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How to overcome your fear of starting an online business

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I fell down at a bowling alley.

The best part of this video is that, seconds before I fell, I literally walked over to my friend, said, “Record this,” and handed them my phone, like I was some world-champion bowler. I wanted to get the video of me taking down this spare so I could brag on Instagram.

Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go the way I wanted:

 

By the way, if you go wander over to my Instagram profile, this is the only one you’ll see:

Do you see how stupid this is?

Nobody talks about failure!

ALL of us are living these public lives of perfection, but below the surface, everyone is falling down, just trying to figure it out. All right, true. Maybe not falling down like dumbass Ramit.

But it’s so rare that people will actually talk about the REAL ways they’ve failed. Not fake failures (“I cared too much”), but real failures — the fear, doubt, and insecurity that come with trying something new.

When I started this site, I was incredibly nervous about getting emails from people questioning my credentials. I didn’t even have an answer! Not surprisingly, as soon as my site started building an audience, I got those exact emails: “So, teaching people to be rich? Are YOU even rich??”

Probably the most nerve-wracking moment in my entire business was in December of 2006, when I sold the first product on this site — a $4.95 ebook called Ramit’s Guide to Kicking Ass.

I knew people would be skeptical, so I decided to try to give people way more than they’d expect: I asked a friend to design beautiful custom cartoons for each page. I cut the price to $4.95. I even gave away half of it for free!

Unfortunately, my worst fears came true. The comments and emails exploded: “Oh, I see. I will teach RAMIT to be rich,” they wrote. “What a scam,” others wrote.

Can you imagine how this felt? After years of writing detailed posts, without ever asking for ANYTHING, suddenly a $5 ebook had made them turn on me?

You know what’s crazy? 8 years later, the commenters are just as harsh. Here’s an email I received just a few days ago:

copycritic

In the past, this would have eaten at me all week. Now, I take one look and cackle. There will ALWAYS be critics

The only difference is this time I didn’t feel that knot in the pit of my stomach. This time, I was confident enough in myself to brush it off and get right back to work. Today, a deep dive into the FEARS around starting an online business, so you’ll know how we can ignore the critics, focus on doing our very best, and be confident enough to laugh at our own failures.

Fear #1: What if I FAIL?

A few years ago, I was walking to lunch with my friend, and she stopped in a Lululemon store. I walked in with her and wandered over to look at some clothes. As I held up a jacket, she called out across the store, “HEY RAMIT. NICE WOMEN’S JACKET!!”

My ears were burning. I was literally so embarrassed, I’ve never walked back into that store 10 years later. How was I supposed to know it was a women’s jacket??

NONE of us wants to be embarrassed. In fact, wealthy people pay tens of thousands of dollars not to be embarrassed every year (can you think of at least 3+ different ways?). What I learned was that failures are almost always bigger in our heads than in reality. So I picked up a women’s jacket — so what?

Now, years later, I can laugh about it. So you launch a product and it doesn’t sell out. So what? This has happened to me MORE than once. (Did you know that?) So you applied to grad school and got rejected. Is your life over? (This also happened to me. Or when I got a D in one of my classes in college…or so many other failures I’ve had. Most people don’t know about these, either.)

Just like my bowling video, nobody likes to share their failures. We all live perfectly successful lives…on the surface. But inside, they eat at us. And over time, we get so burned by failing that we decide to give up the “child’s mind” where we used to try all kinds of new things. Now it’s just easier to not try anything new at all. Learn a new language? No, that’s too hard. Try that new workout? Ugh, what’ll happen if I’m the worst in the class?

It’s so easy to stay in the shadows. It’s COMFORTABLE there. Nobody looks at you, and nobody points at you and laughs. But you also never take a risk to stand out and try something new.

Which would you rather have? A safe life where nobody points at you…and you’re the same as everyone else? Or would you be willing to take a small risk — not a huge one, just a small one — and dip your toe in the waters of trying something new?

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
–Michael Jordan .

 

Most of us claim we want to take risks. But if you really did, you would naturally fail as part of the process. So — when was the last time you failed? A week ago? A month ago? Longer? In Gmail, I have a “Failures” tag, and if I’m not failing at least 4x/month, I know I’m not trying enough new things.

If the answer is “I can’t really think of an example,” maybe you’re not actually taking enough risks. You know what’s funny? When I launched my blog, and tried more entrepreneurial things, I still remember what people said:  “Ha, what a ridiculous website. So when are you going to get a real job?”

Only NOW, after 10+ years of writing every single week, people hear I live in apartments in NYC and SF and they see me email ridiculous stories to a list of hundreds of thousands of people and fly across the country for last-minute ski trips, they say, “Wow. Running your own business. That must be nice.”

I didn’t do all this without failing. I did it because I knew failing was a natural part of growing.

Watch me go into details about how I handled more examples of failure:

Fear #2: What if I’m not an expert?

How many of us feel like imposters?

What if I don’t have the right credential? What if she has more experience than me? I didn’t go to the right college.

Imposter Syndrome is real, and it is crippling. So many of us waste our time chasing mythical credentials, waiting for the right day when we suddenly have a certificate from some random organization giving us permission to go out in the world and do what we’re here to do. And then what? Suddenly we find…uh oh, that degree didn’t matter as much as we thought. Now what are we supposed to do?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of education — not only did I study under some of the world’s best professors at Stanford, I continue to invest in my own education every day. But this idea that we all need more “experience” or “credentials” for EVERYTHING is just plain wrong. Take this email I got from a reader, Tom S., recently:

nocredentials

Notice how ANGRY he is. He’s outraged that I would DARE try to help anyone without the right credentials. This is an outdated way of thinking. Let me be blunt:

  • I’m not a CFP, but because of my online business, I’ve helped more people with their money than most CFPs ever will
  • I’m not a “certified career counselor,” but I’ve helped more people find Dream Jobs, and negotiate their salaries than almost any of them will (like these Dream Job success stories)

STOP THINKING YOU HAVE TO WAIT FOR PERMISSION!

WE DON’T HAVE TO WAIT FOR A GATEKEEPER TO RECOGNIZE US ANY MORE! This old idea of laboring for 30 years, waiting for some fancy Manhattan TV producer or agent to call us, and then “we’ll be successful” is archaic and wrong.

The most amazing thing is with a few simple tools — a website, an email list, and a little know-how about how to build an online business — you can sidestep them ENTIRELY and go straight to the people who want to hear from you!

There’s a TV network I know. They treat all of their guests horribly. They reschedule you over and over and act like they’re doing you a favor if they allow you the grace of appearing on their show.

Last time they called, I realized I’d rather write an amazing post for you than spend 4 hours preparing, traveling, and recording for a 1.5-minute segment. I told them, “I really appreciate the invitation, but I’m going to pass. Thank you again.” They were flabbergasted.

When you sidestep the gatekeepers and go direct, you have OPTIONS. If you want to start an online business and spend 5 hours/week to make a couple thousand bucks a month, great! If you want to go ALL IN and aim for 6 figures/year — or even $1,000,000+/year — I can show you how.

I don’t want to play in a world where I have to kiss these gatekeepers’ asses.

Instead, I want to play on an equal playing field. Measure me on the results I get for my students in launching an online business. If I get real results, I win. If I don’t, then I lose — and SO BE IT. I’ll take the risk on me, but I’m not going to wait 30 years for some aging producer to give me a phone call. I’ll make my own luck. Suck it, Tom.

Fear #3: “I need to figure it out first”

Like your elderly uncle who drinks too much on Superbowl Sunday and constantly talks about how he’s going to write a book once “he figures it out,” we ALL have a drinking probl–wait. No, I messed that up.

We all use “figure it out” as an excuse to TALK about what we want…but do nothing about it!

96% of IWT readers want to start an online business. How long have we been reading endless blog post after blog post, dreaming about generating automatic income?

How many Facebook photos of a friend sitting on a beach — on a Wednesday! — have we seen?

And yet, when we get the opportunity to actually start one, we do the most curious thing of all: come up with reasons it won’t work for us.

I’ve seen this time and time again when I launch a course. I’ll have readers following along with every exercise, commenting on every post, writing how excited they are to get started.

And when the course finally opens, suddenly we start second-guessing ourselves. “Will this work for me? I’m an international left-handed one-legged narcoleptic…what about THAT? Does your material address people like THAT??”

This is called Special Snowflake Syndrome, and these people will never join. They ask question after question until they find something I say no to — and then they can walk away, satisfied that “of COURSE this wouldn’t work for me.” What an interesting way to live life. To wait to “figure it out” until some day, things magically align 100% perfectly. When you have enough time, the perfect business idea, all your other priorities totally handled.

THIS NEVER HAPPENS.

Your life will never be perfect. Successful people take steps before they’re totally ready. They know that there will NEVER be a perfect time where you have nothing else on your plate. So they make time, and year after year, they invest in themselves.

No wonder when you look at a top performer, you say, “Wow, I could never do that.” Because most people never made the daily decisions he’s been making for years and years!

The great news is you’ve already been doing more than most people ever do: You read about how to improve yourself. Maybe you’ve tried a few strategies from IWT or other sites. When the chance is in front of you, will you take it?

The strategy I use to “figure it out”:

I write down ALL my invisible scripts BEFORE I have to make a decision:

  • I’m uncomfortable doing ___
  • I don’t have enough time
  • I don’t have enough money
  • Will this work for me?
  • What if I fail? Then I’ll KNOW I could never do this…

And for 15 minutes, I just sit down and say, What if I were perfect? How would I answer these questions? How would I make the time? Do I really not have the money, or do I just use that as an excuse / could I make changes in my spending?

If you honestly decide an opportunity is not right for you, great! At least you did it consciously. And if it is…you’re off to the races.

TO DO TODAY

I want to hear from you.

Instead of focusing on your fears, I want you to look ahead. So far, in just the last few days, we’ve already learned the truth about starting an online business, covered which type of online business to start, learned how I went from a $4.95 product to a multi-million-dollar business, done some basic idea testing to see if people like our business ideas, learned how to conquer self-sabotage, and learned about the systems to build an automatic income.

Now I want you to apply what you’ve learned. Fill in the blanks:

  • Before these posts from Ramit, I thought about online business as _____
  • Now I realize _____
  • I’m looking forward to _____
  • I’m nervous about _____, but I believe I can conquer that because _____

Leave your responses in the comments below. I read every single one, and I’ll respond to the best and most interesting ones.

Oops

 

UPDATE — New Zero to Launch course reviews!

Check this out, several Zero to Launch beta students have posted detailed reviews of the Zero to Launch course on their own blogs. You can hear all about their experiences — including pros and cons, and who the course is right for — in their own words. I’ll keep updating this list as more reviews come out:

I’ve collected more Zero to Launch reviews, direct from students here. Check them out.

Want to learn more about Zero to Launch? Join my exclusive waitlist to get case studies and your invitation to the course.

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193 Comments

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  1. Before these posts from Ramit, I thought about online business as just trying to gain for yourself and something I wasn’t qualified to do.
    Now I realize that the true purpose of business is to improve the lives of others.
    I’m looking forward to learning how to reach an audience that I can help, even if I don’t have every credential in the book.
    I’m nervous about what might happen when I tell friends and family about it, because they seem to think “oh, that’s a nice idea, but it probably won’t work, so don’t ‘quit your day job.'”, but I believe I can conquer that because I know that listening to doubters isn’t a good way to judge the helpfulness or effectiveness of my material.

    • Ben you are so right! When you get in touch that it’s IMPACT to the lives of those around you that matters more than Financial wealth that is where you will see TRUE success! Financial wealth is just a byproduct from the impact.

      I’m so glad you recognize your fear of what your friends and family may say. They may not get it. Remember to live the life YOU want to live.

      A hospice nurse stated that based on her experience with her passing patients, the NUMBER 1 regret was not living the life THEY wanted. They lived it based off of everyone elses expectations.

      Way to take action Ben!

    • Thinking they same way

    • Love this. When you focus on others first, and create a REAL impact in their lives, you’ve done the hard part. Then, when you add a few business systems in, you can turn that impact into profit. Win-win.

    • “Now I realize that the true purpose of business is to improve the lives of others”

      Well f’n said, dude.

    • LOVE this! Ding, ding, ding! 🙂 I am soooo with you.

    • Yes! I have searched my whole life about how I can be a difference to others and make a difference in the world. I went to college because everyone else did. I had no idea what I wanted to do in college. I earned a degree I don’t use to this day in a paying professional sense. I floundered going from job to job just trying to figure it out. I went back to college and earned a M.Ed and became a teacher thinking that was going to be how I helped others. Don’t get me wrong, I do help others as a teacher…but I feel underutilized. I can’t use the God given talents to the fullest as long as I am working under someone’s rules and guidelines. As long as I am “employed,” by someone else…I am owned by them. I know that I can take my experiences and create an avenue to reach others and help them improve their lives, all the while, being my own boss and doing it on the terms that I want and that allow me to continue to grow and strive the way I feel called to do. I am nervous because I typically fall in line with what others want or expect of me, (going to college because everyone else did). This is my time to go for it!!!

  2. Before these posts from Ramit, I thought about online business as something I could not do because what skills do I have which others would pay for? Also, even if I have a hobby or passion that I know about, who would buy from me unless I’ve been published or have credentials or won awards?
    Now I realize these internal scripts are just excuses that I need to crush so I can take the next step.
    I’m looking forward to using systematic tests to determine the best idea for my business, as well as how to provide value for all the customers whom I have not yet met.
    I’m nervous about fear of failure, but I believe I can conquer that because I have the support of my wife and the RBT community.

    Regarding criticism: I usually respond with one of my favorite quotes from Ben Franklin: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”

    PS – Just got your 2007 Guide. Looking forward to 2014, too.

  3. In 10 days, I will be assisting as a secondary photographer on my first wedding shoot ever. Even though I have hundreds of hours of studio experience, that fear brain is trying to pull me down and tell me that I will fail! I’m nervous about photographing this wedding, but I believe I can conquer that because as long as I get a few good photos, it will all be worth it. I know I am capable of at least 5 excellent shots. Additionally, this is an excellent learning experience, because I will be photographing alongside my mentor, and even if I make a mistake, I can learn from it. I’m looking forward to doing this wedding and seeing my results. Although I don’t have credentials, like photographing other weddings, or going to art school, I have a good eye, spent a season working as a portrait photographer, and am constantly working to improve my skills.

  4. I love the section on failure. One time I was actually in a room with Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters and he told the story about Nirvana.

    Just kids who kept sucking… knew they sucker but kept looking for ways to improve. .. until they became Nirvana.

    Great stuff!

    • This is a weird comment because Dave wasn’t around when Nirvana was founded. He wasn’t even on their first album. He got with them after they already had a huge indie buzz, right before they broke mainstream. He lucked the shit out.

  5. Ok, that cracks me up, if you weren’t a good copywriter NO ONE would read your blog or emails… They are so long they have to keep people entertained.

  6. Ha ha(Nelson muntz laugh) but that’s not as bad as my mom’s boyfriend at a national bowling tournament tripping over the ball return after missing a spare. Or as good as a guy in the same tournament slipping and getting a strike. I missed getting video of both but neither guy talked about it. My mom talked her boyfriend for days but that was it.

  7. Before these posts from Ramit, I thought about online business as something other people were successful at, and that I just didn’t have “it” to be successful;

    Now I realize that’s just an excuse…a random way to disqualify myself so I didn’t have to ask for help and continue putting myself out there;

    I’m looking forward to having the support of a system to steer me as I’m done going it alone;

    I’m nervous about possibly failing and putting myself out there, but I believe I can conquer that because I know my content and guidance is rock solid and that I truly enjoy helping people, plus I’ve never been clearer on what I want – a business that helps a lot of people, leverages my interest in creativity, and that affords me location independence

  8. Before these posts from Ramit, I thought about online business as something really risky and shortlived that only worked for guru´s and straigh-shooters.
    Now I realize I might be just the kind of person who can start an online business in the ´Real´ world.
    I’m looking forward to learning as I go.
    I’m nervous about the monetary investment, but I believe I can conquer that because my online business will pay itself back (well….not all that confident about that, but certainly hoping).

  9. Before these posts from Ramit, I thought about online business as something you
    1) had to commit full-time to
    2) had to have a trade or skill where you make a product or a personalized service (everyday. many times a day)
    3) needed to be a web designer or famous blogger to do

    Now I realize
    1) a systematic approach cuts down on inputs (your time) AND can exponentially increase outputs (your impact on other’s lives)
    2) I do not have to be an expert. Trying something and improving it is much better that chickening out

    I’m looking forward to trying something new and, at least, helping a few people.

    I’m nervous about my friends and family’s reaction, that they’ll think “but you’re not an expert! your stuff must be trash”, but I believe I can conquer that because I know their tendency is to be conservative and follow the straight and narrow path…and ultimately, I have little to lose from trying.

    • So many insights buried in your comment.

      MYTH: An online business has to be a full-time job.

      TRUTH: I ran this site part-time for 5 YEARS before I finally went full-time.

      MYTH: My friends’ disapproval will ruin my life.

      TRUTH: People are looking for leaders. When you’re in the early stages, of COURSE your friends will insult your business. It’s new, weird, and also threatening to their way of life. (In that way, you can’t really blame them for their reactions.) Over time, as you stick to it and watch your business grow, their reactions will markedly change. I’ve seen it myself. Watch and see — it’s one of the most inspiring things of all.

  10. Ramit, before this post, I thought a successful online business wasnt something I could attain. While I’m not there yet, I do realize with perseverance and a lot of work, it’ll be in my future. I have felt the above mentioned fears but believe I can conquer them bc I surround myself with supportive ppl and have drive. Someone not too long ago told me, I should make decisions based on facts and what I know, and not based on fear…. “to acknowledge the fear but do it anyway.” I always keep that in the forefront. Looking fwd to more of ur insights and informative posts.

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