Halloween is the time when children and adults alike confront their fears of ghosts, goblins, zombies and giant inflatable spiders. So what better time to confront the fears that are holding you and your business back from success?
Here are the four most common fears I see small-business owners suffer and a few ideas for overcoming them:
1. Fear Of Confrontation
Watch any business-related reality show, from Restaurant: Impossible to The Profit to Bar Rescue, and it’s obvious there’s one trait owners of struggling companies usually have in common: fear of confrontation. Faced with partners who sit on their butts all day, incompetent employees or even outright theft, these entrepreneurs do … absolutely nothing. Only when a business expert forces them to confront the problem partner or employee do they finally find the guts to say what they think—and start turning things around.
How to get over it: Whether employees or partners are acting out of ignorance or malicious intent, if you don’t talk to them about what they’re doing wrong and why, they’ll never change—and you’ll never become a good leader.
Start a successful confrontation by having your facts straight. Be calm and rational, not accusatory, in explaining what the person is doing wrong, why it's wrong and what you’d like them to do differently. For example: “You may not realize it, but when you give free entrees to your friends, our restaurant loses X amount of money. You are essentially stealing money from us. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t realize how harmful this was, and just give you a written warning. However, if you continue to do this, I’ll have to take further disciplinary action, because if we continue to lose this amount of money, I will have to lay off employees or reduce salaries.”
If you’ve got a really nerve-wracking confrontation ahead of you, try role-playing to rehearse it. Have a friend pretend to be the other person, and go through all possible worst-case scenarios until you’re confident you can handle them.
2. Fear Of Technology
Technology is moving so fast these days that if you’re not a techie by nature, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and left behind. For those without aptitude in this arena, fear of tech can easily become an excuse for not keeping your tech current—which hurts productivity and your business.
How to get over it: Focus on the positives that harnessing technology can bring to your business, such as more customers, streamlined operations, cost savings and greater efficiency. Don’t try to learn everything at once—instead, focus on the technology that will have the greatest ROI. For instance, if you don’t have a business website yet, or if you’re still managing your bookkeeping on paper, setting up a website and purchasing accounting software are great places to start. Also look at what your competitors are doing. Do they use social media? Do they send out an email newsletter? Do they send text messages to their customers? If so, you may want to do the same.
Make a list of the technologies you could implement. Then get some expert help in prioritizing and learning about what's out there. The experts at SCORE and your local Small Business Development Center are great resources to get you started (disclosure: Both organizations are clients of my company).
3. Fear Of Legalese
When you see a contract, do your eyes glaze over? Is your first instinct to stuff it in a drawer and never look at it again? Legalese can be intimidating, but ignoring legal documents such as terms of service, contracts and licenses can leave you with unpaid invoices, fines, lawsuits or worse. A friend recently told me that one company she works with had to pay a photographer $100,000 in damages after it found a photo online and used it on their blog without getting the rights to do so. Simply by reading some fine print, the company could have avoided all that.
How to get over it: Every time I feel tempted to skip double-checking some fine print or closely reading a contract, I remind myself of that $100,000 photo. Motivate yourself by thinking about how much you could potentially lose. Use websites like LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer and Nolo to get familiar with legal issues relevant to your business and to find templates for the legal forms you need. Then have an attorney customize them to your particular needs. Using these templates, you can create contracts fairly easily, then just have your lawyer review them, which saves your lawyer time and you money.
Finally, when in doubt, ask your attorney. If you feel like you can’t afford to pay an attorney, think about how many hours you’d spend trying to decipher that legal mumbo-jumbo and how much your time is worth. What would take you two hours will probably take an attorney 10 minutes.
4. Fear Of Spending
Are you a penny-pincher? You probably had to be to make it through the past five years in business. But penny-pinching can easily devolve into being “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” If your employees are still using beige, boxy computer monitors, your office desks are held together with duct tape and you call your clients from a flip phone, it’s probably time to loosen the purse strings.
How to get over it: First, review your cash flow and financials so you can reassure yourself that your fear of spending is not reality-based. Then learn to differentiate between spending and investing. Buying a $700 desk chair when your $200 one is working just fine is spending. But buying a $700 tablet so you can show your interior design clients sketches, images and ideas in their living rooms is an investment in your business.
Next time you’re trying to decide on a business purchase, consider this: Will this help me make a sale? If so, how many sales do you have to make until it pays for itself? With the tablet example above, landing one interior design client would more than pay for the investment. Create a list of possible investments you could make, and start with those that have the greatest ROI or, if that’s too scary, start with a few very small investments until you see results and start feeling more comfortable spending money on what really counts.
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