How to Run a Fearless Small Business

image of spooky house

Halloween means exactly three things to me: pumpkin carving, costumes, and everyone I know trying to frighten the crap out of me with scary movies.

Doesn’t matter how many times I explain I hate scary movies. Everyone insists that scary movies are part of the Halloween experience and that what I really need on All Hallow’s Eve is to watch a bed swallow up Johnny Depp and his crop-top football jersey.

I don’t know about you, but I have enough fear in my life without Freddy Krueger. I call it “running a business.”

And it took me a long time to get over my big fears. But in the spirit of quenching all fear-related activity this Halloween, here are my strategies for running a fearless small business.

Turn on the light

One of the biggest problems I had when I started my business was being in the dark all the time.

I knew I needed a website. But I had no idea what a website cost, what needed to go into a good website (coding, design, WordPress wrangling), or what would make for a smart URL.

I was completely in the dark, scared out of my mind, thinking that I was surely going to be ruined by everything I didn’t know.

I was so busy hiding with my head under the covers that it didn’t occur to me to turn on the lights.

Instead of thinking that the cost of a website would crush me and that my business would crumble before it began, I started getting quotes from various website designers. I found out what my price point really was and started putting away money toward it.

It was a big number — but it wasn’t an impossible, scary, ridiculous, going-to-die number the way it was in my head.

In the dark, you think everything’s scary as hell. Once you turn on the lights, there might be a few things that are big and intimidating, but they’re no longer creepy. They’re just there. You can deal with them. Nothing to be afraid of.

Hold someone’s hand

I do not understand the internet.

This is something of a shameful admission for someone who makes her living online, but I really don’t get how the beast works.

I can’t tell you how many times Sonia or Naomi or someone else clever like that has told me that I should really work on my keywords or my links or my SEO, and all I can hear is “The apocalypse is here and it has knives.”

As we all learned when we were children, scary things are less scary when you have someone else’s hand to hold. Walking into the dark alone is a bad strategy.

I called up a friend who does search engine marketing. She’s not an SEO expert, but she understands SEO in simple terms that make it easy for her to do her work.

So I get her on the phone and she hand-holds me through every single step I need to take. She says things like, “We’re almost there,” and “It’s okay,” and “See that link? Click on that … now that wasn’t so bad, right?”

This is much less frightening than attempting to wrestle all by myself with six books written for dummies and a 20-part audio series. The next time you’re confronted with a big business decision that you know nothing about, get someone to hold your hand.

If you don’t happen to know someone with knowledge of that field, check Twitter for volunteers, look into the Third Tribe, or even — gasp — hire someone.

Think of it like hiring a bodyguard to fight off all the bad guys. Just be sure to explain that you don’t want them to do everything for you — you want to know how to do it yourself. Appropriately supervised, of course.

Run to Mommy

We’re discussing a metaphorical mommy, here. You are all grown-ups and I’m sure you no longer hide your face in your mother’s skirts (or pantsuit, or jeans, or whatever your mother wears) at this time of life.

But there are business problems that, when they hit you, are so overwhelming and scary that there is just no way you’re going to get your head around them.

You know everything you need to know. You have friends to help explain it. But this particular beast is too big to fight.

You just want to run to someone who’s going to make it all better, who will take the problem away and tell you that everything is all right now.

For me, this particular business fear is taxes.

I can’t handle finances. It has been attempted. But dealing with money freaks me out, dealing with the IRS freaks me out more, and the mere mention of filing papers to become an S corporation makes me long for the relatively pleasant nightmare that merely involves buckets of blood and untimely death.

This is about when I run screaming for mommy. Or, as I like to call her, “my accountant.”

When you know you have certain business problems that honestly scare you, even to think about, find yourself a “mommy” to run to when those monsters appear.

Accountants. Business managers. Marketing experts. Tech wizards.

Whatever your personal deep and abiding fear is, there is someone who isn’t afraid of it at all.

Back to Halloween

I’m going to wind up watching a scary movie this Halloween. There’s always one playing at the pumpkin-carving party, and there’s never quite enough hot buttered rum to make me numb to it. Last year, it was about psychotic sheep. I could not make that up.

But this year, I think it’s going to be okay. After all, it’s not like anything in my business is scaring me these days. I suppose someone has to take up the slack, and if it isn’t psychotic sheep, it’ll probably be something even more frightening, like Lady Gaga.

I wonder if my accountant can handle that one.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Here’s to a less terrifying business year to come.

About the Author: When Taylor Lindstrom isn’t wearing her Assistant Editor of Copyblogger Hat, she’s wearing her Good Ink, Inc. Copywriting Hat. You can find her on Twitter @GoodInkInc, and rumor has it she will shortly have a blog of her very own. It may also have a hat.

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Comments

  1. Taylor:

    Starting a business is scary. It’s as scary as Halloween. Or me watching all those horror and monster movies on TV, keeping in the spirit of Halloween.

    Your post is very good. Get some friends or professional acquaintances to help. In the US, we can also get free counseling from these excellent resources:

    1. Small Business Development Center Network – http://www.asbdc-us.org/.
    2. S.C.O.R.E. – http://www.score.org/index.html.

    There’s also a free Internet course on small business operations at My Own Business – http://www.myownbusiness.org/

    None of the resources I mentioned is “for profit”. But they can help you survive and make a profit. Your post does great work in pointing the way.

    Say! It’s time to get back to AMC and watch another horror or monster movie.

    Randy

  2. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, a way to relate to my clients.

    Being a web designer it’s always hard to know what exactly my clients’ fears are. Now that I’m busy rewriting my website’s copy I can incorporate these fears you’ve listed into it.

    Oh happy days.

  3. Hey Taylor!

    Thank you for the spooktacular advice! (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself)
    I think you highlight something very important about running a small business, which is that fear comes with the territory. But as you demonstrate, you don’t have to stay afraid.

    Making connections with people and communities that can help you is essential to getting over the things that you fear. Personally, I’ve found that if you don’t reach out, the things you fear (which typically you can’t avoid), turn into things you procrastinate over…and ultimately hold you back in your business. And for me, that thought is even scarier!

    Happy Halloween!

    • Couldn’t agree more Marlee! (and loved the ‘spooktacular’ pun by the way)

      I’d be lost (and a lot more fearful) without my business coach, bookkeeper, and the group of local business women I network with.

  4. Great post and a lot of helpful insights. As someone who is in the process of starting and running my own small business, I can relate to everything you said. There are plenty of people whose hands I hold as I walk through areas dealing with code and website design and I’m slowly walking through and turning on all the lights as I go.

    Thanks for the encouragement and was the movie you watched last year “Black Sheep”? I watched it too and you’re right, you couldn’t make that up.

  5. This post is good. Most of the time I think that I’m the one who needs to do everything in business and for my blog. It really takes a lot to learn that you need the help of “mommies” and “body guards” (experts).

    I’m not an accountant or a programmer. Both tasks scare me. The answer really is to hire someone or get someone to give you help. If a task is scary to you, it’s probably not your kind of movie.

    And for the record, I hate scary movies. Always have, always will.

  6. Taylor, all your tips make perfect sense. I’m good at turning on the light, but I have too much pride to hold someone’s hand or go running to mommy. Those are my flaws. Thanks for steering me in the right direction!

    Peter over at The Shrink for Entrepreneurs (petershallard.com) would absolutely love this post! He finds fear to be the last remaining obstacle between most entrepreneurs and their success.

    Fear is important, and sometimes inevitable, but how we react to our fears is much more significant.

  7. Taylor,

    Your post was timely, engaging and fun.

  8. Very well written. We all need a little reassurance sometimes. It is a scary world out there. But it is a little less frightening when you surround yourself with people you know will help you when things get tough.

  9. Taylor,

    Hysterical post – thanks for sharing!

  10. I’d love to know what costumes the Copyblogger gang is wearing this year.

  11. This post just made me realize something. I want to play the role of the bed in “Nightmare on Elm Street”. The bed the swallows up Johnny Depp and his little crop top. THAT IS ALL!

    Actually, not all. Excellent post! I know web design and SEO but I’m STILL going to hire a professional to help me with some design bits and programming bits for my websites because, damn, you can’t do it all!

  12. Taylor – Great post! Thanks for the laugh AND practical advice. It took me over a year to “turn the lights on”, but once I did, things started moving forward with more momentum than I thought possible. And now? Not so scary. :)

    For the record, I loathe horror movies too – and haunted houses – both of which my family members LOVE. It’s going to be a loooong weekend!

  13. Good point re: getting help. Especially if you don’t find the task interesting.

    There are too many things to do in this short life that make fretting over something like accounting (maybe even website design if it’s not your thing) seem unimportant.

    Even though I don’t do it, SEO seems more like a style of writing than any kind of blogging trick. As professional writers, I guess we should do it well.

  14. For “hand holding” and getting expert advice, I recently ran across this website that allows folks with questions to request an hour of consulting, then pay $50 to the site if they’re happy with the results. The consultant gets no money.
    I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds pretty interesting:
    http://www.paretocentral.com/

  15. I would like to second Randy’s advice of S.C.O.R.E.

    2. S.C.O.R.E. – http://www.score.org/index.html.

    I have turned to them a few times when stuck and in need of some no-nonsense advice. The volunteers at S.C.O.R.E. have so much knowledge and expertise and are not afraid to give you a kick-in-the-pants if that is what they think you need.

    Sure we can bounce ideas off family and friends but sometimes you really need a unbiased outsider’s opinion.

  16. Yes – I remember scary! I’ve been going for 17 years now, so slightly more comfortable – but never complacent. I can remember someone asking me what motivated me in the early days, and all I could think to respond was ‘a combination of fear and greed in equal measures’.

    Some really good reminders here – thank you

  17. I Smiled during the reading of your post..that is so important+makes me want to read more. I own a small business-so the tips were timely+useful and came from your heart..this post allows me to feel what you are trying to get across and that is so important to me.
    Have a wonderful weekend, grand post…xx peggybraswelldesign.com

  18. Well done! A great way to start my Halloween weekend! (I hate scary movies, too!)

  19. Asking someone to hold your hand is the best advice ever. A mentor can help you along, guide you, counsel you and give you the support you need to get where you want to be. Faster. Better. Easier.

    Pick someone you admire, someone who is where you want to be, who has gone before you. Get in touch. Tell that person what you want, and why you chose him or her.

    And then enjoy having someone to hold hands with. It’s the best feeling in the world.

  20. The article is great … but the picture (haunted house, bats, dark clouds, dead tree) is awesome! Where can I get a copy large enough for my desktop? Great article.

  21. Love this post and your humorous writing style. I recently took the plunge of starting my own business. The process is overwhelming at times and I was a bit disheveled when I was done.

    There were a few times that I had to call in the cavalry and get some help. Panic is not a pleasant emotion and I’m thankful I had some friends to help walk me through it.

    A 6 month process of setting up my website, finishing my children’s book “Hamsters After Dark” starting my business, and publishing my book. Scary process – Yes – but exhilarating too.

    Kathy Kuczek
    StinkySneakersMedia.com

  22. Great content in the article, but the tie-in to Halloween was even better! I learn more and more from this site every day. It gets the wheels in the brain going…

  23. The first six months I was in business for myself, I was awake at 4 every morning hyperventilating. This would have been nice to have had then. :)

  24. Great article, it is a nice reminder of what it takes running a small business. Learn as you go, and finding great people is usually the path to help you along the way.

    I also find that working with other people/businesses is also very important because your success is their success. Weather you are getting a website design, brochure or finding an accountant. Find people and businesses that want to see you succeed as much as you want.

    Another thing I have done in my latest venture is assembled a board of advisers. This is a group of friends, business associates etc. We get together once a month to talk about the business and I get feedback from them on where we are, and where we are going, they can provides some tips to speed things along.

    Thanks for sharing!

  25. For people who are just starting out and scared all the time, it’s hard to imagine that the people who write here on Copyblogger were/are ever scared at all…sometimes it’s nice to remember that people we admire are afraid too, even if they have learned how to deal with it. Thanks for sharing your tactics.

    People have made fun of me forever for leaving the room if there is a scary movie on. eeeeeekkk!

  26. Taylor,

    This was a really awesome play on Halloween. I’ve been working on a ton of projects and haven’t been over to Copyblogger in awhile, so this was a great welcome back.

    “Turning on the Light” is so important for any business to aquire and keep more customers. There are way too many people out there that use the “if we build it they will come” method, and that just doesn’t work.

    No one cares more about your business than you do.

    Your customers are not sitting at home and hoping that you will sell them something.

    You have to turn on the light and show them why you’re awesome.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  27. This article was exactly what I needed to read today. Many rejections today and delays…BUT if I do all of this in the dark…there is no light. Thanks!

  28. Love, love, love this post, Taylor, for your humor and the permission you gave me to not be the Lone Ranger when it comes to my business. Heck, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

    I recently found my Tonto. She is a great turner on of the light, always lets me hold her hand when I need to, and has even better skirts to hide in than my Mommy.

    Next week I’m spending a whole day with Tonto, and we’re going to tear my business apart and put it back together again. Not only is she bringing all the snacks, flip charts, and magic markers, but she even sent me flowers ahead of time.

    What can I say? My Tonto has class! Maybe she’s really Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.

    Happy Halloween everyone! May it be as scary (or not) as you like it.

  29. Giving yourself permission to expand your comfort boundaries can work wonders!

    And having someone to hold your hand while doing so…priceless.

    The knowledge is all out there for the taking; you just have to have the confidence in your abilities to take that first step. Doesn’t matter if it succeeds or fails – just TRYING can change your world.

    Happy Halloween everyone! May it be a safe and enjoyable time.

  30. Hey, your blog post is attracting a lot of comments! Woo hoo! I almost feel like not jumping in, but no, I have to chime in…

    Thank you for affirming that starting your own business is scary. I think I cried for an hour yesterday with just how overwhelming and challenging it is.

    One positive step I took a few months ago was to put together a group of mentors. They all bring different gifts and experience to the table and I’ve learned to put my ego aside and contact one or all when I need help. It’s not easy to ask for help, but as you say here, it’s the way to go. Really, I don’t know why we think we can do it all and know it all. There’s just no way.

    Thanks for your blog post! Happy Halloween!

  31. OMG, I absolutely have to show this article to my husband. As I read it, I kept thinking, “Is this ME? Did I secretly write this and not remember it? Was I sleeping and I wrote it? This is me, it is… ISN’T IT??”

    All plaigerism threat aside…

    I 100% relate to EVERYTHING you have written… right down to the Halloween movies (and, don’t everyone gasp at once, I also don’t remotely “get” this whole vampire obsession, either).

    Well done. Love it. Great advice. And, hello other-me. :)

    Jenny Foss
    JobJenny.com

  32. My fear is definitely accounting and taxes… I need a guy who knows a guy or something… someone good that can play mommy for me! :)

    Great post Taylor.

  33. Cool post! Thanks for reminding me that, if I’m saying ohgodohgodohgod at times, so is everyone else now and then. And THAT tells me that part of my business is to remember to hold other people’s hands when they’re scared about stuff that I find easy.

  34. Taylor, thanks for making it fun and not scary! :-) I’m with you on the tax deal!

    • Yep, me too. I finally found an incredibly nice tax person who takes pity on my numbskull tax habits (like waiting until the 11th hour to call her up to work on them).

  35. Thanks for this great post! It was really fun to read and had many excellent points. Great way to tie in the holiday with great business advice!

    Facing our fears can be daunting, but following the right steps makes a big difference. Especially since the unknown can feel so much more scary in our minds than it is when we go out and give it a try!

    Stacy

  36. LOL- great minds think alike. My blog post for today ended with something like, “sometimes you just have to ask for help”.

    My accountability partner and I were just discussing that topic. We just don’t have time to learn it all ourselves….

  37. LOL! Laughter and very sound advice–two of my favorite things! “all I can hear is ‘The apocalypse is here and it has knives.’ ” That’s certainly how the thinking gets going in my head when I’m overwhelmed (I’ve got way to active an imagination for horror movies)! Thanks for the great reminder about getting help. It’s like oh, right, the goal was never to get awesome at everything, it’s to get super awesome and somethings and delegate other things to other people who are super awesome at those things.

  38. Guys, the Twitterverse exploded with glee at me today. Thanks for all the sweet words, the compliments, the retweets. It’s been a dandy Friday and it’s all because of you.

    Well, okay, maybe also because of the massive contract I just landed. But also you! You you you!

  39. Taylor,

    First off….awesome post! Those are some real emotions felt by so many people who are just starting out!

    We also fear wasting time/money/energy don’t we? I hate the thought that it could all be for nothing and your message is never heard! Or maybe heard by like a few of your facebook friends only!

    Anyway keep up the good work and if you have any thoughts/ideas for my new site they would be most appreciated!

    Cheers!

  40. Taylor, I love this post. You are humorous and down to earth about fears. I envy that writing style because it is so inviting like asking everyone into your sandbox to play with your toys. Thanks for being so you.

    Eileen

  41. Wow! This is so true. Getting into business is scary and risky and all. This is an awesome article and I believe that simplifying things would make business a lot easier.

  42. Taylor you did not get the contact because of us. You got that contract because you are very talent, and very good at what you do. Congratulations!

    When I am ready to have a ebook written, I want you to write it!

  43. Taylor,

    Doing anything out of my comfort zone is scary, even for a guy! Specially when there are so many unknowns! I am just trying to push my comfort level and follow my passions. Only time will tell if that was a good move or not.

  44. Good writing on this! I thought it was from Sonia until you mentioned her. I loved the way you worked your message into a spooky Halloween article on this day before the big event.

    And, boy, could I relate to your fears. I think I’m supposed to read the directions and be able to do everything myself, and many times I can, but not on technology. Thank you for encouraging me to reach out and grab someone.

  45. Jarod Billingslea :

    Great article and love your website design =]

  46. It never hurts to gather information and decide what it is you actually can do. Better the problem you know than the problem you don’t know.

  47. Your blog post on fears affecting your small business hit me just when I need to hear it. I giggled about the “Apocolypse is here and it has knives” line for a long time. I avoid growing my business out of my own fear, but even more out of my husband’s fears. He is risk and spending averse. You are right about reaching out to people who can help. I also encourage your readers to not make it a one-way help fest … you can be the person that eases your helper’s fears in a different way.

  48. Looks like all those fears have been quelled. Your website turned out great!

  49. Psychotic sheep . . . . Wait – aren’t those the ones with glowing eyes in the Carly Fiorina commercials? Now those are scary.

  50. Hi Taylor!

    This post of yours got me smiling from start to finish! Your fearless strategies are so well-put. Indeed, when all else fails, we’ll just have to run to “mommy.”

    Happy Halloween!

  51. fear !! what fear, run straight in and work every minute of every day until you succeed. Fear not, you will get there.

  52. I guess the main point of this post is that as a small business owner we expect ourselves to be experts in every aspect of business and as we know this is impossible.
    Fear can be likened to a serious disease it can be fatal in terms of allowing it to over come us in business and paralize us from taking the action to move forward.
    This is a major factor why the failure rate in small business is so high, as we a fearful that we will not be successful and by not taking action we think we can remain safe. I wonder if our results would be any different if our very lives depended on the success of our business? Great post!

  53. Clever article! Two thumbs up! Your information was clear and well written. I enjoyed it. I’m tweetin’ you!

  54. Your fear admissions have motivated me a bit. I think back to how I got into this industry: wanting to own a business > studying advertising > getting stuck working for other people. I too and not a fan of paperwork. I guess it’s time to feel the fear and do it anyway.

  55. Great article,

    I’d also say donn’t be afraid to look for local resources for training and help. I don’t know about elsewhere but certainly here in the UK you can find free training run by local communities that help fill those gaps in your knowledge. They are usually tailored towards small company owners.

  56. Love the post! Great swing on it with the Halloween mood. I agree that a lot of business aspects can be scary. But like you said there is always someone that doesn’t find it scary. Turning to an SEO expert, accountant or other professional is the way to go. It might cost money, but the only way to make money is to spend money.

  57. Haha what could be more scarier than Lady Gaga???

    Thanks for the great article! It’s nice to know that I don’t need to take on the world by myself and it’s okay to pass things on to others. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with everything that goes on that I don’t realize that I need to ask for help! Yikes…

    Thanks again for the great article!

  58. Yeah, day-to-day business life contains quite enough terror and drama for me without watching it on the screen as well…. ;-)

  59. Nice “metaphors” :) The phrases you used as titles for each point was certainly creative, it makes me think a lot. For me, taking risks at the same time like what you said turn on the light and holding someone’s hand are really important in order to improve and succeed.

  60. I found this post not only incredibly funny (I love your metaphors of Hallooween), but also insightful. We are new to Social Media and it’s nice to know that we are not the only ones to get our heads around it, and to run a small business at the same time. All the scary things you talk about business – are so very true! Thanks for the always controversial, always thought provoking posts – I love this blog! There’s a reason why you guys are #number1 on the AdAge list – keep up the good work !

  61. Taylor – I am still laughing! And I can SO relate. It is scary to own your own business. Scary to begin. Scary to do it yourself until you can hire help – then it is scary to grow and have more mouths to feed!

    I love Copyblogger – not only do I learn stuff; you all entertain me!

  62. Running small business is fun at the same time it can be tiring. You have to love it. Because alot of work.

  63. You did a great job in adding humor to fear…KUDOS!
    Nancy