Don't Let Fear of Failure Stop You From Starting a Business

How to Get Rid of Fear of Failure When Starting a Business

Confident businesswoman brainstorming at board in new office
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What's stopping you from starting a small business?

When I ask people this question, they often respond that they're scared of failure - not in so many words, but that's what it boils down to.

They say things such as “I'm scared to start my own business. I don't know if enough people would be interested in buying this product.” Or “I'd like to start a business but I’m not very good at selling.” Or even “I’d like to start a small business but I don’t know if I could make enough money to live on.”

See? The obstacle to starting a small business is not actually about products or selling or money – it's fear of failure.

Now fear that saves you from physical harm, such as the fear you feel when you see a huge slavering dog standing in your path or the fear that prevents most of us from shooting over Niagara Falls in a barrel, is a healthy thing. But the kind of fear that prevents you from doing things that you want to do that will enrich you is not.

If fear of failure is what is preventing you from starting a small business, you have to get around it and forge ahead.

How to Get Rid of Fear of Failure

How can you break your paralysis and get past being scared of failure? You have to do two things:

  1. Prepare to succeed
  2. Change your attitude to failure

1) Prepare to Succeed

The first thing you need to do to prepare to succeed is to learn how to do it. You already know how to fail. You can fail by doing nothing or you can fail by doing stupid things. But how do you succeed? By finding out exactly what you would need to be successful and ensuring that those needs are met. Arming yourself with knowledge is the path to success. (See Why Do Small Businesses Fail?)

For instance, suppose that you want to start a small business selling herbal soaps and bath products. For this business to be successful, you need to have essentially four things:

  • Enough people who want to buy the soaps and bath products you're selling
  • A product whose quality and price is competitive enough that people want to buy it
  • A way to bring the two of these (people and product) together
  • Something that makes purchasing your product(s) compelling 

The best way to figure out how to meet these needs is to work through a Business Plan.

Creating a business plan will fill in the gaps in your knowledge and provide the details of how you’re going to do what needs to be done to start and run a particular small business successfully. Your business plan will be, in effect, your blueprint for success.

2) Change Your Attitude Towards Failure

Why are you specifically scared to start your own business?

Most people fear failure because they think:

  • Failure makes you a bad person, a “loser” that others look down on.
  • You could lose all or most of your money and/or your possessions.

Both of these ideas are misconceptions.

Failure doesn’t change your genes or your personality. So how can you automatically become a bad person if you fail at something? Failure affects some people’s actions negatively, but it’s not negative in itself. Will you be a “loser” if you fail? Only if you allow yourself to be. “It’s not being down; it’s staying down” that makes you a loser.

Will others look down on you? Some people might. You can’t control the thoughts or actions of other people - so why lose sleep over them?

Failure Is not Life Threatening

As for losing all your money and/or possessions if your new business fails, it's not very likely. You can structure your business in such a way as to limit your liability by incorporating or by forming a partnership. Should You Incorporate Your Business? presents the advantages and disadvantages of incorporation, if you would like to know more about this form of business ownership.

And even if you do structure your business as a sole proprietorship and end up filing for personal bankruptcy, some of your property will be exempt from seizure.

So you won’t lose all your money or possessions, even if your business does go belly-up. How important is the amount that you might lose? That’s a matter of perspective. Money is never as important as your health, for instance, or the health and well-being of your loved ones.

My point is that failure can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, but is not life-threatening. And failure is always an opportunity of one kind or another – an opportunity to stretch beyond our usual boundaries, to learn something valuable, or to make previously undreamed-of connections. Remembering this positive face of failure and focusing on it will go a long way towards changing your attitude about it.

Starting and running your own small business could be one of the most enriching experiences of your life. Don’t let your fear of failure make you miss out.

You are not going to be able to outrun your fear. But eventually, once you build on enough successes, you will be able to tame it. Why not start now?