Strategy, Legal & Operations

Overcome self-doubt: How to get started as an entrepreneur and keep going

Want to start your own business but lacking the courage to take the plunge? Discover how you can overcome those self-doubts.

Before you even think about getting the money to start a business, you need something that’s equally valuable. Confidence.

And, just like money, finding and keeping confidence in the early days can be a struggle.

So, how do you get started? How do you accelerate your business idea so you overcome self-doubt or that of those around you?

You’ll find the answers to those questions in this article. Here’s what we cover:

How to take the first steps

Do you have ambitions to sell online?

How to keep going

How to boss your admin and finances

Be brave and take your first steps

Together with The Entrepreneurs Network, Sage spoke to 705 people in disadvantaged areas of London and Newcastle who are open to the idea of starting a small business, along with 497 small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in those areas.

Lack of confidence kept coming up in the survey, called Knocking Down Barriers.

It found that, despite having a clear business idea, almost two-thirds of potential self earners (62%) doubt they could start a business.

Yet people are thinking about it.

Four in ten (43%) could, unprompted, name an idea for a business or side hustle.

Ryan Panchoo is owner and CEO of Borough 22, a vegan doughnut brand. He stumbled on a less-typical way to start an award-winning business.

When he created his first products, he wasn’t even thinking about starting a business, but his wife gave him the extrinsic motivation to do so.

He says: “I just made a product for my family that met my family’s needs. [But] I’d make a big batch that my family couldn’t eat… So I used to give them away… It’s a lot of money then to just give away to friends and family!”

His wife already ran her own business and was instrumental in helping Ryan identify his own opportunity.

He says: “‘Stop making them – or sell them [said his wife]’. So I was like, OK, let’s give it a go. Let’s try selling it. And it was her backing me that really gave me the confidence.”

As crazy as it sounds, one way forward in those early days is not to actually focus on starting a business.

It’s OK to keep that in the back of your mind, of course.

But, as Ryan says, you can overcome the doubts you or others may have simply by proving your product or service to the satisfaction of those around you.

At that point, building it out becomes the next logical step.

You might specialise in helping your family and friends, as with Ryan. Or the need you identify might be within your community.

Either way, testing your product or service with family and friends can be the first invaluable steps.

The Knocking Down Barriers survey also reveals two key themes from those who are potential independent earners.

  1. Most ideas that people have for business involved selling online.
  2. Many people wanted to sell things they created, with a focus on sustainability.

Ryan demonstrates this. He initially made his vegan doughnuts at home and sold them online via Facebook.

Selling through social media sites, such as Facebook or Instagram, is an increasingly popular way of retailing online, compared with the more traditional but still very effective way of selling via online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon or Etsy.

You simply post what you have to groups that might be interested and then people message you with orders.

Whichever way you choose to sell online, the fact is that it allows you to test a business idea at your own pace.

And there are other benefits to selling online.

Products don’t have to be created until they’re ordered, for example, unlike a traditional retail outlet. In other words, there are no shelves to fill.

And selling online is inexpensive to the point of often requiring zero upfront investment outside of your time.

Don’t be put off by those who are less than enthusiastic about what you’re doing.

It’s normal and inevitable that other people might doubt your idea. But this is a chance to channel other people’s questions or criticisms into strengthening your business from all angles. After all, selling online in any capacity is to invite comment and reviews.

Ryan offers this advice based on his own experience:

“Just realise that what everybody has is an opinion. You may like Marmite. Someone else may hate Marmite… For me, it’s just targeting or putting my focus on those people that enjoy the products or like what I’m doing.”

You have to change your mindset, he says.

Ryan adds: “That person may have negative feedback. You could take that on board. You could use it to shape your business going forward.

“But really, you’re interested in what people want… Focus on the people who like your products, who are buying your products, who enjoy your products.

“Really use them to help drive you forwards.”

In other words, it’s not just about pleasing customers.

You can use their enthusiasm and feedback as fuel, especially in the early days of your business.

It’s about “channelling that positivity and using it to your advantage”, concludes Ryan.

The Knocking Down Barriers also revealed that people lack confidence in paying and filing taxes (26%).

Only 14% said they wouldn’t worry about completing administrative tasks.

In fact, it needn’t be this way. The simplest form of accounting involves making a note of when you get money, and when you spend money (paying a bill, for example). This is called cash basis accounting.

To keep track of it, you can use a spreadsheet. You’ll find ready-made spreadsheets templates available for this.

Using a spreadsheet is how Ryan originally handled his accounts.

He says: “I just had two Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. One was what I spent, and one was what I earned. Hopefully, the latter was more than the former at the end of each month. But then, as the business started to grow, taking on more accounts, I needed something better.”

For most businesses, switching to accounting software happens sooner rather than later.

In fact, starting with accounting software and avoiding spreadsheets altogether is a good idea. As you might expect, in today’s world cloud accounting software can be an app on your mobile phone and they’re generally priced to match a business startup’s lack of cash.

For Ryan, the move to accounting software happened when he reached a breaking point.

“It’s just recognising that you can’t do everything,” he says. “Sometimes you need a helping hand.”

He realised accounting software could do more than just manage the numbers:

“A lot of the things that you end up doing, like invoicing, can be automated. Sending chase emails for people who haven’t paid on time – all that stuff is automated. And it’s just something you don’t have to think about.”

Small businesses can use their phone plus a good selection of apps to recreate what would once have taken an entire back room of admin staff.

The time this saves for you can be spent doing more of what you love.

Ideas for businesses start as very personal things inside our heads. But there comes a time when they have to be made public.

In doing so, you take a risk and your self-doubt can be magnified.

Just remember, this is absolutely normal.

Take baby steps to building your confidence by testing your product or service locally, or with friends and family.

Experiment with selling through online marketplaces to test the wider market and take comments and reviews as an opportunity to improve your business.

For Ryan, having the confidence to turn his hobby into a business meant not only financial but lifestyle rewards.

He says: “The most fulfilling part is that everything that I do, as little as I work or as much as I work, as hard as I drive myself, I’m reaping 100% of the reward for that. And I love that.”

This is supported by the Knocking Down Barriers research.

Potential business owners saw the top three benefits of starting a business as having a better quality of life (64%), a higher income (62%), and better career satisfaction (61%).

So, what are you waiting for?

Why not take that first step and start a side hustle doing something you love?

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