad agency, I remember asking Bill Mayer, an old friend who’s one of the most successful illustrators in the country,  when would I get over the fear that we wouldn’t bring enough business in the door. “Oh, never,” Bill said cheerily. “You never quit worrying where that next client is coming from.

“You have to learn to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s exciting, like rock climbing is exciting.” Bill and his wife Lee had recently talked my husband and me into taking up rock climbing, and it was true that rock climbing had helped me work up the nerve to take the plunge as an entrepreneur. I began to see, just barely, that Bill might have a point. That the fear wasn’t something to resist, but to ride, like a roller coaster.

The trick is to balance that fear with confidence. To understand that a successful business isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something you make out of thin air. To believe that you have what it takes to make that happen. There are plenty of things out of your control, but when you own the company, there’s a whole lot more that is completely up to you.

Don’t let fear rattle you.  To paraphrase FDR, the entrepreneur has nothing to fear but fear itself.

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