Snap Out of That Self-Help Stupor and Get to Work


BusinessWeek reader and entrepreneur Nancy Price says we should all get over ourselves and our fears and get on with our dreams

You know The Secret, have cultivated The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and want The 4-Hour Work Week. That's because you have read every book in existence on how to start your own business and otherwise achieve personal success.

Now here's the bad news: As long as you're reading about what to do, you're not doing what you need to do. In fact, if you constantly need to use external resources—books, Web sites, or seminars—to motivate yourself, your first job is to figure out what's really going on in your head and in your heart.

"Analysis paralysis" can affect even the savviest entrepreneurs—even when it means a loss of time, money, and drive. But why? We're ostensibly motivated to effect change. After all, isn't that what inspired the book-buying binge?

As a serial entrepreneur, I'm fortunate to know other self-starters. So here's some of their advice on making the leap from vision to reality—and what they think makes some people stop before they've even started.

Climb the Wall of Fear

For the entrepreneur, fear is often enemy No. 1. "Ultimately, people get stuck because of fear," says Larry Weintraub, CEO and co-founder of Fanscape, a marketing agency whose clients include NBC, Honda (HMC), AT&T (T), and Electronic Arts (ERTS). "They are terrified of failing and the ego and financial downside associated with that."

And although she's written 28 books, Ann Douglas—author of the best-selling The Mother of All… series—agrees: "Fear can be a huge barrier. I struggle with that every time I write something for a brand-new editor."

It's only natural to worry that your business won't be successful, that you might feel you're not truly up to the task, or that the entrepreneurship you dream about will ultimately turn out to be unfulfilling.

Don't Spend Your Life Planning

But you can shoot yourself in the foot if you always seek the sure thing. "Some writers I know won't aim high in their careers," says Douglas. "They go after work that they know they can get rather than going after the work that they really want because they are scared of rejection."

If you're so scared you will make a mistake that you want to think through everything, you might be creating an even bigger headache. Fanscape was one of the first Internet-based digital-engagement marketing companies, created because Weintraub saw an opportunity and didn't hesitate. "You can't wait around for the idea to be fully figured out because you'll miss your window. Someone else will think of your idea, too, and will act on it," he says.

Fear can have an upside, too: It's a great motivator. "Nothing got me out of bed in the morning faster than fear," says Kim Lavine, best-selling author of Mommy Millionaire and president of Mommy Millionaire Media. "Having the courage to just do what had to be done the first year or two is the secret to my success in a nutshell."

Your Idea Must Motivate You

"Many people say, 'I want to run a business for myself,' but then procrastinate about doing it," says Alex Fayle, a mentor at personal coaching site Someday Syndrome. "Maybe you aren't doing it because the idea doesn't thrill you. Perhaps you don't have a passion for the business you've chosen."

Any apathy on your part begs the question: Does your idea really excite you? Is it special enough to get you up in the morning? Will it keep you awake at night because your mind is spinning with new ideas? If you're bored, frustrated, or aren't mentally invested in your idea, you need to consider why.

"Maybe you're not doing something because, in reality, it doesn't fit with who you are," says Fayle. "If so, dump the idea and the expectations that likely came along with it, and go find something that suits you better."

Many Reasons Lie Behind Apathy

Unfortunately, apathy isn't always obvious. Here's a tip: If you're always deadline-driven or think you work best under pressure, that might mean you're underwhelmed by the project in question. Why? Waiting until the last moment is likely the only way you can rally enough adrenaline to get the task done.

Even if you're a go-getter in every other aspect of your life, you could still find yourself stalled when trying to head in a new direction.

There are many reasons entrepreneurs procrastinate beyond all reason but in the end, most of the "reasons" we give are just props to help us avoid the real issue: Either we're afraid to go solo, or—in our heart of hearts—we don't really want to move ahead with the venture at all.

It's time to get the excuses out of your system: Give yourself five minutes to write down all the reasons you're worried or unmotivated. Once you know what's been holding you back, you can either start taking action or change your goal.

How to Spring into Action

Remember that when you're starting a business, nothing will happen if you polish your plan to death instead of putting it into action. Here's a six-step plan to get your project off the ground today:

1) Start small. Even five minutes can get you going—and anyone can manage five minutes.

2) Banish distractions. Even if only for a little while, shut out the world and focus only on doing.

3) Overwhelmed? Break down the job into smaller components, being specific about each step. The more abstract your goal, the lower your chance of achieving it.

4) Do something—anything—now, and fix it up later. Focus on progress rather than perfection.

5) Go with your mood. If you're not in a creative frame of mind, work on another aspect of your plan, such as choosing equipment or researching vendors.

6) Stop expecting an answer for every question or a solution to every problem. If you can't figure out one part of your plan, mark it to revisit later and move on.

Just Do It

Working past procrastination is a major challenge for people in all walks of life, but for someone who's planning to start a new business, breaking out of that rut can mean the difference between being an historical footnote and joining the Fortune 500.

The bottom line: If you're going to realize your dreams, you have to wake up and put the books down. Since you're thinking about it, why not stop reading and start doing something right now? In fact, just to help you out, we're going to put an end to one thing that's been delaying you—this article.


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