Top excuses and tactics: Why haven’t you started your own business?

Ramit Sethi

In the last year, have you thought about starting your own company?

What are the reasons that we don’t follow through? Maybe it’s a genuine lack of technical skill, or we don’t know where to get started, or our friends around us talk us down. More commonly, we talk ourselves out of it.

Not everyone should start their own business, but a significant percentage of iwillteachyoutoberich readers are interested in entrepreneurship. And starting your own business can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do — even if it’s just a side project earning $20/month. That’s one of the principles of I Will Teach You To Be Rich: You can’t outfrugal your way to being rich, but there’s no limit on what you can earn.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Pamela Slim sent me her book. To be honest, I was worried. She had recently written positively about my book, and she writes about entrepreneurship on her blog, but her audience is pretty different than mine — typically older and more female than iwillteachyoutoberich — and I thought her book might have too many emotional/spiritual components like “Tell yourself that you can do it every morning!” I hate emotions. I tell my friends to call me an Emotional Robot because I care about the tactics, not how you feel. Witness my cold, listless countenance for people who ask, “Is it a good time to invest?”

But I was REALLY surprised at how tactical this book is.

Books that say, “Do what you love and the money will come!” are not helpful. Escape From Cubicle Nation shows you — not tells you, shows you — how to figure out if you should start your own company, how to analyze your skills to see what a good market is, and how to scale the business beyond just making $100/month.

Most importantly, she tackles the psychology and barriers of why we know we’re capable of more than a simple cubicle job, but fail to take action to put our ideas into practice with a new business.

This is the book I’m going to give to people who talk and talk about starting a business, but think that hating their job is motivation enough to quit and start a fanciful idea. It’s not.

I’ve asked Pam to write up a guest post with a basic framework on doing this the right way.

* * *

Guest post from Pamela Slim: The Excuses People Use To Stay at a Job

As a coach who works with lots of corporate employees with entrepreneurial urges and an author of the book on the topic, I totally agree that starting a business is a great idea in this economy.

Today, I wanted to share some advice for those who might need a tiny bit more guidance on working through your business ideas and fears.

Toss grapes to your inner lizard

Trying to wait until you have enough courage to start your business is fighting the way your brain is wired. One of the deepest layers of the human brain is a neural structure that evolved in early vertebrates. It is wrapped around the cortex of your brain and blasts signals on a regular basis intended to keep you fed and out of danger.

This “lizard brain” will scream at you all day when you are considering doing something new like starting a business:

  • “You don’t have enough experience for anyone to take you seriously as a consultant!”
  • “If you leave your stable job to go out on your own, you will live in a van down by the river!”
  • “You have no idea what you are doing and when you show your ideas in public for the first time, people will mock and criticize you!”

Instead of trying to suppress these lizard fears, learn from them. There is almost always a grain of truth in each fear, and by addressing them directly, you will both feel better (which will inspire action) and discover concrete, pragmatic steps you need to take to build a better business.

Examples of how to engage your lizard fears in dialogue :

“You don’t have enough experience for anyone to take you seriously as a consultant.”

  • What market can I serve really well in which my age will have no relevance?
  • Can I think of examples of other young people who have started successful entrepreneurial ventures?
  • How can I start to gain valuable experience to prepare me to work for myself while I am still an employee? Are there people I can talk to at my company who could teach me about finance, marketing, operations, sales or customer service?

“If you leave your stable job to go out on your own, you will live in a van down by the river.”

  • What are ways I could test my business idea in small chunks to see if it is viable before chucking my day job?
  • How can I shore up my personal financial situation so that I have some breathing room when starting a business?
  • How can I create Plans B, C and D in case my new venture doesn’t work out?

“You have no idea what you are doing and when you show your ideas in public for the first time, people will mock and criticize you.”

  • Who would be knowledgeable peer mentors who could give me straight and objective feedback before I expose my business in public?
  • How can I use this experience to fortify my self-esteem and toughen my skin? (I have always been a fan of The Four Agreements, which reminds us that criticism is never about you, it is always about the other person)
  • How might I better understand that perfectionists are losers and learn from photographers who know that it takes 99 so-so shots to get one great photo?

How to choose a good business idea

Good business ideas are a dime a dozen. Anyone can sit atop a bar stool, pontificating about how their start-up idea will be a space-changing, curb-jumping application that will make Google weep they are so eager to acquire your company.

Good business ideas cross over into good businesses with the following factors in place:

Natural Passion and Interest


Skill and competence


Business model that delivers the life you want to live


Solid business planning with well-defined market

You can get great information about markets, business models, business planning and finances at places like this blog, StartupNation, Duct Tape Marketing, Tim Berry’s blogs, Small Business Trends or Guy Kawasaki’s blog.

So I will give some advice on the first part of the equation, natural passion and interest:

Become a heat-guided missile.

People of all ages seem to have a struggle deciding what they are really passionate about. The main issues seem to be:

  • They have never chosen careers or educational paths that truly match their interests (often due to societal or family pressure) so they just feel kind of numb.
  • They have so many interests that they get overwhelmed trying to choose just one.

In the first case, you want to spend some time observing the world around you and use your body like a heat-guided missile. Your brain may try to trick you into thinking that you should enjoy one thing over the other, so a better test is how your body feels when you see or think about a particular topic.

A great exercise for this:

  1. Go into your local bookstore with a small notebook.
  2. Turn off your brain as much as you can, and just let your body wander where it most wants to go. Don’t get frightened if it drifts towards the “radical post-feminist literature” section, “Dr. Seuss anthologies” and “Rare newt species of the Southern Hemisphere.”
  3. Note the areas of interest in your notebook as you drift around the bookstore.

When you get back home, look at the information and see if there are any patterns. Then begin a broader and more organized search on the Internet, in books and magazines and in your everyday life as you ride the subway to work or walk around your city.

Track and categorize this information into the following areas:

  • Topics that interest you (cars, entrepreneurship, alcoholism, quantum physics, knitting, martial arts)
  • Activities you really enjoy doing (writing, coding, coaching, drawing, selling, running)
  • Industries that interest you (alternative energy, high-end luxury resorts, construction, home-organizing)
  • Problems you are eager to solve (teenage pregnancy, horrible screaming sales letters that plague online marketing, broken music distribution system for independent musicians,)
  • Products you love (the iPhone, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, Moleskine notebooks, Sony Playstations)

This passion inventory will give you all kinds of information you can sort out to see general areas of interest that you can move from vague to concrete.

The process of vetting business ideas (which I cover in detail in Chapter 6 of my book) will lead you to some obvious indicators of which of your interests are viable business ideas vs. entertaining hobbies.

Part of what will give you a huge competitive edge in your business is that you took the time to really understand how you are wired and select a business idea that you feel passionate about. The road of entrepreneurship is challenging, but with a strong sense of why you are interested in a particular topic, what meaning it makes in the world and how it matches your unique DNA, you will blow by your competitors.

Final word: Tips for breaking the news you want to start a business to your relatives.

When counseling an Indian software engineer about 10 years ago from a successful engineering firm in Silicon Valley, he told me:

“My father told me that I have three career choices. I could be a doctor, an engineer or a failure.”

So he became an engineer who longed to be a creative writer. He drank. A lot.

It is easy to underplay the influence of family and friends on your ability to start your business. In reality, it can eat you up and make holiday visits and weekend calls tense and unpleasant.

So here are some common traps and suggested remedies for discussing your new business ideas with your parents and relatives:

Parent traps:

  • Thinking they understand what you are talking about.
    Have you ever tried to explain blogging or Twitter to your grandmother? Do your parents need to know all the gritty details of what you are working on, or can you explain it in a way that they can relate to or understand?
    Solution: Reduce any and all jargon.
    “Grandma, having a blog is kind of like sitting down and writing a letter to someone every day. But instead of it being delivered to only one mailbox, the same letter gets delivered to one thousand. And if someone likes what they read, they write back right away!”
  • Thinking they understand that you have changed since your failed lemonade stand in the fifth grade
    Families have a funny way of holding on to impressions of you that were formed when you weren’t old enough to hold your sippy cup steady. So instead of fighting it, just accept it, knowing that by working on your ideas, results will speak for themselves.
    Solution: Change your expectations.
    You will never be able to convince your family you have outgrown your innate shyness, so stop trying. Show results by your actions. If you get frustrated in a conversation, smile and change the subject quickly. The worst thing you can do is to argue your point. You will never win, and will most likely revert to acting like a ten-year old.
  • Thinking they understand the changing job market
    Some parents are perplexed by the fact that the average person now has seven careers in a lifetime. They grew up in a world where the best career security was finding a good job in a good company and staying until retirement. Lots of job changes were seen as being irresponsible, unstable, and a sign of a poor work ethic.
    Solution: Come armed with a nice elevator speech about today’s job market so that you can help them see you are not outside the norm.
    “Dad, most recruiters realize that in today’s tumultuous markets, smart employees will actively manage their careers and switch companies or start businesses as a way to mitigate risk. You don’t want to see me on the evening news walking out of my “stable company” with my things in a cardboard box like the Lehman employees, do you?”

By taking into consideration some of these personal and emotional issues related to starting a business along with the more straightforward ones, you will be much more likely to choose a business that has a chance of success, will deploy it faster, and will be more likely to be profiled as a raging success story on this blog, rather than someone mocked for inaction.

Success is the best revenge, isn’t it?

The book on Amazon:

* * *
Pamela Slim is a business coach, blogger and author of the just-released Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur. She’s been featured as an expert on entrepreneurship in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and US News & World Report.

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  1. Bre

    Really great (and timely, for me) post. I may have to check out her book. I’ve already read yours Ramit, and even though your audience may not be mostly female, I think it’s essential that women start learning more about managing and growing finances, entrepreneurship, etc. Thanks for this!

  2. 444

    Instead of telling yourself that you can do it every morning, it should be more like vowing to kick your own ass every morning if you don’t do it.

  3. Florida and back in 5.5 hours. « Textures of the Journey

    […] samples and a kink in my neck, I arrived home to sunshine and this article about starting your own business. A very nice, reassuring Wednesday […]

  4. ObliviousInvestor

    “Witness my cold, listless countenance for people who ask, “Is it a good time to invest?” ”

    Darn. I was hoping for actual footage.

  5. ObliviousInvestor

    By the way Pam, I’ve been subscribed to your blog for quite a while now. Your down-to-earth encouragement certainly played a role in me having the courage to finally quit my job and go full-time with writing last year.

    Thank you. 🙂

  6. Pritesh

    Great post, Pam. I really like the way you have pointed out various fears of starting own business and how to tackle them. I am sure that book lays down a very clear path of how can anyone make the transition towards new ‘business’ life.

    I also liked your interview at Business Week few days ago and I would recommend everyone to read it:


  7. Anne Good

    Here is a great video that I think can inspire entrepreneurs:

  8. Jeff Lee

    I was really glad to see this post. Very timely for me, since I am leaving the military (the only job I’ve ever had) in the next 18 months. Thanks! I’ll have to check out the book.

  9. Tyler


    True confession: with the release of your book, I was very worried about what would happen to the quality of your blog and considered taking it off my feed list. I’m still a bit concerned about the signal-to-noise, but this article is a refreshing reminder that you’ll still post good stuff. I’ve wish-listed her book on Amazon and will purchase shortly. Thanks to both of you.

    (For what it’s worth, I pre-ordered the IWTYTBR book.)

  10. Pamela Slim

    Ramit – thanks for the support!

    Now you make me want to write about fairies and rainbows, just to spite you with my happy-fluffy coach language.

    And for the record, I have about equal numbers of male and female subscribers. 🙂

    @Bre – I agree, we all need to learn about all parts of business. Woman are the fastest growing segment of new entrepreneurs.

    @444 – whatever works. some people need the drill sargent approach, others the softer, gentler touch

    @ObliviousInvestor – I would love to see Ramit’s video too. And thanks for reading my blog!

    @Anne – great resource, thanks for sharing

    @Jeff – good luck with your next steps after the military career! At the end of this month, I am joining Guy Kawasaki and a bunch of other bloggers on an aircraft carrier off San Diego. I plan on talking with a lot of folks on board about entrepreneurship!

    @Tyler – as someone in Ramit’s position who has been promoting a book, I know it is hard to generate tons of content when in full-out book promotion. I am sure once he gets off the road, he will get back to doing what he does best — writing meaty, practical content. Some of my readers have been impatient with my lack of posting too, it is the bummer side of writing a book.


  11. Nikc

    Holy crap, your post sold me on your book 3 times over. Can’t wait to read it.

  12. Chris @ BuildMyBudget

    I especially like the part about telling your relatives. Perhaps they spent their whole lives teaching you how to perfect your baseball swing..when in fact you were born to become a golfer. Just find what you love to do and practice YOUR swing, even if it’s different than your parents. Also, it’s important that most barriers are easy to overcome, except the ones you set up yourself.

  13. Andy Pels

    I know what Ramit is talking about. I was very excited about Pam’s book coming out because I have been following her work for a while and love it. But – maybe because Pam is so good at bridging the divide between the hard logical and the soft emotional – I still thought it might have more touchy-feely stuff than I needed to read. It turns out the book lays out all of the information you need in order to make a well informed decision, while still leaving room for the reader to inject his/her own touchy-feelyness as needed.
    Even Ramit in his book allows us to decide whether we prefer the efficient ‘highest rates first method’ or the psychologically rewarding ‘lowest balance first method’ for deciding which credit cards to pay down first — as long as you don’t spend more than five minutes deciding and you just pick on method and do it!!
    So (as long as your name is not Nancy) I think any reader will find either book will leave you *feeling* good and informed.

  14. MoneyEnergy

    Excellent pdf’s there, I think I’m going to buy the book. By the way: graduate school has much in common with these scenarios, so, if you live in cubicle land and think the way out is just to “go back to school,” think again, because graduate school is nothing like undergrad.

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  16. Neil


    A really great resource. I identified with the part about family and their expectations. When I was growing up engineers and scientists were admired by my family above anything artistic. Now that I discover that my real interest in in writing, it is a real release (although still a struggle to put it into practice now that I have my own family to provide for).

  17. Kelly

    This looks like the perfect book for me at the perfect time.
    I’m not escaping a cubicle, but I am a stay-at-home mom who is finally starting to think about having a career.
    I have the “luxury” of getting to choose whatever path I want since my hubby earns enough to support the family.
    Until now I have been a little wayward, but the heat seeking missile analogy is the perfect way for me to choose a path out of several options.
    Looking forward to picking up your book, Pamela!

  18. Greg Rollett

    Wow! The lizard analogy was great and overcoming fears is the most crucial part of the process to escape from the cubicle world. Love the tips – as they are asking for action, not just concepts.

  19. Alison

    Just ordered Pam’s book (and Ramit, got yours too). This weekend I am going to wander around a book store with a pen and piece of paper and decide what I really am into. Can’t wait to read both books!

  20. JHinton

    Looks great! Thanks for the advice.

    I’ve recently started my own business, so this comes at a great time. I as wondering if anyone had some good resources regarding effective techniques for getting (more) business (ie marketing tactics, sales letters, sales calls) for people looking to start their own business.


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    […] Top excuses and tactics: Why haven’t you started your own business? « I Will Teach You T… – What are the reasons that we don’t follow through? Maybe it’s a genuine lack of technical skill, or we don’t know where to get started, or our friends around us talk us down. More commonly, we talk ourselves out of it. […]

  22. Joel

    My mom is a corporate auditor for a regional bank. I’ve been pushing her to quit working 12 hours a day and become an audit consultant but she’s too scared. I didn’t have a Mother’s Day gift for her. Thanks to this post & Saturday delivery from Amazon, I got her something she can actually use.

  23. Escape from Cubicle Nation |

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  24. Donovan

    I don’t have any excuses! You blogged about our site on February 5th before it was open (not sure if it was a joke to get everyone in trouble at work)

    We officially launched the site on April 30 and it has some serious financial advice and tools for our niche market.

    Thank you again for the exposure!

    Steve Donovan

  25. Monevator

    Nice post and I’ve linked to it, but I have to add that the best excuse is that many start-ups fail to meet their founders ambitions, even if they limp on in business. Remember, just like being an author or playing professional sports, few people will hit the heights of business success.

    I know that’s not cool to say around here, but it’s a stone cold mathematical fact.

    On the other hand, side income streams and part-time businesses I’m all for. Doing that, and running with it if it grows is the best risk/reward play, in my view.

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  27. Steve

    Passive income sounds like such a good idea, but so few of us actually pursue it. It’s great to have the internet, to find a series of people who are actually doing it, talking about it, modeling it. This is a great resource for those of us who are moving from Employee to Business Owner, or some hybrid thereof.

  28. Stuart Fleming

    Wealth / Money Expert for Teens – sharing the ‘best of the web’ this week…

    What teens need to know about money – a wealth of resources and information at your fingertips:
    Getting teens to save (without nagging)
    What teens need to know about credit
    Smart money moves for all ages
    Money advice from kids to grown-ups

  29. Matt | Small Biz Bee

    Great advice. I used to think I’d end up in a van down by the river…and then it dawned on me – that wouldn’t be so bad! I’d have piece and quite and could fish whenever I wanted – so I took the leap expecting the worst. Guess what? The worst never came, I got more business than I could have hoped for, people took me seriously, and I spent that first year thinking about how nice it would be to be in that van, in a quiet spot, fishing down by the river!


  30. Kelly

    “Some parents are perplexed by the fact that the average person now has seven careers in a lifetime. ”

    Amen. Mine are finally getting used to it now that I’m on job # 3, but the resistance was quite vocal at first. (I’m an only child and the oldest grandchild, so I get it from 3 sources). I expect more in the near future, so thanks for the “Elevator Talk,” it will go over quite well with my dad, I’m sure.

    I am very much looking forward to reading your book!

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  32. doreen Awiti

    Nice topic.. I actuallt think of starting my own coy, I already have the name and business plan written… I only need the capital. gggrrrrr start saving

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  34. Pamela Slim on Excuses People Use To Stay at a Job

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  35. Seth

    Oh, thank you so much for this post! I have been shriveling up in this entrepreneurial desert that I have marched into, and your post is like a frosty glass of ice water to me right now. My family and friends are not at all entrepreneurs, and sometimes that turns into hostility towards me. They all think I’m stupid and immature, because I haven’t crested the hill of success quite yet. Oh, and also because I’ve been very stupid and immature. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my chin up and keep going. But this post helped me do just that. Thank you.

  36. Alan Furth

    Woah did this post resonate with me…

    “They have never chosen careers or educational paths that truly match their interests (often due to societal or family pressure) so they just feel kind of numb.”

    This morning I posted an article in which I analyze this numbness from the perspective of cognitive dissonance.

    My conclusion is that unless people quit the jobs they don’t love, they won’t be able to effectively discover what their true passions and interests are.

    “Because working in what we don’t love and realizing it’s not a good thing causes cognitive dissonance, our brains will quickly come up with all sorts of rationalizations for eliminating the contradiction:

    ‘Maybe our work is not so bad after all? Shouldn’t we be grateful to at least have a job with so many people living in the streets? The pay is actually quite good… maybe I should just wait for a while?’

    Besides rationalizing the status quo, our brains will effectively block us from perceiving any clear opportunities for alternative lines of fulfilling work. This would worsen the belief-behavior contradiction. This is what psychologists call the phenomenon of ‘denial of disconfirming evidence’

    But by quitting the work you don’t love, you cleanly and definitively cancel the contradiction.”

    So maybe for people in extreme cases the bookstore library should come after they take the more fundamental step of quitting the jobs they don’t love?



  37. Fresh Insights + Timeless Wisdom

    Awesome title.

    I will check out this book and add it to the reading list for the second edition of my book, “Seven Gems for Entrepreneurial Success.” I teach practicle principles for aspiring entrepreneurs.

    For a free preview click here

    Peace, Power and Plenty

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  40. Barbara Saunders

    Your Indian engineer reminds me of a guy I once interviewed for a technical position I was filling. He was somewhere in his 50s and had a PhD in engineering. This guy had a “flat” kind of facial expression and a sort of monotone voice.

    When I asked him to tell a bit of his story, he revealed that he had wanted to be an illustrator. In the span of the single sentence in which he mentioned this, the vital emotion in his face increased exponentially. He Lit Up, as they say. In the next sentence, when he said he’d decided to go to engineering grad school rather than pursuing his dream, the color and liveliness drained from his face.

    I found this truly sad.

  41. Mike

    Great stuff! Both the initial post AND all the responses.
    Taking the ‘starting your own business’ plunge can be terrifying. But there are tons of success stories out there. We have a bunch on our site but I think my favorite is Lisa’s. She had a Fortune 500 job but was miserable. She took a risk and found an unexpected and couldn’t be happier running her own biz.
    Check it out here:


  42. How to become a stripper

    Strippers will love your book….we do read a lot of money making would be surprised!

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