How to get beyond the fear of being your own boss

Radhika Sivadi

5 min read ·


Conquer your inner saboteur

"Fear is the biggest reason people don't start their own businesses," says Paska Nayden, a business coach in Fairfield County, Conn., who serves a national clientele. "Fear comes into play when you're making any kind of life change, such as getting married, starting a family, or switching careers. And it becomes louder when you're considering starting or buying your own business," she says.

After a 30-year career at IBM, Nayden faced her own fears when she decided to leave the corporate world for home-based work with more flexible hours. Even her mother urged her to stay with an employer, but she has succeeded in carving out a niche as a coach who helps people explore options in franchise ownership. As much counselor as coach, Nayden has, through surviving three debilitating battles with cancer, honed a talent for showing others the way to face frightening, life changing events. I spoke with her about how she helps would-be entrepreneurs overcome fear.

YSBA: When it comes to starting a business, what are people afraid of?

Nayden: There's the fear of losing that steady paycheck. And, when it comes to purchasing a franchise, there's the fear of being sold a bill of goods. Some fear that their spouse won't be supportive. Men especially fear what their wife, kids, church, and neighbors will think if they fail. Every one of my clients who bought a business had to move through this. It's unnatural not to have fear, and it intensifies as you get closer to making a decision. One woman I worked with was excited about two opportunities in two very different industries. She was afraid to commit to one for fear of missing out on the other.

That all sounds reasonable. What are the ways to get around those fears?

First, we figure out what makes you tick. We get into some assessment tools to learn about your goals, strengths, weaknesses, and what kind of lifestyle you want to live. We figure out what kind of life you want with your business. For instance, do you want certain types of customers? I had a client who realized she only wanted to work with dogs! Another was really interested in elder care because she had seen her mother go through the process of moving into assisted living and she could see a need in the elder demographic. Learning those things about yourself is important and that doesn't happen over night.

Even once you know the life you want and the clients you'd like, it's still scary to think about giving up benefits and salary from an employer.

Right. You don't go towards the flame if you're afraid of it. People back away or put a decision on hold because their fear blocks them from moving forward. So it's important to examine that fear and ask where's it coming from. Fear is a natural mechanism that protects us to some degree. The body knows there's going to be change and it says, "let's keep things the way they've been." There's a saboteur inside us that manifests itself in different ways for different people. The saboteur wants to keep you in the same place. You might not be earning enough money where you are right now, but at least you're comfortable, and your inner saboteur wants to stay comfortable. Some people have relinquished control of their own lives to this creature inside them.

I try to help clients uncover this inner voice. Let's discover what this fear is trying to tell us and personify it. Give your saboteur a name and a face—the Gremlin with a squiggly purple face. Then you can talk to it. You can ask the saboteur if it's telling you the truth, or is it just expressing an emotion. You wouldn't make a business decision based solely on happiness, so you shouldn't make one based solely on fear. You can say to it, "I've done my due diligence, I'm getting the facts, I'm talking to people, and I'm not doing something irrational."

If you have a spouse and a family depending on your stable paycheck and benefits, there's more than your own fear to overcome when taking this leap.

Being on the same page as your spouse is important. I've heard people say, "I can't leave my full-time job, my wife would kill me." I ask, "How secure is your job? Has your company had layoffs? Are they hiring?"

You need to ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that can happen?" One client said to me, "My spouse needs to know that we're not going to lose our house if the business goes under." If that's the worst thing that can happen, let's figure out a way to mitigate that. Don't put your house down as collateral. You can't lose something that's not listed as business asset.

If you're afraid of leaving that paycheck, then we can ask, "How do we make sure you have enough cash as you're starting your business so that you can pay your mortgage?" We can identify a budget that allows your family to sustain itself and a funding source so that you are paying yourself a salary. Incorporate that into your funding request. You can sit down with your family and say, "This is how we're going to do it." It takes time for a new business to make money. Get the facts, and figure out if it is likely to be 6 months or 8 months or longer. Err on the higher side to create your own sense of security.

Benefits have kept a lot of people trapped. Some will say, "I'll venture out, but my wife has to be employed for the benefits." I've connected people with different health insurance providers to get coverage as an independent small business. Some chambers of commerce give group rates. And you need to investigate the flip side: as an independent business owner, if you're making money, your healthcare costs can be a tax write off. Go get some quotes and evaluate that. Understand that you treat that as an above-the-line expense rather than a below-the-line, which it is when you're an employee.

Even if you don't have family supporting you, if you can visualize your future self you will have a purpose and you can start setting goals and putting plans in place.

What do you mean by "your future self?"

That's a term that, unless you go through coaching, you don't think about. But it's an important vision to have. Earl Nightingale, the grandfather of self help and personal effectiveness, said in 1956 that "we become what we think about." You can create an image of what your future self will look like—what you want your work to be, how you want to live, what you want for your family and your whole environment. Then you have something to aim for. Our fear usually keeps us in our place. But when you start putting plans for your future self into action—by getting that book, attending that seminar, etcetera—that will help you move forward through the fear.

For webinars and more advice on business ownership visit Paska Nayden's blog, Coaching Sisters.

Radhika Sivadi