When you hear a strange noise in the back yard, your heart rate rises. When you walk into a dark room, your palms sweat. When you walk through a spooky cemetery at night, your knees shake with fear.
Why is it that we are afraid in those situations?
It’s the same reason that someone is afraid to start a business. It’s a fear of the unknown.
- We’re not sure what that strange noise is… it could be anything!
- We’re not sure what is in the dark room… it could be anything!
- We’re not sure what undead thing could climb out of the grave and tear us apart… it could be anything!
- We’re not sure what costly obstacles will drive us to bankruptcy in our new venture… it could be anything!
Like skulking through a misty graveyard, running a business is all about living with the unknown. And the more you can embrace the unknown and thrive in it, the better your business will be.
When I started freelancing in 1999, I had no idea what I was doing and how to do it. I struggled for a couple of years and ultimately failed. But just 2.5 years after my failure, I did it again… I was still not sure what I was doing or how to do it but I had completely different results. There were a few differences but one of those differences is how I embraced the unknown. The first time I ran my business, I feared the unknown and I can think of some very specific times when the unknown pushed me to taking the wrong actions or (worse yet) no action at all. But when I started my business the second time, I had a completely different appreciation for the unknown (thanks to a sales job I held for the 2.5 years between my two businesses). The second time around, I knew that the unknown existed and I had developed some tools to help me handle it.
So how can you handle the SCARY unknown in your new or existing business? Here’s my advice:
- Acknowledge that the unknown exists and try to appreciate that it adds some spice to your life. Try to take a positive approach rather than the negative walking-through-the-graveyard perspective. It makes a big difference!
- Handling the unknown is kind of a muscle. It needs to be stretched to become stronger. The more of the unknown that you can handle, the easier it is to do. Take on tasks, assignments, and challenges that you don’t know how to do. (Start small; start with things that won’t ruin someone else’s life or things that a client isn’t relying on). Build from there.
- Create checklists for your business. Although this doesn’t directly address the unknown, it helps to cement the familiar processes in your mind. That way, you have a safe place to return to when you travel through the dark and scarey graveyard of the unknown.
- Create contingency plans for all foreseeable (and non-foreseeable) events. This vastly reduces the amount of unknown that exists in your business.
- Commit this to memory: There is very little in business that cannot be undone. Sure, we hear horror stories of businesses that do something stupid and are mocked or flamed on social media… but even those go away and people come back from it. The web allows you to reinvent yourself over and over, very quickly.
The scariest part of running a business is the unknown… but it doesn’t have to keep you from running a business. Instead, you can survive and even thrive the unknown and excel when others become too scared to continue.