Why Can’t I Get My Business Started?

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/

You’ve decided to start your own business.  Congratulations, it’s the right move.  But hold on a minute – you’ve decided to start, but you’re not making any progress. In fact you might not even have started yet.

What’s going on? Why is this not happening for me?

There are as many reasons why you cant start your business as there are businesses to start. But a lot of them have nothing to do with the business itself, and everything to do with you and your current situation.

Almost everyone gets stuck at some point along their business journey, but this post is all about where so many people find themselves – so stuck that they can’t even start.

You’ve probably heard some stats about how most small businesses fail within the first year. What you don’t hear is that most fail because they never got started in the first place.

That sucks.

We’ll talk about getting un-stuck later on in your business journey soon, but for this post, it’s all about breaking through whatever is stopping you from getting started. I’m going to assume you’ve got some sort of paid employment right now, and you’re looking to move away from that to create something more on your terms. If that’s not you, maybe these don’t apply, but it’s certainly where I came from, and I know many other people in this boat.

Time for a little honesty from me. The reason I feel qualified to write this is because each and every one of these has had me stuck at some point.  I’ve felt the pain of every one, personally. I still feel the pain of some of them, their dragons are not yet slayed, but recognising the dragon you’re trying to fight is half the battle in getting unstuck.

So what’s the biggest dragon? The biggest cause of this failure:

You’re seduced by the status quo:

status quo

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/denaflows/

No not that Status Quo, I think they’re a bit old to do much seducing these days. I’m talking about the place you are right now – the existing state of affairs.

It goes something like this –

You’d love to leave your job and start your own business, but you’d never be able to earn this much money elsewhere. Or if you gave up this job you’d never be able to get as good a one again. Or maybe your job is close to home, and lets you work good hours – each minute you spend in the office is slowly crushing your soul, but hey it’s convenient…

I know this because I’ve been here. I spent at least 5 of my 10 years in Bigtime Consulting wishing I wasn’t there, but feeling tied in with golden handcuffs. I was convinced that I’d never earn that much money in any other way. Looking back on it, this was ridiculous in so many ways.

I was spending a lot of that money trying to escape the job at weekends and holidays. I was measuring my worth in terms of pounds. I really didn’t even need all of the money anyway. I told myself crazy stuff like “well, I might not be happier doing something else, and so I might as well take the most money for being unhappy.

Really? I look at that now and I can’t quite believe I thought that way, but I did.

The truly ironic thing is that I was totally wrong. The first gig I landed with my own consulting company made me more money than ever had done as an employee. I was also far happier, worked fewer hours and spent less time away from home.

If your status quo is so good, then why are you looking to change at all? Why are you even thinking about quitting to start on your own?

Recognise this? Yep?

So what do you do? How do you kick the ass of the Status Quo?

It comes down to being realistic with yourself about the pros and cons of your current situation, and you measure your success? What’s good about where you are? What’s bad?

An external viewpoint on this can be revealing, but if you don’t feel like taking to anyone else try writing down what’s attractive about your current position, and reading it back to yourself out loud.

Does it sound anything like this?
“I’m staying with this job that I really don’t like and is making me miserable because I might never be happier, and if I’m going to be miserable then I might as well be paid well for it”

Still sound convincing?  It didn’t to me.

Maybe this isn’t you, perhaps (and I hope this is true) life is way better for you than that sorry state of things. But, something still isn’t right – you want to start your own business, and you just can’t seem to get going. Well, maybe…

Life is too comfortable.



This is a close relative of status quo seduction, but it’s gentler, more stealthy and harder to pinpoint. It goes along the lines of:

“Well, life’s pretty much ok. I have enough money, I have some good friends, some fun at weekends, and things are just fine.”

This is great, but it becomes a problem when you want more than fine. You want to be exhilarated, you want excitement, you want to live your life’s purpose, you want to be able to look back on life and say “wow”. You want to avoid wishing you had…

I call this “Settling”.

Recognise this in yourself? You do? Well watch the **** out, because it will eat you bit by bit before you notice it. Suddenly you’ll find yourself looking back and wishing – wondering where the hell all that time went and what you did with your life. Your place is comfortable, but it’s a comfortable cell.

Settling is hard to spot – you’re like a frog being boiled.

Even if you know you’re settling, it can be hard to act – the thought of the unknown, uncertain and difficult world outside of your comfort zone has you telling yourself that change is a stupid idea…

Spotted yourself? Then it’s time for a Dr. Pepper.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Looking at the worst case scenario can yield amazing results: If you decided to break out, try something new and despite your best efforts, fail, how easy would it be to return to the life you have now?

Ask yourself how hard it would be to do something similar? What could you fall back on as an absolute minimum?

Chances are that your worst case wouldn’t be all that bad.  Could you give yourself permission to try something for a while, knowing that whatever happens you wont starve or become homeless?

This ability to fall back can become a major problem later on once you’ve actually started something(more on that soon), but for now, it’s your best friend.

Maybe neither of these are you. Perhaps…

It’s not the right time

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chiaralily/

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chiaralily/

Ok – please excuse me whilst I indulge in a short cliché  and give you a little shake (or a kick in ass if that’s what it needs)

There is never a right time.

I’m a firm believer that the right time is just an excuse. Here are some common ones, and the reality that counters it:

Excuse: You’ll do it when things get less busy
Counter: This is the least busy you’re going to be – honestly.

E: When you finish with X that will be the time
A: Y will start immediately, and will seem even more important

E: My work wouldn’t be able to manage without me.
A: Yes, they would. You aren’t that important. (Ouch.)

E: I just need to get all my ducks lined up and then I’ll go for it.
A: You will never get your ducks entirely in a row. Ever.

There are plenty more of these excuses, and you can probably come up with the perfect excuse for your situation. Here, I’ve left a little blank for you to fill in, but don’t forget to add your counter argument:

My Excuse:   __________________________________
My Counter: __________________________________

I told myself a lot of these excuses. Eventually I figured out why.

It was because I was scared. Scared of what other people would think of me.

I wasn’t scared of failing, but I was paralysed by the thought of people telling me I was an idiot for giving up a great job to do something they considered less successful.

Stupid right? If you find you have a million great excuses, try being totally honest about what you’re masking with them. Once you realise that, it might be easier to see the excuse for what it is.

Maybe you’ve got this far and don’t recognise yourself yet. Then maybe it’s not about where you are right now, but more about where you’re going to. Maybe…

You’ve got Comparisonitis



OK, that’s not a real word, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

You look out onto the business arena that you want to enter and think thoughts like

  • He’s already doing it (remember, no idea is unique, so this will happen)
  • I’ll never be as good as her
  • The market is saturated, there’s no room for me
  • Things are different for me because _________________________
  • I’m not good enough to be taken seriously compared to ________________________
  • I don’t have the qualifications
  • People will find me out as an imposter

Feel like that? Everyone does at some point, and in all probability all of these things are true.

But they don’t matter.

The best bit of advice I ever heard here is “Keep your eyes on your own paper” Seriously, just focus on what you can do – what everyone else is trying to do is almost entirely irrelevant.

I know this is easier said than done. Especially because…

You know too much.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benobryan/

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/benobryan/

Someone said that the only way you can achieve the impossible is by thinking that it’s not.

If you’re a driven motivated person, chances are you’ve done a tonne of research about the business you want to get into. This sounds good, but it can actually be harmful, because you can never know everything, and it’s so tempting to just want to know a little bit more. Remember that line of ducks? How will you ever get it straightened out if new ones keep quacking into the picture every five minutes.

Research fuels your comparisonitis – the more you know the more you’ll compare. You’ll also know way too much about what can go wrong, and you’ll be schooled in doing things the exact same way everyone else does. Not always a good thing – personal example coming up.

When my wife and I started our first business, we were travelling, and didn’t have a whole lot of time for research. We somehow blagged our way into a meeting with the CEO of a potential supplier, knowing nothing much of the company, or the industry, but convinced we’d figure out, and that our job experience of dealing with senior people would not leave us embarrassed.

If we’d researched the industry, I’m sure that we wouldn’t have had the guts to do this – we’d be convinced that we didn’t know enough to be credible. Turns out, no one had approached the market in the way we were going to, and he offered us a deal on the spot to take his brand to a new market.

We were so convinced of our own ability that we actually turned him down and started our own brand. I know that wouldn’t have happened if we’d have known how big a deal this company was. We might never have started.

So undoing research is hard right. Well maybe you need to actively forget some of what you think you know and just get going in your own way.

Still not you? I’ve got one more for you. Is it just that…

You refuse to focus

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giih_calicchio/

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giih_calicchio/

Your head’s spinning – Is this the right business, or should you look at a new idea? What if you could make it a product instead of a service? What if actually something completely different would be better? You want to make sure you’re focussing on the right idea.
At least that’s what you tell yourself.

It’s what I tell myself. I’d be embarrassed to show you the number of domain names I have sitting in my registrar’s account gathering digital dust because they’re no longer flavour of the month. I’m even working on two blogs at the moment! Grr.

Here’s the reality: the chances are that all of your ideas are as good as each other. Choose one, work it until it succeeds or it’s exhausted.

Put all of your eggs in one basket and guard it carefully. You can diversify when you’ve made a success of something.

Ok – that last bit sound a little harsh? Not as harsh as this.

The chances are you know what to do already. Whether one of these situations describes yours or not, the truth is if you haven’t started, there’s a good chance it’s because it all seems a little bit too much like hard work.

Sitting and dreaming of owning a business is a damn site easier than actually owning one, which is why most of the people who read this won’t put in the effort and take action. They’ll find an excuse not to do the work.

Harsh enough for you yet? Well let’s turn it round.

Most people wont take action. Becasuse you’re one of the people reading this you’re already about 1032% more likely to take action than the average person.And yes, most of the people reading this wont take action. But then most of the people reading this aren’t you.

So if you’re one of the people who actually will do something out of this group, your chances of success are mind blowingly better than the average guy on the street.

Antidote for comparisonitis anyone? Simply by taking action you put yourself in probably the top 0.1% of people likely to succeed with their own business. Most of the other 99.9% will still be using one of these excuses when you’re making your first sale.

On to this week’s practical exercises:

1 – What’s your excuse?

Simply write down your reasoning for not having started yet. Read it out loud to yourself, and see if it really holds water.

2 – Do something today that moves you closer to starting.

Anything. Action begets action, so however small, doing something beats thinking about it.

Act now before it’s too late.