Overcoming Mental Barriers to Starting a Small Business

When it comes to starting a business, the psychological barriers you face are often far more daunting than the physical and logistical ones.

While it’s critical to assess your true readiness for taking an entrepreneurial leap, overcoming mental barriers to starting a small business may be your first—and most challenging—task.

If any of these three common mental barriers have become like a boogeyman blocking you from your path, here are some tips and encouragement for cutting these outsized obstacles down to size and taking a confident leap to launch your small business journey.

Overcome these three mental barriers to starting a small business

1. Lack of knowledge

“Many entrepreneurs feel like they have to do it all,” says RISBDC Business Counselor Susan Davis. “They think, ‘I know how to work on a car engine, but I have no idea how to run a business.’” Their fear of not knowing everything they need to know leads them to put off starting their business.

But Davis wants entrepreneurs to know that it’s OK not to know everything. In fact, it can help to remind yourself that no one does. Every successful business owner had to identify what they needed to learn and find a way to learn it—or hire help.

And Davis reiterates that a business startup should be able to find most of the resources they need to be successful for free. She recommends finding as many free workshops, guides, and networking events as possible before spending money on business startup training.

Davis recommends these steps for gaining skills and adding to your knowledge base:

  • Contact your local SBDC. These local SBA partners offer a wide array of workshops on topics that will help you start—and grow—your business, as well as offering one-to-one business consulting once you get rolling.
  • Get a business plan template. This will help you organize your thoughts and solidify the questions you have, as well as create a checklist of the things you need to do.
  • Visit your Secretary of State’s website. This is a critical local resource for making progress on the checklist items from your business plan. You’ll find information about determining which licenses you need, learning how to register your business, how to get an EIN number from the IRS, and even how to choose your business location.
  • Connect with your local Chamber of Commerce. Local chambers are a great way to network your business, and can prove to be your biggest advocate on behalf of the business community.
  • Listen to your customers. Survey your prospective customers to really understand their problems and gain feedback on how you can best serve them. When you let their needs lead your business’s growth, you’ll have a line out the door.

2. It’s “not the right time”

Is your business idea going to be amazing—someday? Does that day keep moving forward as time passes? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the day will come when every element lines up and you glide right into launching your business, with no hiccups, challenges, or stress.

That day is a lie.

To bring your business from the future into the present:

  • Take a hard look at the reasons you think it’s not the right time. Identify whether the reasons you listed are true barriers, or just excuses.
  • Acknowledge that there’s no such thing as “the right time.” There will always be challenges and competing priorities to manage.
  • Make your own right time by committing to manage these challenges and roadblocks, rather than let them hold your dream hostage in the future.

3. Fear of failure

It’s true that about 20% of small businesses “fail” in the first two years. If ruminating on your business’s possible demise stops you from starting, you’re sure to prevent that pain—but also any chance of success.

Fear of failure is fairly common, and if you struggle with this, it might just be baked into your personality. You might look back on your life and see a theme of caution, and seeking security. But these qualities that may have protected you along the way may need a little kick in the pants.

To push back on fear of failure:

  • Redefine “failure” as an opportunity for learning. This essential paradigm shift frees up energy you’ll need to tackle each task as it comes.
  • Practice accepting risk by looking for small, daily ways to branch out and try new things. Not only does flexing these “failure muscles” build up your tolerance for risk, but each small learning opportunity that you encounter can help you refine your business—increasing your chances of big-picture success.
  • Protect what needs protecting. Identify what assets or outcomes you are not willing to risk. You may find that once you identify a way to start a business without risking your home, your retirement accounts, or boundaries around your primary relationships, that you’re willing to accept risk in other areas.
  • Imagine success. Don’t just focus on potential negative outcomes. When you catch yourself obsessing over the idea of failure, practice imagining what it would be like to have a successful business instead.

Know you’re not alone

Whatever barriers you are facing in launching your small business, know that you’re not alone. There are so many resources available for getting the knowledge, guidance, and support that you need to overcome these mental barriers and turn your business idea into a reality.

Ready to get started? Check out the RISBDC’s online training calendar, featuring a wide variety of business topics, to start answering your questions and clearing your hurdles.