A lot of people who would like to start a business think the task is too daunting. But following a passion is not as high risk as you may think. Conventional wisdom about entrepreneurs being big risk takers and living on the edge is not all that realistic. In fact, there are ways to minimize the financial risk and emotional drama of going after your dreams. And, most of the skills you need to be an entrepreneur, you can teach yourself.
Alex Shear founded the production company Projectile Arts, in order to produce the documentary, “Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball.” The topic of baseball appealed to Shear, in part, because of the risks involved. “There is so much failure” in baseball, says Shear. He wanted to know how players deal with it. In the meantime, he had to deal with those same issues himself, starting a business to make the documentary.
Like many people, Shear is not a fan of huge risk: “I didn’t know what I was getting into. If I knew I was going to have to move twice, sell my car, and go broke,” I probably wouldn’t have done it. “You need to be stubborn and thickheaded and not think things through all the way,” advises Shear.
In a case like this, Saras Sarasvathy , professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, told me that she asks her students to look inside themselves: “Why do you want to open a restaurant? Is it because you love to cook? Then you can have a catering business out of your home. Is it because you have a great location? What else can you put at that location that would be more likely to succeed?”
Have basic skills in the field you are choosing. Sarasvathy uses the analogy of cooking a meal to describe the entrepreneurial way of thinking. Some people have a list of ingredients on a recipe and follow its steps exactly. Other people walk into a kitchen, see what ingredients are on hand, and whip something up. If you want to start your own business, you should be a person comfortable with no recipe. “But,” Sarasvathy cautions, “you need to know how to cook.” Both types of people probably will come up with good meals if they have cooking skills, and both will come up with bad meals if they don’t
Not knowing exactly what you will create is OK. Sarasvathy told me: “Entrepreneurs don’t believe in planning because they don’t want to be in a future that is predictable. If you want to create something new, then the future is unpredictable. If you can predict what will happen, there is no room for creativity.” This also leaves room for genuine partnerships, which you will need.
Get help in a partner. Finding a business to launch is a soul-searching venture, because you have to be passionate about your choice. But “part of your search for passion should be a search to know your skill set. Ask your parents, mentors, and friends. Then try to match skills you have with your passions and fill in what you need,” said Andrew Zacharakis, professor at Babson College. Most feelings of risk come from doing things you have not done before, so surrounding yourself with people who complement your skills can minimize risk.
Relax. The point of entrepreneurship is to have fun doing something you’re passionate about. But a small-business owner’s mind can race constantly. Learn to control this and business will feel less risky.
Jim Fannin is a success coach whose clients include more than twenty Major League Baseball players. He told me that research has shown that wildly successful people have 1,000 fewer thoughts a day than others, which allows the successful people to have exceptional focus on their goals.
Shear says he tried to focus on his next step instead of looking at the whole project, which would have been overwhelming. “If you think too much about the big picture it can paralyze you — mess you up in the moment.”
Fannin agrees. There are so many things you can worry about, so “I tell people to go on a mental diet,” says Fannin. “Cut out thoughts that won’t make you better because they hold you down.”
You need a sense of peace to perform well. Fannin says that just taking deeper breaths will slow your thinking and help your focus.
Stay optimistic. People who have big success have optimism. The key is to manage your thinking. When something bad happens, “learn from it and move on.” If you let yourself replay bad situations, you will get used to seeing your life that way.
Seventy-five percent of people report that negative thinking goes away if you look toward the sky. So for those would-be entrepreneurs trying to fend off negative thinking, Fannin says: “Chin up.”