TLDR: People have many fears starting a business, especially regarding money, time, difficulty and the competition. Many of these are overblown.
“Be your own boss.” “Work for yourself.” “Do work that makes you happy, on your own hours.” If there is a dream in America other than owning your own home and having a loving family, then being a successful entrepreneur would be it. What could be better than doing something that you love, calling the shots, and getting paid a lot of money to do so? Yet despite how much business owners are praised in our country the number of new business starts has dropped to an all-time low.
The reason for this comes down to one word: fear. Fear of the amount of time it takes to succeed, the amount of energy it requires, and fear that you could lose all of the money you invested in the first place. If you win, you win big, but if you lose it could set you back for years. Let’s walk through the biggest four fears and why they are not as bad as most people thing.
Fear #1: Will I Ever Make Any Money?
I can now say from personal experience that starting a business is mortifying. Before you can buy or make one product to put on the market, before you close even a single sale, you need to drop thousands of dollars in startup fees. Fee to the Secretary of State for filing a business: $150; Fees for hiring a registered agent in case someone tries to sue you: $150; fees for hiring professional artist to make a brand: $250, Fees for buying UPCs to put on products: $750. You’re thousands of dollars in the hole before you see a single penny come in. This is legitimately terrifying.
But the truth too is that it’s actually very easy to break even – if not necessarily to become rich – on these startup costs. So long as you don’t waste money on unnecessary things, know what your customers want to purchase, and how to buy low and sell high, you should be able to cover all your startup costs within a couple of months to a year. Once you earn back your initial capital, then you will start harvesting the fruit of your entrepreneurial acumen.
To put it another way, a real business isn’t a “Get Rich Quick” scheme. It’s a “Get Rich Eventually” scheme. It requires a big leap of faith, and the only way to survive the jump is to do your homework up front, act wisely, and be patient enough for the money to roll in.
Fear #2: How Will I Ever Find the Time?
A big worry people have is that they’ll have no life if they start a business. “I want to start my own business, but how can I possibly do that and juggle my day job, daily life commitments, and other interests?” This is an honest concern. No one dreamed of being a workaholic when they grew up.
That being said, we need to get a bit real here: you can’t have everything in life. Heck you can’t even have most things in life, and definitely not at the same time. You will need to make a choice here about what you want to do. You can work hard and make money so that you can be comfortable and relax later in life…but that means you probably won’t be able to spend as much time on your hobbies. Or hang out with your friends every weekend. Trade-offs are real and you need to a make one – even if just a little one – if you want to be ambitious and succeed in business.
Once you make that choice though, there are ways to control the time spent on a business. First, a business can operate at whatever scale you want it to. You can build it into a vast empire, or run it out of a spare bedroom. You can grow revenue to the point where it replaces the income from your day job, or it can simply pay for your groceries. A small business will not take up that much time, and even the little bit of extra income it generates is invaluable to getting that wealth snowball to start rolling down the hill, picking up speed and mass.
Second, if you decide to grow big you will eventually reach the point where you will have the money to hire freelancers or delegate activities to your own employees. This seems intimidating to many people but shouldn’t be. After all, most of us make money from our day job, but few do their taxes on their own. Or draft a last will and testament without legal advice. Operating your own business is much the same way. If you don’t know how to build a website, you can hire it out. If you don’t want to set up a call center, you can hire it out. The key is knowing when to hire it out, and not doing it too soon before you have money to pay for it. That is truly the distinguishing mark of a successful business from a failed business – it knows how to use other people’s time and money, and not the owner’s time and money.
Fear #3: How Will I Ever Be Able to Learn Everything?
One big reason why starting your business appears intimidating is because there seems to be a huge learning curve when you first start out. If you mow lawns you have to learn how to repair equipment and service small engines out in the field. If you work in construction you need to study the local building codes. If you watch children for living, you need to learn CPR and first aid. Everything out there seems to have these hug pre-requisites of knowledge that you need to grasp before you can do anything.
Fortunately, there are three basic ways to overcome this fear. To start, you’ll simply have to embrace the challenge – or as the U.S. Marines call it “the suck”. Nothing great has ever come without sacrifice, so the sooner you make that sacrifice and learn a body of knowledge, the sooner you’ll become something great. There are no shortcuts and it’s self-defeating to hope for them. The only one that comes close that’s actually proven successful for me is the 5 book model. If you ever want to learn something, read 5 books on the subject and you’ll understand 80% of the topic matter. It’s worked for me many times over the years.
Next, if a large project seems overwhelming I generally find it’s easier to handle if you break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks and find ways to systematize the work. What does the process look like from end to end? Which part don’t you understand? Then seek to understand that one part, before moving on to the next… and then the next…and then the next. One day you will then wake up, start talking to friends about what you’re doing…and discover that you actually do know what you’re talking about, and that you are an expert. That’s a great feeling.
Finally, as stated earlier, you must realize that it’s okay if you don’t know how to do everything. In today’s economy you can hire freelancers (and later on, your own employees) to do many complex tasks, and they can often do it for less time, less money and at a higher level of quality than if you were to do it for yourself. The more you can build up your own team of experts around you, to build an organization with skills and experience and knowledge that one person could ever learn in a lifetime, the more successful you’ll be.
Fear #4: How Wil I Ever Compete With Anybody Else?
Finally, one big fear people have starting a business is dealing with the competition. Ironically enough, it’s actually one of the most overrated. The truth of the matter is that you aren’t really competing against the Apples, Facebooks, or Googles of the world but the 90% of businesses that crash and burn within 5 years.
To put it plainly, you’re not fighting against a bunch of gifted, work-obsessed geniuses. You’re competing with a bunch of lazy people who leapt into business without really thinking it through. These are the people who didn’t do product research, who don’t know their customers, who don’t try to build a brand people can trust, and don’t have enough cash in reserve to maintain inventory. These are people who treat business as a hobby more than a job. Even better for you, half of them already have a foot out of the door. Many are a sale away from closing.
And even if you are competing against geniuses, they are few and far between. Most people aren’t geniuses. Of those who are geniuses, many don’t go into business, fewer still are entrepreneurs, and rarer yet are those who don’t get trapped in analysis paralysis and shoot themselves in the foot. If you’re looking at one market/service and you can tell one guy has it locked down, keep searching because there is always open ground elsewhere. Just being competent and responsive to your customers will put you in the top 50% of all businesses, and once you get started it’s much easier to go from 50% to the top 20% than it is to go from zero to 50.
Many of the fears surrounding entrepreneurship are overblown. You must accept that there is a learning curve, and that it will take time to get started, but once you get past that initial phase its only as difficult and time consuming as you want it to be. Even if you don’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg being your own boss is an invaluable experience for your life and your wallet.