Almost every person I meet who is attracted to the idea of having a private coaching or therapy practice is totally overwhelmed by the idea of starting their own business.  Does this sound like you?  

“If I start a business I’ll need to learn how to source clients,” you say.   

That feels hard enough.

Then you go on, “But won’t I also have to create original content, have a social media following, register as an LLC, have high-quality accounting practices, and build a remarkable brand?”   

At this point, your brain is going into flight or fight mode (or for lack of better terms fear of failure) ready to protect you from this highly dangerous and difficult idea.  To make matters worse, their brain takes them to the most extreme conclusion (after all, the quickest path to safety is to send you running in the other direction): “If I start a successful practice I’ll have to quit my job. I love my job! And if I did quit my job, my husband would leave me and I’d never see my kids again.”

Just like that, you give it up having never had a single client.

First of all, no one ever got 100 clients on their first day and had to immediately quit their day job.  We’ve got some time before the apocalypse.  Let’s pull back to right now.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get some insight before you give up on what could be an amazing opportunity?

In this case, I’m a great example. Though I had coached for years in my full-time job, I was initially a complete novice at finding clients of my own and starting a business.  I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I knew nothing about.  

Fortunately, through my work creating sustainable change, I also know that the first step of any major initiative is about feasibility and NOTHING ELSE.  So, I took my own advice and focused on step one: I would figure out whether I even WANTED to have a coaching business. 

How should you do this? I’m glad you asked!

We start by tricking your brain!

If there’s one truth I have learned about entrepreneurship it’s this: the hardest work of starting a coaching business or any type of business is getting comfortable with uncertainty.  Uncertainty is everywhere, all the time.  As soon as you gain comfort in something, it shifts and you’re uncomfortable again.  It’s kind of like parenting, in that way.  That kind of ever-shifting lack of visibility is something your brain HATES. 

So you’ll have to trick it.  

To do this, you need to protect yourself against overwhelm by:

  • Getting started on small steps that feel fun and interesting.
  • Doing so while expecting to make mistakes.
  • Actively stopping yourself from projecting too far into the future.
how to overcome the fear of failure

Be opportunistic and say yes whenever you can.  

In last month’s Psychological Super Powers article, we talked about how you can unlock some opportunities to get you started. Once those opportunities start rolling in, don’t try to decide! Just do.  

When I was first starting, I was writing a book. I wanted to try out my ideas to know whether those ideas made sense in a space outside of my book.  I searched around until I found a place who would let me give workshops and I enjoyed it so much I kept doing it.  

At the end of many workshops, someone would come up to me and ask: “Can you coach me?” 

And I wondered… Should I? How would that even work?

Rather than try to figure it out, I said “sure!” and took on one client. Her first 3 sessions were free and then she paid me $50 per session. I wasn’t expecting ANYTHING to come of it, I was just going with the flow. 

And so it began.

I had zero expectations in the beginning and because of that I tried out a lot of different things.

  • Quartz asked me to write something for them, so I did… and I got on tv!
  • I pitched a few magazines but no one picked up my articles. 🙁
  • I created some products which mostly failed. 😐
  • And that first client led to another and then another (and on and on).  Turns out that coaching was the thing that really took off!

Now, I’m not saying you can’t go after something specific from the beginning– you can!  Next month, in fact, I’m going to talk about what happens when you hit on something amazing that you want to invest in and grow. But right now, when you are just getting started I want to impress upon you the great importance of not closing yourself off to the opportunities around you!  You just never know where they might take you. 

overcoming overwhelm

Make those rookie mistakes!

There are two kinds of mistakes.  On the one hand is the mistake of defensive failure.  This is where you say you’ll do something but never do.  You say you’ll find a coaching client, but never reach out to anyone. You say you’ll go blog about small business coach training, but just never get around to writing it. 

This is failure, for sure, but it gets you no insight.  You’re just trapped on the hamster wheel of mindset based paralysis. Honestly, this is where most people are stuck and I want you to be freed from it as quickly as possible and move into productive failure!

The second kind of failure is productive failure, which is where you do something you’ve never done before and you suck at it. That is the expected outcome of anytime anyone does something new.  But the good news is that you get better pretty darn quickly.  It will take some time, but it’s truly the only way to get from the place of “I don’t even know what that takes” to “I can do that and i”m getting better every day.”

I was stuck in that first type of failure for a long time about launching products- I wanted to offer a program that let me work with more people at once, like a group coaching program. Even though I badly wanted this I never, ever offered one!  I just thought about it and worried about it, and talked about it with my mastermind. I was on a merry-go-round of defensive failure.

Then I pushed myself out the door and declared that I would offer a group coaching program.

  • The first one didn’t sell a single seat. I cried, got over it, and tried again.
  • The second one sold one seat. After the humiliation of the first, that was a victory of epic proportions. I still cancelled the program but celebrated like it was 1999.  
  • The third time (charmed!) it sold 3 seats which was enough to run.

 I had a first, modest success, but it came after two rounds of painful failure. The success of the third success came from the trial-by-fire learning I got from the first two!  You don’t get insight without pain, but you can get it without suffering if you accept that this is the way of things.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found. – Pema Chödrön

You don’t know what to do in 6 months because you are right here, now.  

Right now, you should not be in charge of what you in 6 months will be doing. So don’t make long-term plans, just get started this week- or at most with a 90-day plan. 

All you can really see clearly is 3 months at a time.  So instead of focusing on the big beacon idea (have a prosperous coaching business!), you need to focus on the first big accomplishment ( getting your first clients and have completed short-term coaching contracts with 1 client) Get ONE CLIENT and work through their contract for free. Set your benchmark to find that one client. Your next step is to think a little bit bigger. Move yourself towards your big beacon idea in baby steps. Your next step is to connect with 5 people who you think might be willing to be your guinea pig. 

We’ve laid out the process of working through your 90-day goal in this month’s free download! This worksheet gives you a guide to plan your move you through from a teeny goal for this week up to your big beacon idea.

The most important goal is your goal for this week.

Keep moving through your goals one week at a time and you are guaranteed to find yourself somewhere amazing!

Starting a coaching business doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s not uncommon to make a big decision like this and then get stopped in your tracks by the fear of failure or what your inevitable success will mean for your life. Try and keep things in perspective and work through one week at a time until you reach your goals. Clarifying your vision goal plan will automatically happen as you take action and keep yourself open to possibilities, learn to accept failure will happen along the way and create next step plans for yourself.

What’s one thing you can do today to get closer to Your Great Work? Join us in the Great work community and tell us all about it!

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.