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The Inspiring and Crushing power of ‘What If?’ for Small Business Owners

The constant changing world of the entrepreneur can lead to a rocky road. Although risk-taking is inherent in all of us, our very own human make up can crush what might otherwise be a game changing idea.

‘What if?’ is so often used as a reason to not do something. What if it all goes wrong? What if John thinks I’m an idiot? What will my target market think of me if I put this out there?

The crushing power of ‘what if?’ can be overwhelming. Asking ‘what if?’ can lead to analysis paralysis, anxiety, and self-doubt.

But the power of ‘what if?’ has a positive double edge. While it can lead to all of the negative emotions we will discuss, it can be inspiring and liberating leading to great discoveries and real game changing ideas.

In this article, we will explore the inspiring and the crushing power of ‘What If?’ for small business owners. We will discuss the reason why we listen to the little voice within all of us and how to turn that around and we’ll discuss ways in which to harness the power of ‘what if?’ without getting overwhelmed.

The emotions of ‘what if?’ effects every one of us so whether or not you’re just starting out or a seasoned entrepreneurial veteran, this article will help you tap into the full potential of ‘what if?’ and use it to drive your business forward.

The Double Edged Sword of Asking ‘What If?’ in Entrepreneurship

There’s a story I heard around 2 weeks ago at a networking meeting about two performing artists, describing the feelings they had just before they went onto the stage.

The first described the feeling of their stomach tightening, their palms went sweaty and when they saw the audience they forgot all their lines – they couldn’t possibly go out and on numerous occasions had let their audience down at the last minute because of debilitating fear.

The second described their stomach tightening, their palms went sweaty and when they saw the audience he knew he was ready to go because he couldn’t remember a single line. The audience would help him and he was ready to go and hugely excited.

Exactly the same symptoms – two very different approaches to dealing with them. The first saw it as fear, the second as excitement.

The ‘what if?’ condition has a similar effect. It has the power to change the world and make life better for everyone. But the same two words have the power to prevent us ever getting what we want.

Years ago some asked “what if we ca make a horseless carriage to transport people to wherever they want to go?”

And now we have the motor car.

Then someone else said “what if we were to make the engines bigger to fit inside a larger vehicle so it can pull large amounts of goods?”

And now we have modern goods transportation.

Of course we all know the story of two brothers from Virginia who asked “what if we can figure out how to build a machine that flies?”

And now we have planes.

You get the idea.

On the other hand ‘what if?’ can paralyse us and prevent us from ever getting started. Like “what if I try this and fail?” or “what if the whole idea gets rejected?” or “What if I get negative comments?” or “what if people don’t buy?”

We are basically asking “what if I fail?” in a million different ways. And that’s perfectly normal.

It’s not very helpful, but it is normal.

Our brains are a complex mush of grey and in this situation it is asking hypothetical questions to avoid future pain. The pain of failure. It’s simple really, for most of us failure = pain.

Our brains want to protect us from this future pain and so will conjure up these questions to allow us to avoid that pain. It will produce the symptoms of fear and trick us into thinking ‘we’re just putting this on the back burner’ or ‘we’ll do it at a later date when the economy is more solid’

So the cycle continues. Tight knots in your stomach, sweaty palms, forgotten lines and the world is without another potential great idea. Our brain has won.

The paralysis of Analysis: Overcoming the Crushing Power of ‘What If?’ to Take Action

Our brain has us convinced that it’s smart to ask these questions, all the time hiding the fact that we’ve failed already simply because we never got started. And of course, it is smart to question but you’re now lost in the ‘what if?’ loop. Everything has become over analysed and paralysis kicks in.

Nothing gets done.

You fail.

Some of the best advice I’ve been given was from Nigel Botterill of the Entrepreneurs Circle who wrote ‘you don’t have to believe everything your brain tells you.’

This is some great advice and it’s worth noting down somewhere, go an write it down and stick it on your fridge. I’ll wait for you…

What’s great news now is getting out of the ‘what if?’ loop and waking up from the living death of analysis paralysis can be a lot easier than you think.

The biggest thing is to accept the very real fact that not trying is failure in itself.

I mean it! You have an idea that currently resides in your head. This idea may make a massive difference to your business and the lives of you and your loved ones. Not trying is failing you all.

Too brutal? I think not.

Next ask a different question. Is it worth the risk?

Let’s imagine you’re a café owner and you know in your heart of hearts you make the best cakes in the area. I mean; these things are award winning.

You’ve played around with a few Instagram posts and you think it’s time to start some video ads. These ads can be simply recorded and put onto your website. They’ll describe the natural ingredients that go into your cakes and the triple chocolate muffins are actually good for you.

For everyone video is a foreign idea. We don’t like the sound of our own voices, we don’t like seeing ourselves on video and when the decision is made to try we all worry that they’ll be badly received.

Then the ‘what if?’ disease kicks in. This tiny bit of worry get’s our brains into overdrive leading to tight knots, sweaty palms and God only knows how you’re going to remember what to say!

We have the rabid beast of the ‘what if?’

So a very easy and quick fix. Ask yourself, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’

Write it all down.

What if no one sees them?

What if a competitor sees them and writes rude things about you?

All of that effort for a complete and total failure. And everyone will know!

And now look at the other side of the possibility coin.

You make your videos, your audience see them and love them. So you make more videos, get more comfortable with it all. Your business and your brand grows. With that it leads to more customers. You get booked to talk at the ‘healthy eating convention’ for a good sum of money, all the while your café is doing brilliantly. You and your family can finally take that holiday to Florida you’ve been talking about for 7 years.

Then ask yourself ‘is it worth the risk?’

If the answer is yes, then it’s time to tame the beast and go ahead and try. In truth the things you’re worried about will likely never happen anyway! And even if they do, you’ve taken a risk so you can learn and grow from the experience.

The odds are stacked in your favour though that you will succeed at what you’re trying to do – especially in the long term.

From Risk to Reward: Navigating the ‘What If?’ Thinking

Thing is – and this is really obvious to me – the real thing is, that you’ve already taken a risk in your life. That’s why you became a small business owner. I’m quite certain that when you took the road less travelled you had those around you asking you ‘what if it all goes wrong?’ I got divorced from the first Mrs O’Neill in my life in no small part because we were travelling very different paths. Her what if beast was too great.

And you’ve overcome that, haven’t you!? You stepped out of the comfort zone of many people around you who rely on their monthly pay statement and minor benefits to become the leader of industry that you are.

You’re already brave enough. To move forward balance things on each side of the scales. Sure your brain will ask ‘what if no one sees the video/flyer/Facebook ad?’ So ask ‘what if the video goes viral?’

Your brain will ask ‘what if I sound dumb or look too chubby on video?’ you ask ‘what if I get 10 more leads as a result of this video?’

The Quicker Route to Success

Some of you out there may want to get to your destination quicker than others. This can be achieved by employing the services of a business coach/consultant.

Employing the services of a good coach can dramatically increase your success simply by having someone there with you to bounce ideas around with. The investment does vary considerably but like many things, you do get what you pay for. With a good coach by your side you can expect to see at least double your returns within about 12 months (usually MUCH higher returns are experienced) as long as you do what they advise.

I know there are many small business owners and entrepreneurs who scoff at the idea of paying someone for help but it is notable that anyone and everyone at the top of their game has a coach to help them get to where they want to be faster.

Let’s say you wanted to get to £1M sales value for your business. Would it not be worth it to pay someone £10,000 to get you there in 1 year, rather than do it yourself in 5 years making all the mistakes along the way?

Coaches and consultants – the good ones – can and will help you put your ‘what if?’ beast to bed (amongst many other things!) helping you to realise your goals far quicker.

Further reading and listening. Darren Hardy: The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster. Simon Sinek: Start With Why. Dan Gardner: Risk