When I speak to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, we get to discuss a lot of lessons, a ton of actionable information, and some truly deep discussions about a myriad of topics.
The one thing that comes up most frequently is fear.
Fear in all of its varied forms is, without question, the number one reason people aren’t where they want to be.
The three biggest fears that people have.
It’s important to understand, of course, that fear manifests itself in different ways.
1. Fear of failure
There’s the predictable fear of failure. For a great many people, their fear is the idea that they can work hard on a project for weeks or months, only to release it and have nothing happen.
Crickets. A scary thought.
2. Fear of success
There’s also the fear of success: that your product will make a noise, make an impact, and garner attention. This can be scarier than fear of failure. If you do something and it fails, usually no one knows about it. But when you succeed, you get attention.
Once that happens, there are eyes on you, opening you up to criticism. That alone can be scary. And with success often comes expectation, which can be even scarier.
Once you’ve done one thing, people start wondering when you’re going to do the next. When’s the next book? The next product? The next launch? The very idea of that type of pressure can certainly be terrifying.
3. Fear of the unknown
Finally, there’s fear of the unknown. And this is by far the fear that creates the biggest and most frequent hurdles when trying to build a business. Fear of the unknown is the most likely to inhibit action.
And above all, in order to have a successful business, you absolutely need to take action.
What I’m talking about is fear of not knowing and, often, fear of learning. Here’s what happens: You don’t know what can have the biggest impact, so you do nothing. This is the most common fear that holds entrepreneurs back.
* Should I focus on social media?
* Start a podcast?
* Do I need to learn SEO?
* Should I be focusing on my growth?
* What about Facebook ads?
Not knowing what to do leads to inaction. But this is simple to overcome: do anything. Literally anything.
As long as you’re taking some sort of action, that’s better than standing still.
But a big part of the reason people don’t take action isn’t just that they don’t know which action to take. It’s not the fear of doing something–it’s the fear of doing something new. Something unknown. And of learning something new.
The fact is, there are so many skills to learn that it can seem intimidating. So intimidating that you can begin to suffer from something called paralysis by analysis, a phenomenon caused by having so many options that you end up choosing none of them.
You’re running this business, or trying to, and there are so many tools–too many–to help you. And that scares you, so you choose none, which moves your business exactly zero steps forward.
This is especially popular for individuals, who are, by their own estimation, doing pretty well. They think they already have things in place and business is going reasonably well. If things are going well, there’s not a lot of impetus to change anything, unless you’re willing to overcome fear, step out of your comfort zone, and go from good to great.
And that–overcoming fear–is precisely what it takes to really crush it.
You can’t just keep doing the things you’ve been doing and expecting them to blow your business up.
Fear gets the best of all of us.
One of the most valuable moments of my life was during a night in NYC sometime in early 2011. It was 2 a.m. in the West Village. My friend Lewis Howes had invited me out to grab a drink with a few badasses, despite the fact that he doesn’t drink.
We were hanging out at the White Horse Tavern and I was in the middle of a diatribe, extolling the virtue of hard cider over beer when a snippet of conversation between Ramit Sethi and Noah Kagan (both of whom I was meeting for the first time that night) caught my attention. I stopped mid-sentence and hopped on the bus because I was about to get schooled.
Ramit and Noah were having an animated conversation about metrics and split testing, exchanging tips and new strategies (many of which would be implemented into Noah’s suite of AppSumo products). I listened, and despite doing my absolute best to follow the conversation, I felt like the dumbest human being on the planet.
It was as if they were speaking a different language.
At that point, I wasn’t aggressively tracking metrics and I certainly wasn’t doing any split testing. I had been telling myself that my job was just to create amazing content, and the rest would take care of itself.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It’s not that I didn’t see the value of marketing. I was actively learning copywriting, but that was it. Between that and getting published all over, I thought I was set. It was working so far, after all.
My error was made clear to me in a blinding flash. You can be the best trainer/coach/writer/player in the world, but if no one knows, it doesn’t matter.
Getting your message to as many people as possible is the f*cking game. It’s not enough to just learn the basics of marketing. You need to know how effective that marketing is and be willing to tweak it. It’s not enough to write great copy. You need to write effective copy, but to know what’s effective, you have to test it.
Listening to them talk made me realize I was screwing up massively, so I resolved to actually learn this. But that led me to questions: why hadn’t I already learned? Why had I been so aggressively avoiding learning it?
The answer was simple: I was afraid. I was terrified.
This was an entirely new world. It wasn’t enough to learn how to write copy and release a product: I had to set up split testing to see which offer and price point performed better; I had to learn SEO so that more traffic would come to the site; I had to learn about heat maps so I could tell which areas of my pages were actually being read and clicked.
The idea of learning this entirely new skill set was scary. I was starting from absolute zero and had no idea what to do to get going.
How a video game was the perfect analogy to my own story about fear
For a moment, the fear froze me in my tracks.
You see, I’d been operating under the assumption that just by creating content and releasing products, I was done. I was winning. But at that moment, I realized that I’d only been doing half the job. Thankfully, I was able to put this into context by calling upon one of my favorite video games of all time: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
In it, you play Alucard, the bastard son of Dracula. You go through the game, hacking and slashing through Drac’s castle, and then, just when you’ve beaten your last nemesis…
You’re not done with the game. The castle spins and spins, eventually settling upside down. It turns out, you’ve just finished half the game. You’ve still got a long way to go.
The reaction to this in the video game world was astounding. People fell into two camps:
1. Those who were completely resentful that they had more work to do.
2. Those who were ecstatic that they had so much more gameplay ahead of them.
I understand the first reaction. And this is exactly what happens whenever I tell people they need to start increasing their business by stepping out of their comfort zone and learn some new business skills. People seem completely defeated.
While this is an understandable feeling, it’s bullsh*t and it’s holding you back.
Your fear of developing new skills is holding you back
Fact is, if you really want your business to succeed, it’s not enough to just create great content. It’s not enough to release products. You need to really dig into the data and see how these are performing.
There’s no way around it: tracking is important. Testing is important. If you’re a fitness professional, you do this every day. You track your clients’ progress in terms of strength, weight, and body composition. You probably have them track nutrition in terms of macros.
And testing? You’ve spent your entire career running tests, figuring out which movements are the most effective in various situations. You track and test because these things are comfortable to you and you started doing it after having established a baseline level of knowledge of all this material. But when it comes to business and marketing, you just don’t want to learn. Because you’re afraid. It’s big. It’s scary. It’s outside of your comfort zone. You like feeling like a badass, not an idiot. So many professionals feel this way.
Instead of learning the ins and outs of marketing, you just do life harder and keep focusing on the sh*t you already know. Congratulations on reading a 500th deadlift article. I truly hope that new cue you learned makes you a better trainer. But is it going to make you more money? Is it going to get you more readers? Is it going to allow you to reach more people, help more people?
If you want to get people to read your deadlift article, you need to master social media. You need to have a basic understanding of SEO. You need to understand the importance of formatting and readability.
But so many people don’t want to do that; they don’t want to learn. Because they’re scared. Because they’re unfamiliar. Because you think getting past the “suck” seems too intimidating, so why even try.
The worst part is, this fear filters into everything else. Sure, it keeps people from being willing to learn these business practices, but it also creates resentment against those who aren’t afraid and employ these techniques. As the wise Yoda says, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Listen to Yoda: the consequences of fear are dire and can lead to a straightforward progression.
It’s annoying, destructive, and serves no one.
I firmly believe that nearly all of the people who spend their time trolling on Facebook and lambasting marketers have devolved into haters because their fear of getting out of their comfort zone and trying to learn it has made them bitter.
Stop being hateful. Most of the time that hate comes from fear.
So stop being afraid and embrace the things you need to learn.
Just learn it. It’s not that hard. Listen, I’m the world’s worst tech guy, so if I can learn this, anyone can.
* Learn how to write copy.
* Learn the basics of SEO.
* Learn how to run an A/B test.
If you don’t want to learn, hire someone to do it. But honestly, you’ll be a thousand times better off if you just learn it yourself.
Listen, I get it. I was in the same position for years: I didn’t want to learn all the Big Scary Things, so I convinced myself they weren’t important (by the way, I still do this.)
I’ve been putting off learning Facebook ads for well over a year because I have no idea what the f*ck I’m doing, and that’s scary. But I also understand it’s what’s holding me back and preventing my business from growing, which is why I spent four hours reading about Facebook ads last night.
My point is simply that it’s not enough to be good at training or coaching or writing programs and articles. You have to get your things out there. To do that, you need to learn how to do it.
Here’s a list of free stuff that will teach you the basics:
* Article on SEO: General overview on Search Engine Optimization from the guys at Yoast, who make the definitive WordPress plugin. I’m not SEO expert, but I’ve learned enough to get more traffic to my site. Read this.
* Guide to Creating Great Content: Free guide put together by Ramit Sethi. I’m featured in it because I taught myself to be really, really good at writing copy.
* ETR Copywriting Basics: This is the exact guide I learned from when I first started out. It’s excellent and gets you 75 percent of the way there. Just put in the work.
* Article About Copywriting: Solid article, worth the read.
* Article About Testing: If you’re not convinced that you should be split testing things, I don’t know what to tell you. But you should and need to. This article is a pretty comprehensive overview of testing in terms of both theory and practice and is replete with examples and ideas. Do not skip.
* Article on Readability: Sol Orwell is a smart guy, and when he talks, you should listen. In this article, he talks about how to adjust content and various aspects of how it’s presented to make sure people read it and, ultimately, share it.
Overall, it’ll take you a few hours to comb through all of these pieces. Bookmark them and come back to them often because they will absolutely remain useful in the future.
If you don’t want to spend time learning any of this, then the truth is, you absolutely do not deserve to be successful. And you never will be.
The cure for fear is to start taking action
Bottom-line, you have to learn some of this stuff. Not all. But some. You don’t have to become an expert in data analysis, but if you’ve been running a website for a few months and you can’t tell me how much traffic you get, there’s a problem.
Long story short, kids: if you want to be successful in business, you have to learn to run a business. You need to develop those tools.
And to do that, you need to stop being afraid to learn new sh*t.
This blog post originally appeared on romanfitnesssystems.com. It has been reposted here on The PTDC with permission.