How to Overcome the Fear of Failure in Business

8 min read
Aug 8, 2017
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Entrepreneurs are mostly strong, open minded and risky people. But did you know that many of them are also scared? What are they scared of, you may ask but the answer is pretty simple – They have intense fear of failure.

"Should I launch this product, or will it fail to sell?” “The results are so poor, it’s devastating!” “We need to make it perfect before anyone can see it.”

These are the common thoughts of entrepreneurs out there. While it seems these doubts are pretty reasonable, they can do a damage to your business. They restrain you from experimenting, learning from your mistakes and finally succeeding.

Here's the quote from Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn.

The entrepreneurial journey starts with jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.

Fear of failing in business

How can we define failure? Most of us can define it as poor results of the project when, in fact, it's the worst way to describe it. Do you think it’s a failure that you only have 250 customers instead of 2500? Is this a real reason for failing in business?

If so, remember this important sentence: the greatest failure is a failure not to try.

Since you’re here, it’s safe to assume that have your own business. And if that’s true, it means you’re going through this hardcore experience of running a company.

Because of that losing your customers and the income you have should not be a failure for you. The failure would be to stop experimenting and learning from the achieved results – both positive and negative. It would be a failure to stop growing and acting, being stuck in the same place as a result.

What happens to your employees if you’re scared of bad results

If you have the “what if we fail” attitude, you can be sure it will transfer to your employees. They might not be entrepreneurs themselves, but they have their own responsibilities that often have a direct effect on your company. Sometimes, their actions are immediately visible for customers, which makes them even more scared of making a mistake.

I remember, when I first sent my monthly newsletter to more than 200,000 subscribers. All I was supposed to do is to hit “send” button in Mailchimp.

If you’re not familiar with this software, it shows you a sweaty monkey hand that is about to hit “send.” That didn’t give me any courage at all.

Here’s how it looks like:

Mailchimp sweaty hand
Mailchimp swetty hand twitter

And here’s a tweet from a guy who feels my pain:

Today, I’m still a little nervous before sending even smaller campaigns. I always feel like this monkey knows something I don’t.

“What if something goes wrong?” What if some link is broken?” Even though I checked thousand of times. What if?


Probably nothing.

Here are some possible scenarios:

#1 Scenario

It may happen that someone from your company will notice a broken link or a CTA button in your campaign – if they let you know, you can quickly pause the campaign, fix the issue and send it again. In a worst case, the campaign with a broken link will reach only few hundred customers top.

#2 Scenario

The second scenario is that no one, except for our customers, have noticed a broken link – as a result, the campaign reached 100% of your clients.

Lesson learned from mistakes

For me, there is nothing worse than disappointing your teammates, your boss but, most importantly, yourself. "But what about your customers?" you may ask?

Well, I believe they can forgive us that kind of mistake and it won't make them unsubscribe from our list, because “we’re so unprofessional.” People make mistakes, and it's perfectly normal.

Yet, when a manager is too afraid of failing, this kind of mistake might push him over the edge. It’s probably because he or she is just afraid of all the bad things our customers may or may not think about us.

Obviously, it’s important, but since we can’t do anything about it, and the campaign was already sent, there’s no point of being mad for an employee. Feels like I’m making a safe ground for my next oops-something-went-wrong campaign here, but seriously – if a manager is not afraid of failing (not trying), he doesn’t yell, he’s not mad, he just expects you to learn from it and be more careful while sending future campaigns.

Luckily, we have that saying in our company: A person who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t do much. You hear that, Mailchimp monkey?

Overcome fear of failure

The bravery in taking risk and allowing employees to make mistakes obviously has to come from the top – the business owner. The CEO has to teach his managers what a failure really is and how to forgive their employees their stumbles, when they’re acting and learning.

Let’s take a look at some ways that will help you overcome fear of failing in business.

1. Regrets are worse than failures

“I wish that I could come up with this idea,” “This idea was mine from the beginning” and much much more. We may have plenty of brilliant ideas but if we don’t have courage to execute them, that’s all they are – ideas. You can’t be mad that you wanted to do something, but finally somebody else took action. So stop with “if only.”

Pro tip: Fear is temporary, and it disappears once you make a mistake or once you will succeed. If it doesn’t convince you to take action, remember that the only feeling stronger than fear is regret.

2. Find out what causes your fear

The first step to overcoming your fear is to acknowledge it and identify its root.

Jon Loomer, a Facebook marketing coach, author, speaker and strategist, who is also a baseball coach for 13-year-olds, noticed something important, when writing his "Entrepreneurs: the fear of failure" article.

According to him: "we — entrepreneurs, young athletes, people in general — aren’t necessarily afraid of “failure” or making a “mistake.” We’re afraid of public embarrassment.”

To confirm his hypothesis, he asked his young baseball students a simple question: “If you dropped a baseball, but no one was there to see it, would you be embarrassed?” They all shook their heads: “no.” It seems obvious. And as a result, we’re more likely to take risks when nobody's watching.

He then continues: "if we launch a product and no one buys it, is our biggest concern that it didn’t sell or that someone might see our business, our product, or the entrepreneur as an embarrassing failure?”

Pro tip: don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. Understand that trying and doing may sometimes get you bad results but it’s part of the process and shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment.

3. Keep your eyes on the goal

Fear can cause many doubts that distracts you and prevent you from achieving your main goal.

You have to face thoughts like: “I can’t do this because…,” “I don’t think I have required skills.” To overcome them, you need to focus on small tasks and move towards your overall goal. Set your mind completely on the outcome that you want to achieve.

The more you focus on the end game, the easier the obstacles on the way will become.

I have a good example, of Martyna Wojciechowska, a polish traveller, journalist and TV presenter. She’s famous for completing The Seven Summits project - climbing the highest mountains of each of the seven continents.

But only 1,5 year before she climbed Mount Everest, she had a car accident in which she broke her spine. Her doctors said she might not walk again. That was the moment she decided not to focus on a daily mundane rehabilitation exercises, but as she said: “I decided that I need to move horizon a bit.”

Since then, she only thought about what she needs to do to climb Mount Everest, and she focused on it so much that she made it to the summit. But that’s not all – she was the youngest Polish woman to do so.

Pro tip: focus on the overall goal, not the daily obstacles. And as Martyna likes to say and proves us all the time: nothing is impossible.

Read the post about Success Quotes to Keep You Moving Forward to Your Goals.

4. Trust your guts

I haven’t met a successful person who wouldn’t be confident. I’m not saying successful entrepreneurs are not full of doubts inside. But they strongly believe in themselves and they are somehow sure about what they want to achieve.

On the contrary, I met a successful person who started to doubt in himself and began to make mistakes. The bad kind of mistakes, caused by fear of failure and not the "hustle and stumble” mistakes.

Pro tip: In business, you need to trust your guts. Be attentive, confident but also humble. Don’t doubt yourself, or you will start making bad decisions. Remember, we are more likely to take risks when nobody's watching. What would you do if no one was there to watch you?

Show me a person who doesn’t make mistakes

When you act, when you experiment, you are prone to mistakes. A person who doesn’t make mistakes is a person who doesn’t do anything. But if you’re smart, you draw conclusions from your mistakes and learn from them, so you won’t duplicate them in the future.

We’re all learning. With our jobs as marketing specialists, customer support agents or business owners. We all get to make mistakes. What matters is how the people who we work with will react to them and what will you respond to them. That is what defines our attitude and a company’s growth.

If you won’t be afraid of failure and allow yourself and others to make mistakes, your company will evolve. You will stumble on the way but at least you will be keep going further all the time. And that’s what business is all about.

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