When I first began working with startups over 20 years ago, I was like most people--I feared challenges and wanted to avoid them. People naturally avoid what frightens them, in life and in business, but giving in to that fear--the "what ifs?" and worst-case scenarios--can be crippling. In the last decade, I've learned to see obstacles to my success as opportunities to improve instead of falling prey to the thoughts and behaviors that may come out of fear.
Here are the top five ways to avoid this fear in your business:
1. Control your emotions
Take control of a challenge by controlling your fears surrounding it. In 2018, our company was having cash flow issues and barely running at a profit. Our monthly advertising bills were due upfront, but we collected money from our partners at the end of the month. We were struggling to pay our bills and make payroll, so when our largest advertiser, already late on a payment, asked for another month, I gave in to fear and panicked. The money came two days later, but I realized that the fear would come back each month until I got myself out of that cycle.
Being afraid feels easier than trying to take control, but if you let fear get ahold of you, it blocks your mind from making the rational and logical decisions you need to overcome the challenge you're facing. When you de-clutter your thoughts of fear, however, you think of solutions more easily.
2. Come up with a plan
Even the best plans go awry, but instead of fearing failure when they do, reassess the situation and come up with a better plan. When you plan your way through enough challenges, you start to confront them with a different attitude. Even if some plans end up failing, you know that trying again is always an option. Once you confront enough challenges, you realize that one of your plans will eventually work out OK.
Our cash flow problem was stunting our growth, so I stopped freaking out and started brainstorming about how to fix them. We had a small-but-growing relationship with a gaming company, so I reached out to them with a wild idea: Pay me upfront so our business grows faster and sends more traffic your way. It was a win-win. To my surprise, they said yes to my crazy plan. Not only did we follow through with our promise and bring them 1000 percent growth, but we also went from barely profitable to averaging 250 percent annual growth ever since.
3. Focus on things you can control
The first challenge you overcome is the one you're least prepared to handle, but in order to approach it without fear, focus on what you can control. Reassess what you assumed would work but failed and figure out what you can do about it. Give yourself the mental fortitude to muscle through any obstacle because something is always possible. And the more often you do this, the easier it becomes. A calm mind free of fear is more capable of innovating new ways to solve problems.
In 2016, a partnership with Facebook was making us $3 million a month, so we moved to a bigger office and hired more employees. We wanted to expand further but needed data from Facebook that they wouldn't share, so we dropped the idea. When Facebook's policy changed 60 days later and we could no longer depend on that income, I felt sick to my stomach with fear. By force, we returned to that shelved project that we never thought we could do and did it ourselves. The product we created as a result brought in $50 million this year.
4. Be transparent
It can be frightening to be honest about challenges, but transparency is the best policy. Admitting when your business is going through tough times is almost as hard as the tough times themselves. If you have investors, it can be even harder. We often fear that being transparent will make others see us as a failure, but if you make a bad situation sound better than it is, no one will know you need help.
Once, we were millions of dollars in debt, and people called non-stop wanting their money. At first, it felt easier to just ignore them, but eventually, this ate me up inside. Instead, I apologized to my vendors for being late, told them honestly that there was no money, and proposed a repayment plan. They were less than thrilled, but they appreciated that I took ownership of the problem rather than hiding from it. When you're honest, most people respond to bad news with patience. Some even become a part of the solution.
5. Involve people who can help you
Overcoming fear in the face of a challenge can often require help from others. Find people with the means to help and lay the problem out for them straight. Once you identify someone willing to step up and support you during a struggle, nurture this relationship with continued transparency and keep them involved in your business--you never know when you might need them again.
Two investors in my company see all my dirty laundry. They know my thought process and can see where plans went wrong without losing faith in me or the business model. One particular investor has stepped up a dozen times with $50,000 checks to help pay the bills. Most people would have said no, but because I was transparent about the challenges and humble enough to ask for help, there were always people who had my back when I needed them.
Challenges may be frightening, but life will always come with challenges, so embrace the opportunity to conquer them and emerge as someone better on the other side. It takes a few attempts at overcoming obstacles before you learn to appreciate them, but go forward knowing that they are both inevitable and surmountable. Once you tackle enough obstacles head-on instead of fearing them, it becomes natural because you know from experience that it leads to success.