The fear of failure is almost everywhere when you’re thinking about starting a business, even if it’s on the side and you’re still secured with income from your job.
I definitely felt the fear of failure once I seriously considered starting an online business. Though I was working as a business consultant and making enough money to pay my bills and I knew that I had nothing to lose when I’d start a side business, I was scared to make the first steps.
Now that I’m running my business for over a decade now, helping creators and entrepreneurs with email marketing strategy, I still experience this fear from time to time. But over time I learned how to deal with it.
Why are we scared to fail when trying something new? To understand what scares us, we need to define „failure“ - and this is where it gets tricky.
Everyone defines failure differently because we all have varying benchmarks, expectations, and wishes. However, there’s something in common, something that makes failure almost the same for all of us:
Failure is missing a goal, an expectation, or a benchmark we’ve set for ourselves.
Let me give you one example of how failure can happen:
A few years ago, I was playing at the highest position in my table tennis team that I ever played. I was training hard, doing everything I can to compete with the best opponents I ever had to face.
My expectation was to finish the season with a positive record - which I clearly missed. I failed and closed the season with a negative record, losing much more games than expected.
While this example is just from a hobby, I think we all can relate to situations where we didn’t achieve the goal we had set.
Not achieving our goals makes us feel bad. The more important the goal was, the more afraid not to miss it.
My positive table tennis record was a „nice-to-have“ goal, whereas building a profitable side business is a huge goal, massively important, with the potential to change your life.
Sometimes the fear of failure gets so big, that we don’t even try to achieve our goals and stay in our secure comfort zone.
This is why only very few entrepreneurs actually build profitable businesses, while most entrepreneurs don’t achieve their goals.
Dealing efficiently with the fear of failure is a very important tool in your toolbox as a business owner.
I personally went through some big shifts in mindset, which I’d like to explain to you in the following section. Most of my entrepreneurial friends went through similar mindset changes, so I believe the following explanations will help you to wrap your head around starting a side business.
Probably the most important mindset shift to deal with the fear of failure is to develop a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is a mindset of personal development, that focuses on learning new skills, trying new things, and constantly upskilling yourself - instead of worrying about trying something new and failing.
You only fail when you quit trying. There’s always a second, third, or 54th try for everything - if you’re willing to take the setbacks, learn from them and then try again.
Those two quotes made it easier for me to accept those situations when I didn’t achieve my goals (here are more quotes to motivate you).
Reminded yourself that no one expects you to successfully reach your goals on the first try. In fact, being successful on the first try is hugely uncommon - the idea of being an overnight success is just a myth that needs to be erased from your mind.
Building businesses is hard work and requires lots of dedication.
You’ll inevitably face situations where you feel that you’ve failed, but now you know that you can keep on building your business and that there’s no reason to quit!
Especially when I started to think about building an online business on the side, I compared myself to the big players.
Guys like Pat Flynn, Chris Ducker, and Sabri Suby where (and are) my idols. Even though their businesses are quite different, I admired (and still do) how successful they are while staying down-to-earth and „real“.
To be honest, I still get the chills when I read the income reports of John Lee Dumas - knowing that I’m far away from those numbers.
It would be easy to say that I’ll never be able to make as much money and thus I’m going to fail with my business.
But even though my business IS far away from those revenue numbers, it’s not a failure. It generates enough revenue to pay all my bills and support a nice lifestyle, which is a success.
Comparing yourself to the big players will always make you look bad.
It’s good to use those big players as motivation to grow your own business, but don’t see them as benchmarks you have to catch.
Big players are running businesses they built over years, from totally different starting points than yours. Focus on your personal strengths and goals - and then take action to reach your goals!
Positive thinking is essential for business owners because it keeps us healthy and motivated. Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, we need to learn to focus on the opportunities that show up when things go right - and our ability to leverage those opportunities.
“Stand up to an obstacle. Just stand up to it, that’s all, and don’t give way under it, and it will finally break. You will break it. Something has to break, and it won’t be you, it will be the obstacle.” ― Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking
When I started my side business, I spent a few hundred bucks on joining a training program called Internet Business Mastery Academy. I read about that program from Pat Flynn’s book Let Go and, since he’s one of the most honest online business owners, joined immediately.
Instead of worrying about wasting my money on that program, I hoped the contents were worth the money and would teach me how to build a profitable business online. And boy did they.
You need to focus on the positive outcomes of your actions, instead of worrying about what could go wrong! Just push the positive.
A few days ago, I started listening to The New Psycho-Cybernetics on Audible, which taught me about the importance of visualizing your goals.
I think we all have encountered this principle before, but at least I personally underestimated its potential. Now I’m taking 30 minutes every day to imagine my goals in every detail, getting clear about what I really want and manifesting these goals in my subconscious.
It’s said that this method helps you to fine-tune your subconscious to support your goals and reduces inner barriers you might not even be aware of.
The last point I’d like to take is coming from Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire.
“The calculated risks you and your team take should be strategic judgments, not just blind gambles: Protect the downside by figuring out the odds of success, working out what the worst possible consequences would be, then deciding whether to accept.“ - Sir Richard Branson
He’s saying that you’ve got to protect yourself in case something goes wrong (which will happen sooner or later).
To implement this business lesson you should think about the worst-case scenario. What happens when everything goes wrong? And how can you recover fast?
For me, the worst case was to build a side business that wouldn’t generate any income at all. Thus I’d be forced to stay in my job and sacrifice 40 hours a week in the office.
Even worse, my employer could let me go because of my side business. Then I’d have nothing, no job, and a business that’s not making money. To reduce that risk of being let go, I talked to my employer. Man, that was the scariest conversation I had in my life to that time.
But eventually, my boss allowed me to build a side business, as long as I’d work as hard as before in my job.
This agreement meant, that I didn’t need to fear being let go and that I had no pressure on my shoulders to generate money with my business. I could get my hands dirty and learn everything from scratch.
You see, there’s almost always a way to reduce risks that seem life-threatening or devastating.
Think about what risks you’re currently taking with your actions. And what risks are you subconsciously accepting by not taking a specific action? Reduce those risks and you’ll feel not just relief, but inspiration and motivation to work on your goals!
The fear of failure is almost everywhere, you just need to accept it and leverage it for your benefit.
I’d like to close this post with an inspiring quote from bestselling author Joan K. Rowling:
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.”
This quote is from her commencement speech at Harvard. I highly recommend listening to it (after you left a comment of course 😉 ) when you’ve got 20 minutes of spare time.
Now I’d like to hear how you’re handling the fear of failure! What scary situations did you overcome in the past and what difficult decisions are you facing currently? Please share your story in the comments below, so that we all can learn from you.