Why do entrepreneurs do crazy things?
Why do they cut their own throats with discounts? Why do they stop themselves from hiring help? Why do they badmouth the other gyms in town?
On the surface, there are many reasons. Underneath, there’s one: fear.
I know because I’ve been afraid.
While living in fear, I did all that stuff. I slammed the competition. I cut my membership rates for anyone and everyone. I even undermined my own staff. And all because of fear.
After working 1:1 with thousands of entrepreneurs around the world, our team of certified mentors has identified four key fears that kill entrepreneurs. On the surface, Founders are among the bravest people in our culture. These are the courageous entrepreneurs who start businesses and wear every hat while trying to make them successful. Under the surface, many are terrified. And that fear makes them act against their own values—and often their own long-term self-interest.
This week, I’m going to tell you:
- About the “four fears” of entrepreneurship and how to defeat them forever.
- Why it’s sometimes necessary to hit rock bottom before you can turn your business around.
- How to use Stoic philosophy to its maximum power to help your business.
The Four Fears of Entrepreneurship (and Their Antidotes)
1. The Fear of Making a Fatal Choice
When you’re just starting out, or when you’re struggling, you know this: You’re only one bad decision away from losing it all.
Many people think that “the risk” of business ownership begins and ends with opening a business. But that’s not correct: Entrepreneurship means that every minute, every decision, every action is a risk forever. And any one bad decision could end us.
So we get stuck. We do nothing.
We suffer paralysis by analysis.
We avoid firing the bad staff member. We put off raising our rates until things are perfect. We don’t run an ad until we have the perfect copy. We don’t sign the lease until we’ve seen every possible location. And we never, ever quit the day job.
One of my mentors, Marcy Swenson, once told me this: “Chris, sometimes you’re being tactful. But sometimes you’re just hiding.” She was right. Here’s how you avoid the fear of making the wrong decision.
A. Mitigate the downside. Listen to “What to Do When It All Goes Wrong.”
B. Decide what you’ll learn before you guess what you’ll earn. For me, knowing that I’m going to learn a valuable lesson, win or lose, really helps me accept that I could make the wrong choice. So I decide on the lesson before I take action.
C. Create systems that will run the business without you. Because the biggest risk of all is that you’ll be hit by a bus.
D. Hire a mentor. They have been where you are. They are now living the life you want. They can save you over a lot of time, expense and heartache. They can guide you through the hard parts and help you avoid others. They can cut years off your quest to become wealthy.
2. The Fear That It Will all Be Your Fault
I remember one rough patch when I thought, “I’m going to make this gym a co-operative! Every member will get a share, there will be a board of directors, and they’ll hire me to be CEO. I’ll have my pay locked in and won’t be the only one with an ass on the line!”
Some gyms even take the step of calling themselves a “collective.” The gym owner tells herself that she wants to build a social community with decentralized leadership or some other lie. Really, she just doesn’t want to be responsible for screwing it up.
Humans are interesting. In most cases, we’re more worried about being blamed than about actually being at fault. Here’s how to overcome the fear that it will all be your fault:
A. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes.
B. Know that you’re going to correct them.
C. Have a long-term plan that will actually benefit from mistakes.
Just like you can’t really enjoy a car until it has its first scratch, your business can’t get stronger until you find out where the cracks are. Commit to growing as a leader and you’ll build a durable, “anti-fragile” business.
3. The Fear of Losing Control
All entrepreneurs sometimes have this thought. “I wish someone else would just fix this for me!”
So they take partners. Or they hire ad agencies. Or they give every staff person a small percentage and say, “You’re in charge of marketing now!”
(Yes, that’s two marketing examples. Because building an audience is usually the hardest part of a successful gym, it’s the part we’re most likely to try and outsource.)
But eventually, all gym owners realize their mistakes. Suddenly, they realize they’ve lost control and want to get it back by any means possible.
Or maybe, in some cases (like mine!) they’re so afraid of losing control that they never share any clients or any decision-making roles or any leadership opportunities.
I totally did that with my gym. I wouldn’t tell the other trainers how I was finding clients or any of the other “business” stuff. I was terrified that the other trainers would go start their own gyms, start training clients on the side or start, you know, taking control.
But I overcame the fear of losing control. You can, too. Here’s how to do it:
A. Document your operations. Get them out of your head.
B. Let your staff run your operations. Test them. Then evaluate the results.
C. Upgrade your operations. Test them again.
D. Repeat until you’re totally comfortable allowing other people to deliver your service. Then turn to sales and marketing. Document those procedures and start over.
4. The Fear That It’s Never Going to Change
This is the fear that actually saved my gym.
This was the fear that trumped all the others.
In 2008, I was actually still suffering from the other three fears. I was paralyzed into inactivity. I was hoarding control. I was terrified that my gym would fail and everyone would know it was my fault.
In 2008, I hit rock bottom. I’ll share the full story in the next part of this series. But in short:
I missed two paychecks in a row. The rent was due. My kids were growing up, and I was never at home. And it was never going to change.
In the next post, I’ll tell you how I overcame this fear, what I did about it and how I saved my gym.
The Shortcut out of Fear
Look, I know I said getting a mentor is part of the solution for each of these four fears.
That’s because winning at business means more than “finding the answer.” It means finding the right answer fast, recovering from bad decisions even faster and doing the hard stuff when it has to be done. In short, it means that knowing what to do is half of the solution. The other half is the hard part. And that’s the part a mentor helps with.