Feel the fear: how to beat the business jitters

They say you’re not a horse rider until you’ve fallen off three times. Not a particularly useful proverb but it might make you feel a tiny bit better about the bruises.

The business owner equivalent is ‘you’re not an entrepreneur until you’ve woken up at 3am in a cold sweat’.

It might be small comfort to know it’s perfectly normal to have the jitters about tough times in business, but when you go it alone, there’s not much you can do about it other than find a way to beat the fear.

So what keeps you awake at night? Jacey Lamerton delves into some of the most common reasons business owners wake up and stare at the ceiling in silent terror – and comes up with some solutions.

1. Fear of public speaking

Public speaking womenIt’s not just business people who feel this – lots of us hate standing up and addressing the room. The trouble is, in many sectors, it’s unavoidable. Sooner or later you’re going to have to pitch, report or at least speak up for yourself in a meeting.

Beat it: This is such a common fear that there’s heaps of online help to tackle it; such as running through relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, where to fix your gaze and more.

The main thing to keep in mind is that, in most situations, the audience is on your side. Prepare your material, practice your delivery and then just crack on. Don’t overthink it. Make eye contact and smile.

The audience won’t be able to spot your nerves nearly as much as you think they will. Put on an aura of confidence (without arrogance) and you’ll breeze through.

2. Fear of failure

Again, this isn’t confined to business, but of course if you’re self-employed and your business goes under, it can feel enormously shameful.

It hurts too – when you’ve worked hard and put your heart and soul into a venture, it’s like a bereavement.

And that’s not taking into account the financial horrors that business failure can bring.

The question is – are you worrying about something that may never happen?

Beat it: Just as in performing, a little fear can be a good thing for the entrepreneur. It sharpens the wits and makes you think twice about decisions, which can stop you rushing headlong into stupid situations.

Nonetheless, if fear of failure is crippling you, you do need to reduce the burden.

Grab some of the many free online resources (the hub has a great business plan template) and plan, plan, plan. There are some fiendishly clever cashflow tools out there, with pre-populated formulas that make it wonderfully easy.

Set out all your figures and then detail how you’re going to hit them. Psychologists have noted that making a plan doesn’t mean you have to follow it to the letter – simply laying everything out can allay your fears.

3. Fear of confrontation

giving feedbackWhether it’s misbehaving staff, partners not pulling their weight or customers playing up, many people dread having to raise a tricky issue. And if you actually end up having to fire an employee, some bosses just can’t face it, leaving them with lingering resentment and a drain on resources.

Beat it: Check in with yourself that you’re not overreacting, get your facts straight and bring it up calmly and coolly.

It’s usually better to chat with people in private – although inviting a neutral person as witness can sometimes be useful.

Don’t accuse them and point the finger. Try to use non-inflammatory language and explain why their actions are a problem. If it’s a staff member, tell them what you plan to do about it and what the consequences are likely to be.

If there’s a really difficult conversation to be had, persuade a friend or advisor to rehearse it with you in advance.

4. Fear of looking stupid

Whether it’s a spelling error in a big presentation, a mix-up in figures or a question you simply don’t understand, the fear of looking stupid can make even the most experienced tough guy feel like a squirming schoolboy again.

Beat it: In fact, asking for advice or explanation can actually make you look more competent. Researchers at Harvard discovered that the fear of dumb questions is misplaced – especially if you ask for advice from the very person you want to impress.

So if you need to ask something, it seems the old adage is right: there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

5. Fear of selling

It might seem like a bit of a non-starter for a business owner to be scared of selling, but in fact, many find themselves tongue-tied when it comes to bigging up their own product or service.

Whether it stems from a fear of rejection or a worry that the potential customer might find you overly pushy, too many SME owners bag that important meeting, then shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to sealing the deal.

Beat it: There are books, webinars and videos galore on how to close the sale and if you just need a few hints and tips, these can be really worthwhile.

Another great way of getting over the ‘pushy’ feeling is to chat about the benefits you’ve brought to past customers. This is a particularly useful approach because it makes sure your approach it outward-facing (what you can do for your customer), rather than inward-facing (bragging about how great you are). Humans are story-loving creatures too; we much prefer listening to a great story than a list of statistics.

But remember, if you really are struggling with a fear, there’s no need to suffer alone. Hire a great salesperson. Book a coaching session. Approach your local Local Enterprise Partnership for support.

Just knowing you’re not alone can be an enormous comfort. Pop over to the hub and take part in the Great British Business quiz. Not only will you be in with the chance of winning £5,000 worth of advertising for your business, you’ll find out where you sit in the entrepreneurial landscape of the nation and find some encouragement to focus on your future, rather than your fears.


Jacey Lamerton is a journalist for the hub, a forward-thinking online resource focused on supporting local business growth, backed by a network of the UK’s brightest regional newspapers.

Images: Feedback via Shutterstock

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