How to Overcome the Fear Holding Back Your Business
If there’s one universal truth for every business I’ve helped grow, it’s this: the stumbling block everyone faces at some point is fear.
Fear, in all of its varied forms, is without question the number one reason people fail to move their business forward.
But fear can manifest in different ways. There’s the predictable fear of failure: the idea that you can work hard on a project for weeks or months, only to release it and have nothing happen. Crickets. A scary thought.
There’s also the fear of success: that your product will make a noise, make an impact, and garner attention. This can be scarier than fear of failure. If you do something and it fails, usually no one knows about it—but when you succeed, you get attention. Once that happens, there are eyes on you, opening you up to criticism. That alone can be scary.
But with success comes expectation—which can be even scarier. Once you’ve done one thing, people start wondering when you’re going to do the next. When’s the next book? The next product? The next launch? The very idea of that type of pressure can certainly be terrifying.
Finally, there’s fear of the unknown. And this is by far the fear that creates the biggest and most frequent hurdles when trying to build a business—because fear of the unknown is the most likely to inhibit action.
And above all, in order to have a successful business, you absolutely need to take action.
With fear of not knowing usually comes the fear of learning.
Here’s what happens: You don’t know what can have the biggest impact, so you do nothing.
- Should I focus on social media?
- Start a podcast?
- Do I need to learn SEO?
- Should I focus on growing my list?
- What about Facebook ads?
Not knowing what to do leads to inaction. But this is often simple to overcome: do anything. Literally anything. As long as you’re taking some sort of action, you’ll be better off than standing still.
People don’t take action because they don’t know which action to take. But there’s also the fear of doing something new.
Because that means learning something new.
The fact is, there are so many skills to learn it can be intimidating; so much so it can lead to paralysis by analysis — you’re so busy thinking about what to do and how to do it, you wind up doing nothing.
Which moves your business exactly zero steps forwards.
This is true for individuals who are, by their own estimation, doing pretty well.
“Success is the warmest place to hide.”
When things are going well, there’s not a lot of impetus to change them—unless you’re willing to overcome fear, step out of your comfort zone, and go from good to great. And that is precisely what it takes to really crush it.
You can’t just keep doing the things you’re doing and expecting them to blow your business up.
A Personal Example
One of the most valuable moments of my life was during a night in NYC sometime in early 2011. It was 2am in the West Village. My friend Lewis Howes had invited me out to grab a drink with a few badasses, despite the fact that he doesn’t drink.
We were hanging out at the White Horse Tavern, and I was in the middle of a diatribe extolling the virtue of hard cider over beer when a snippet of conversation between Ramit Sethi and Noah Kagan (both of whom I was meeting for the first time) caught my attention. I stopped mid-sentence and hopped on the bus, because my ass was about to get schooled.
Ramit and Noah were having an animated conversation about metrics and split testing, exchanging tips and new strategies (many of which would be implemented into Noah’s suite of Sumo products). I listened in, and despite doing my absolute best to follow the conversation, I felt like the dumbest human being on the planet. It was like they were speaking a different language.
At that point, I wasn’t aggressively tracking metrics, and I certainly wasn’t doing any split testing. I’d been telling myself that my job was just to create amazing content, and the rest would take care of itself. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Firstly, let’s just establish that getting your message to as many people as possible is the fucking game.
My error was made clear to me in a blinding flash. You can be world class at what you do, but if no one knows, it doesn’t matter.
Now, it’s not that I didn’t see the value of marketing. I’d become a very capable copywriter and was widely regarded as one of the better email marketers in the fitness space. Between that and getting published all over, I thought I was set. It was working so far, after all.
I realized then what I tell you now: it’s not enough to just learn the basics of marketing; you need to know how successful your marketing efforts are and be willing to tweak it. It’s not enough to write great copy; you need to write effective copy–and to know what’s effective, you have to test.
Listening to Ramit and Noah talk made me realize I was fucking up massively, and I resolved to actually learn this shit.
But that led me to questions—why hadn’t I already learned? Why had I been so aggressively avoiding learning it?
The answer was simple: I was afraid. I was terrified.
This was an entirely new world. I had to set up split testing to see which offer and price point performed better; I had to learn SEO to bring more traffic to the site; I had to learn about heat-mapping so I could tell which areas of my pages what actually being read and clicked.
The idea of learning this entirely new skillset was fucking scary. I was starting from absolute zero and had no idea what to even do to get going.
For a moment, the fear froze me in my tracks. But I was thawed out by anger.
Man, I was pissed. I thought I was killing it. I thought by creating content and releasing products, I was done.
I thought I was winning.
All to realize at a bar at 2am: I’d only done half the job.
Ugh. God, what an idiot. I felt stupid. Along with annoyed, frustrated, angry, and just a wee bit drunk.
Which may be the reason I randomly thought of one of my favorite video games of all time: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
In it, you play Alucard, the bastard son of Dracula. You go through the game, hacking and slashing through Drac’s castle, and then, just when you’ve beaten your last nemesis…
You’re not done with the game. The castle spins and spins, eventually settling upside down. Turns out, you just finished half the game. And you’ve still got a long way to go.
The reaction to this in the video game world was astounding. People fell into two camps:
- Those who were completely resentful they had more work to do.
- Those who were ecstatic they had so much more gameplay ahead of them.
I understand the first reaction. And this exactly what happens whenever I tell people they need to start increasing their business by stepping out of their comfort zone and learn some new business skills — they seem completely defeated.
While this is an understandable feeling, it’s fucking bullshit, and it’s holding you back.
How Fear of Developing New Skills is
Holding Your Business Back
Again: it’s not enough to just create great content.
It’s not enough to release products. You need to really dig into the data and see how these are performing.
We know this, but we resist. We just don’t want to learn. Because we’re afraid. It’s big. It’s scary. It’s outside of our comfort zone.
Because getting past the suck threshold seems too intimidating, so why even try.
This fear filters into everything else. Sure, it keeps people from being willing to learn these business practices…but it also creates resentment against those who aren’t afraid, and who employ these techniques.
If you listen to Yoda, the consequences of fear are dire, and lead to a straightforward progression:
This is annoying, destructive, and serves no one.
I firmly believe nearly all of the people who spend time lambasting marketers have devolved into haters because their fear of getting out of their comfort zone and learning this shit has made them bitter.
Fucking stop. Stop being hateful–because most of the time the hate comes from fear. So stop being afraid, and embrace the things you need to learn.
Just learn it. It’s not that fucking hard. Listen, I’m the world’s worst tech guy, so if I can learn this shit, anyone can.
- Learn how to write copy.
- Learn the basics of SEO.
- Learn how to run an A/B test.
Don’t wanna learn? Hire someone to do it.
But, honestly, just fucking learn it. At least some of it.
Listen, I get it. I didn’t want to learn all the Big Scary Things, so I convinced myself they weren’t important.
That night in the West Village, I came to see that fear for what it was: a prison of my own making, preventing my business from growing.
Again: skill is important. Competence is necessary. It’s just not enough to build your business, your platform, or your revenue to where it
could should be. You have to get your shit out there.
Here are some resources to help you do just that.
If you’re willing to invest a bit of money (and you should be), these are some of the top resources to help bring your business to the next level.
Writing for Fitness – a few years back, I teamed up with Lou Schuler and Sean Hyson to put together a comprehensive resource for those who want to crush writing in the fitness industry. Lou covers writing books, Sean covers getting published in magazines, and I cover everything you need to know about running a fitness blog. It’s a legit recourse and has helped a few thousand people get going.
Kickass Copy – No matter what business you’re in, you need to sell. The ability to write copy that convinces people to pay you is the most valuable skill you can develop. Joey Percia, a former student of mine shows you how to write salespages that are great without being spammy, and allow you to display your personality.
Email Imagery – Another former student of mine is a young Canadian word wizard named Alex Mullan. With Email Imagery, Alex has created an incredible course diving into the specifics of writing email newsletters that get massive engagement. Mullan covers everything from how email copy differs from salespages to building your relationship with your list. This course will help you increase opens and clicks—and ultimately make more money.
LeadPages – LP is a fantastic piece of world-changing software for quickly and easily create opt-in pages, sales page, and other useful stuff. All pages are customizable and pretty easy to set up. I’m awful at tech, and I can use it.
AppSumo – Noah’s brainchild that covers nearly every aspect of biz growth for a website. There are tools for opt-ins, heatmapping, Google analytics, and more. There’s a free version, by the paid is worth it.
The Wellspring Society – My business coaching group, wherein I teach marketing, branding, and help people drastically increase revenue. We meet four times per year in various cities, with each meeting consisting of high-level talks from the best speakers and entrepreneurs, in-depth breakdowns of your business, and a weekend full of fun and learning near-guaranteed to propel you to the next strata of your business development.
Don’t want to spend any money?
As the adage goes, if you don’t want to spend money, you’ve gotta spend time.
To that, here’s a list of free stuff that will teach you the basics.
Article on SEO – General overview on Search Engine Optimization from the guys at Yoast, who make the definitive WordPress plugin. I’m not SEO expert, but I’ve learned enough to get more traffic to my site. Read this.
Guide to Creating Great Content – Free guide put together by Ramit. I’m featured in it, because I taught myself to be really, really good at writing copy.
ETR Copywriting Basics – This is the exact guide I learned from when I first started out. It’s excellent and will get you 75% of the way there. Just put in the work.
Article About Copywriting – Solid article, worth the read.
Article About Testing – If you’re not convinced that you should be split testing things, I don’t know what to tell you. But you should, and you need to. This article is a pretty comprehensive overview of testing in terms of both theory and practice, and is replete with examples and ideas. Do not skip.
Article on Readability – Sol Orwell is a smart guy, and when he talks, you should listen. In this article, he talks about how to adjust content and various aspects of how it’s presented to make sure people read it–and, ultimately, share it.
Overall, it’ll take you a few hours to comb through all of these pieces. Bookmark them and come back to them often, because they will absolutely remain useful in the future.
You just gotta learn it.
Don’t wanna spend any time learning this? Well, I guess not caring about your business or success is cool, if you like toiling endlessly in the Sisyphean hell of never quite getting there.
If you’re not willing to invest either time or money, you absolutely do not deserve to be successful.
And you never fucking will be.
The Cure for Fear: Start Taking Action
You have to learn some of this stuff. Not all. But some. You don’t have to become an expert in data analysis, but if you’ve been running a website for a few months and you can’t tell me how much traffic you get, we’re in trouble.
The single hardest thing to learn is how to be objective about your own business; metrics help (there’s nothing subjective about data), but detachment is better.
Which is why the force multiplier for your business is usually having someone else tell you what to do and how to do it; it’s why coaching is so effective.
And why you should apply for the Wellspring Society.
Long story short, kids: if you want to be successful in business, you have to learn to run a business. You need to develop those tools.
And to do that, you need to stop being afraid to learn new shit.
So get started.