THE BLOG

Channel It: Facing The Entrepreneur Fear Factor Head On

06/16/2015 01:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

Never fear? Right, like that's actually possible. To believe that anyone—especially entrepreneurs facing any number of great unknowns on a daily basis—will be impervious to the gut-wrenching wringer of failure or struggle is to start off on a false premise. Fear is a part of doing business, and it's a part of being human.

2015-06-15-1434393691-8276859-iStock_000008594142Large_withT.jpg So face it, head on, instead. Rarely do we talk about fear in business. It's one of those great taboos. (See also: failure.) Through professional fiascos and downturns, I've experienced this phenomenon up close and personal, and from it I have one solid take-away. Fear can be the best thing that can happen to you. It can push your business and your acumen forward in ways you never imagined possible, but only if you channel it.

It's about time we talk about how to keep perspective and persistence in the eye of real-world business disasters. Fear is a phenomenal motivator. For an example, imagine a deer, surging with adrenaline, running from a predator in the forest. The fight or flight instinct saves lives, and it saves companies too.

Here's a challenge for today: make the fear factor work for you.

Start On a Rock Solid Foundation
When entrepreneurs begin to build a company, they have big dreams. Huge aspirations. If you liken it to a building, they have Sears Tower-sized ambitions. Too often, in the pursuit of reaching great heights, founders neglect one thing. The actual foundation of their business.

Look at the foundation of the Sears Tower, for example. It's immense, perfect and precise. In your business, your product or service offering has to be solid. The groundwork for delivering stellar customer experience and service must be well planned. Additionally, investing time and resources in yourself as the leader, and in your employees and company culture, are critical elements that can't be put off until after the company grows.

The extent that you invest in the foundation of your company will be the extent of how "high" you can build your company. It's basic physics. If things start to crumble and fall when inevitable shake-ups happen--or if the whole enterprise expands wildly off-kilter--perhaps your base level operations need restructuring to better match your ultimate vision.

If you make your foundation disaster ready, you stay open for business, come hell or high water.

Maintain Vision In the Eye of the Storm
Vision is dead-on important. You must have a destination in mind. Whatever you do, DO NOT have a marketing agency or an outside contractor draft your vision for you. You, and only you, know the true root of who you are and the mark you want to make within your industry. Know exactly where you're headed, and be able to articulate that to your team, to your investors, to your board, and most importantly to yourself as the pilot of your organization.

As a pilot myself, I compare this to a flight plan. First, you enter in the destination you're going to. Inside of that flight plan, you map out key points so you know you're going in the right direction for the duration of the flight. And the end result is knowing exactly when you've arrived. If you don't have a long-term perspective and plan for your company, you'll get lost along the way, and even worse, you won't know if and when you've arrived at your destination.

Once you have your vision, hold it with an open hand. A level of flexibility must always exist. A storm could come in, and you might have to divert, but that doesn't change your end goal, it just changes your expectations and path to get there.


Regain the Proper Perspective
To me, failure often looks like Mount Hood. When you're standing at the base of it, it's massive. Seemingly insurmountable. You can't imagine ever getting over it. When you're flying at 25,000 feet, however, all of a sudden it doesn't look that daunting. It's just awe-inspiring instead. Has the mountain (or the failure) changed? Not at all--only your perspective on the situation is different.

To reach new heights after the bottom drops out, first be completely transparent and honest with yourself from the beginning. It's hard to regain focus and figure out exactly what you're fearful of when in the midst of failure. It's also hard to go back to the emotional state you were in when things started to go south. So that's the exact time to start writing down what's happening and the lessons learned--in real time--until you're fully clear on the situation.

You might also seek out a mentor. Someone who's been in the trenches too--maybe they've built a similar company to yours or solved a similar problem. The right mentor can add a perspective on your situation that can't be gained elsewhere.

Then, at the tail end of a pulse-racing, do-or-die situation, reframe the whole thing with a more level-headed perspective. There are many views to take on any given circumstance. Why mire yourself at rock bottom? Lift off, look at the situation in a new way or light, and give it some proper distance.

Tackle That Fear Head On
Fear requires action. So once you've regained perspective, go with it.

Rock climbers say that when they go to climb a rock cliff, at first it seems completely overwhelming and daunting. It's only when you rub noses with it that all of sudden you'll see the sheer rock face is actually fraught with cracks, crevices, and handholds. Only then can you measure out a realistic route forward, trace out a through line, and get a grip.

Just keep climbing--safety ropes and gear in place. Never give up.

Fear gives us the opportunity to pause, rethink, revise, and learn the value of persistence. So when the skies are calm, so to speak, plan your strategy. Then when the storm comes in, you know exactly what to do. Then you can build a company that outlasts the competition, and use the fear factor to not just weather the storm but to face it head on.