In my work as a business and life coach, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of successful entrepreneurs and mentors to figure out how they do what they do.
I’ve also been there myself. I’ve built and sold four of my own businesses and helped build other startups, so I’m no stranger to the ups and downs of being responsible for a business – from the very beginning to the end.
However, one thing I learned is that one thing that we think we need as entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily what we actually need to be successful.
How many of these common misconceptions can you relate to?
1. “I need to be confident to be a successful entrepreneur.”
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs we see are larger-than-life characters who ooze confidence: think Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey.
However, not every entrepreneur oozes natural confidence or jumps at the chance to speak out.
And that’s okay.
Confidence doesn’t always happen overnight.
In my blog post on building confidence as an entrepreneur, I talk about how confidence isn’t something everyone is born with but it is something anyone can achieve. When you’re starting out on the entrepreneurial journey, you’re venturing into the unknown. You might be thinking about the fact that 9 out of 10 businesses fail in their first year, and of those that survive, 9 out of 10 businesses fail in their second. Is it any wonder so many entrepreneurs struggle with imposter syndrome when starting out?
One thing I suggest to help is to sit and ask yourself: “What is my fear telling me?”
Fear is often the barrier that holds us back from getting what we really want. It keeps us safe from potential danger and alerts us to risks – which of course serves a purpose, but can be a real barrier when trying to move forward and take action. Perhaps you can remember a time when you were too nervous to ask someone on a date in case you got rejected. Or maybe you were too afraid to answer honestly in an interview because you were worried that anything less than perfect would mean not getting the job.
What are you fearing at the moment?
Let your fear guide you and point you in the direction of what you really want. Use it as your compass, not your greatest obstacle.
Every time you feel the fear and do it anyway, your confidence will turn up a notch.
2. “I need to be an expert to run a successful business.”
Have you ever been fired up about an idea, gone running towards making it happen then stopped dead in your tracks once you meet your first obstacle? Or, perhaps, you’ve been reading books by famous entrepreneurs of multi-billion pound businesses only to feel overwhelmed rather than inspired.
In these situations, imposter syndrome can hit hard. It can lead to thoughts such as:
- “I haven’t got all the skills I need yet to handle this.”
- “I don’t think I’ve got enough experience.”
- “I’m no expert – who am I trying to kid?”
However, every entrepreneur has gone through many failures on the road to success. Everyone.
Even Richard Branson.
Let’s take Branson as an example. You might associate him with successful ventures like Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Media that have now made him a household name. But do you remember Virgin Cola? Does the Virgin Megastore ring any bells? Many of us won’t even have heard of Virgin Cosmetics or Virgin Clothing, but they existed, even if they didn’t achieve the success Branson hoped for.
Having now grown to over 400 enterprises, the Virgin Group has been filled with successes and failures that show that mistakes happen to everyone.
What matters is that we learn from them.
Here’s a humbling statistic: according to Startup, 29.4% of entrepreneurs have education levels no higher than A level, with just 9% holding a Bachelor’s degree in business or similar. Dig deeper into the results and you’ll find that 11% of entrepreneurs have no educational qualifications at all. And two-thirds of entrepreneurs had no experience before starting their companies. Need I say more?
It’s tempting to hold back from sharing the whole story when presenting ourselves to the rest of the world. We want to show only our successes and give the impression that we always ‘have it together’. You likely do it in interviews and client meetings. You also see it on social media. Success stories get likes. You want to look like the expert.
But the truth is, entrepreneurship is a learning journey without an endpoint. And the path to success isn’t linear. There are critical lessons to be learned through failure. Mistakes reveal to us what we need to do differently next time.
It’s all too easy to throw in the towel during those low moments when something doesn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped. But failure creates the space we need to grow, if only we let it.
Think about something you’re great at. Were you perfect at it when you started out? Did you always get it right? Even Olympic athletes get bad training days. The best chefs in the world will have made a bad dish at some point.
This is why I talk about the importance of apprenticeships for entrepreneurs. By shadowing someone who’s been through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey and achieved brilliance, you’ll soon learn valuable lessons from their experience. There will of course have been many failures along the way.
The difference is they didn’t give up.
The truth is, you don’t need to be an expert. You just need the willingness to learn, the determination to succeed and a growth mindset that seeks learning opportunities in failure.
3. “I need to be committed to sticking to a business plan.”
We all know a business plan is vital to steer your business in the right direction towards your goals. However, it’s all too common to believe that taking a different direction means we’re veering off track and headed for a dead end.
Knowing when to stick with or change a business plan is far more important than rigidly following the process at all times. We don’t always know how things will turn out. There may be unexpected obstacles or results that indicate that a change is needed. There’s no virtue in sticking to a plan merely because it’s “the plan” – it’s created according to our assumptions, and sometimes our assumptions can be wrong.
It’s why many startups have had to pivot to succeed.
Setting measurable targets and scheduling a regular time to review metrics will help indicate what’s working and what needs to improve. Say you’re running a hospitality business and expected Saturday evenings to be your busiest times. However, you find that your busiest times are in fact weekday lunchtimes, when the place is filled with people grabbing a bite to eat on their lunch break. You might want to review when you run your special offers and adjust your staffing schedules to accommodate it, even if your plan predicted otherwise.
Keep your review meetings short and sweet – start with a review of your assumptions, compare your expected results against actual results and identify what needs to be revised.
Don’t be afraid to make a change if the figures indicate it’s needed.
4. “I should feel more comfortable about my business.”
As I mentioned before, running a business is full of uncertainty. And you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to make progress.
When you’re training for an endurance event, say a triathlon, you have to push yourself through some seriously uncomfortable sessions, but you do it because you know it will make you better when it comes to the main event. You’ll be able to run longer, cycle harder or swim stronger. Those comfortable 5K jogs and a dip in the pool just aren’t going to cut it.
What makes you uncomfortable in business? Is it speaking at events? Pitching your business? Difficult conversations?
Only by pushing through that discomfort will you improve. The path to self-growth often involves short-term discomfort in the service of long-term gains.
If things are a little bit stagnant in your business and it’s simply ‘ticking over’, what actions could you take to improve it? Take, for example, the idea of selling your business. If your business is doing well, selling it might seem like a terrifying idea and well outside your comfort zone.
However, as I discussed in my post on knowing when to sell a business, taking that uncomfortable step to sell the business while it’s thriving and exciting can help you reap huge rewards. A thriving business will always be more appealing to buyers, rather than selling it as a last resort when things get stale.
If things are too uncomfortable, and it’s not a short-term discomfort, it might be a sign for you to step back and see what needs to change. What is this uncomfortable feeling telling you? Are you prioritising your business at the expense of your wellness? Are you sliding towards entrepreneurial burnout?
As someone who has been there, I know now that bringing balance to my life is so important if I want to be my best. Contrary to the bullshit narrative society teaches us, I’ve learned the hard way that triumphs in business actually don’t have to come at the expense of any part of your life: your health, your relationships or yourself.
And it’s why I now spend my time helping ambitious entrepreneurs just like you do the same thing I’ve been able to do: work less, profit more, and serve a greater impact from a place of calm, balance, and ease.
Get in touch with me and I’ll only be too happy to help you handle discomfort, achieve balance and build the business you’ve always dreamed of.