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It's Just Emotion

Are your feelings helping or hindering the start-up process?

We like to think that we're devoid of emotions in our professional lives--that we make critical decisions with a business head and not a bleeding heart. The truth is that our emotions follow us wherever we go. In fact, for most entrepreneurs, both positive and negative emotions become even more acute during a business start-up.

It's a rare individual who doesn't get excited upon landing his first account, or who doesn't feel the pain of disappointment when the business suffers a setback. Business is not a constant. Like life, it changes. When those changes correspond with our desires or exceed our expectations, we're happy; when they don't, our emotions take a more negative turn.

Ann James, one of the founders of AmeriGyn, an OB/GYN physician-practice management company in Nashville, likens going into business to being on a roller-coaster ride. "It's an extremely up-and-down situation," says James. Still in the start-up phase of her business, she describes her current demeanor: "At the core I feel very confident, but on any given day I might wake up and think, `Oh, my God, what am I doing?' Sometimes you have these tremendous fears. They're not rational fears. They're not even fears you can resolve. I think that's just part of leaping off into the literal unknown: trying to create a very significant business."

James cautions against exhibiting your fears, though. "No matter how often I might wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, it's not okay for me to share those fears with my team," she says. "I have to project that the company is on course and growing well."

James left a highly successful and profitable law firm to run her own company in July of 1996. She describes what many entrepreneurs are up against today. "What generally happens is, you've left something in order to do something else, and that something else is an unknown quantity," says James. "You know the former systems. Now, not only do you not know what the systems are, you may not have a system. Maybe you've been used to the structure of a big corporation, where you've had somebody taking care of details. Suddenly, you can't just say, `We need x' and expect x to appear. Just getting unlined 3-by-5 index cards can become a big production. When it comes to deciding company policy, there's not a cadre of people or a precedent of prior decisions that you can turn to. Everything is harder now because you have to think about how to get these things done yourself. You will feel frustrated at times."

When this happens, James suggests, "Take a few minutes for yourself. Take a walk, work out, read a poem--do whatever you need to do to give yourself a time-out. When you return to the issues you're facing, you will have gotten them in perspective."

Sharon D'Orsie admits that the number-one emotion she felt when she started Eagle Environmental Health Inc., a Houston- and New Orleans-based industrial hygiene and occupational-health organization, was fear. She worried, "What if the idea of starting this company turns out to be incredibly stupid?" She, too, had left a secure position. Although she had extensive knowledge and background in her field, she admittedly had no practical business experience.

D'Orsie thought long and hard before acting on her burning desire to have her own business. "I had to examine my value system and ask myself which is the greater sin, failure or living life by default?" she says, explaining, "I believe that many people live life by default; like a leaf in a river, they allow the river of life to determine where they will travel. To me, living life by default is cowardly. I decided that failure is infinitely better than never trying at all."

As Neil Balter states in The Closet Entrepreneur (Career Press, $14.95, 800-CAREER-1), rejection--and the fear of rejection--are big barriers along the road to success. "You'll be faced with rejection in every stage of your business," he says, "but that's what business is all about. Rejection is the single most common reason business owners give up. Don't let rejection do this to you; use your rejection as motivation to get the job done. Many people run at the first sign of adversity. They start a business and when things don't go right, they give up and go on to something else. You must be tough enough not to take rejection to heart. Don't be sensitive every time things don't go your way. Draw upon your self-confidence. You need to be thick-skinned. If you know your company is doing its best by providing good service and products, don't let rejection intimidate you. Be resilient and handle the rejection in a professional manner."

Those who dare to try their entrepreneurial wings usually find the experience to be more personally enlightening than they expected.

"My husband warned me that having a business would bring out every area of weakness I had," says Andrea Gold, founder of Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, a Tucson, Arizona-based company that books speakers for meetings and events all over the globe. "In fact, fear and anxiety were my constant companions in the first few years of business. I remember becoming frustrated because things weren't happening within my preconceived time frame." Looking back, Gold says, "I consider perseverance to be one of the most important qualities necessary to starting and growing a business. When you're experiencing a business slump and you're not sure whether to continue, ask yourself, `What's the alternative?' Are you ready to go back to work for somebody else?"

Humility is another trait essential to entrepreneurship. According to Mary Embree, founder of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network), a Ventura, California-based networking organization for creative individuals and business owners involved in the publishing field, "When you're starting a business, you must feel it is more important to succeed than it is to be right. You're bound to be wrong sometimes. To learn from your mistakes, you have to be able to see your mistakes--and that takes courage, integrity and humility. These aren't just character traits, they're deep, intense feelings."

Entrepreneurial mistakes and shortcomings are often pointed out by others. According to Embree, "When faced with negative criticism, our first response is to defend our actions. To be successful as an entrepreneur, you must remain open to criticism, and see it as an opportunity to fine-tune your product, procedures or services. While it is important to stand by what you think works best, accept the fact that almost everything can be improved upon."

A fledgling business owner may be an expert in the product or service they offer, but they can't know everything there is to know about operating a business from the outset. Research is key. As Gold points out, "A business owner has to be receptive to every source of information available to them."

Melvin Powers, founder of the highly successful Wilshire Book Co. in Los Angeles, firmly believes in utilizing available resources. In fact, the two techniques he has found extremely valuable during his 40 years in business are brainstorming and seeking expert advice. He says, "If it isn't working, you must find out why, and then take some constructive suggestions from qualified people. You can't expect to get that success overnight if you don't do your homework."

Many entrepreneurs admit to often feeling overwhelmed during the start-up phase of their businesses. Embree describes her experience: "In the beginning, there are a lot of ideas being generated, which means a lot of work and a lot of decisions to make. It can certainly be overwhelming at times. I find it helps to have a very clear idea of what you want to do--a plan--but it's also important to be flexible. If you aren't flexible, you're setting yourself up to fail."

What drives these entrepreneurs to forge ahead when so many others would turn tail and run when faced with such fears and discomfort? Don Hagge, CEO of 3C Semi-Conductor Corp. in Portland, Oregon, says, "I think the underlying characteristic of an entrepreneur is a fire in the belly, or passion. It's difficult to be successful in a business start-up under the best of circumstances. There are so many unexpected and unanticipated problems. Without passion and a strong sense of urgency, your chances of success are reduced significantly. I don't mean that one should go forward with one's head in the sand, but it is necessary to have a strong focus and not let detractors get you off course."

D'Orsie agrees and advises others, "Do not start a business unless you have a passion for the subject matter; otherwise, your life is going to be hell. The hours and the financial demands are so incredible that, unless you really have a passion for what you're doing, you will have a miserable life."

Michael Kramm, founder of the two-year-old Capresso Inc., a Closter, New Jersey company that specializes in producing and marketing high-quality coffee makers and espresso machines, adds, "It's not enough to know what you're doing; you must like or love your work. From that, not only will you be more creative, you will also have the strength to go through the inevitable negative emotions. And I don't think you're really an entrepreneur without emotions."

Success in business is not just about making money. It's about enrichment of life. It's about the sense of self-satisfaction you feel when you're following your dream. It's about facing the negatives in business along with the positives, because you're doing what you want to do in life.

There are disappointments in business. There are setbacks. Despite careful planning, things don't always happen when and how you want them to. You will suffer from feelings of frustration, fear and anxiety. You will sometimes feel overwhelmed. This is why, every year, hundreds of men and women give up their dream of owning a business and go back to the security of the corporate world. We know why businesses fail, but what makes them successful? For Powers, it's a positive attitude.

Having published more than 500 titles (some of them million-copy sellers) and having experienced success in a couple of side business as well, Powers offers this insight: "My attitude is, if there's a problem, solve the problem. I'm never frustrated about it. I simply take one step at a time. There are ups and downs in any business. In a slow period I say, `Okay, it's slow; what can I do about it?' I don't look at it as a failure. Anybody can quit anything, but if you quit, nothing is going to happen. If you want to learn how to play the piano, practice. If you want to learn how to ride a horse and you get thrown, get back on. It's the same with growing a successful business: You have to stay with it."

While some may still argue that the concept of "emotions in business" is an oxymoron, it's obvious by the comments from our experts that there's still a lot of heart at the helm of American enterprise. The fact is that as long as businesses are operated by people, there will be emotions in business. By acknowledging and accepting this fact, and learning to direct your entrepreneurial emotions, your business has a much greater chance for success.


Patricia Fry is a homebased freelance writer living in Ojai, California. She has written numerous magazine articles, as well as six books on various topics.

Contact Sources

3C Semiconductors, 618 N.W. 12th Ave., #406, Portland, OR 97209-3002, (503) 221-0512.

AmeriGyn, 1900 W. Loop S. #300, Houston, TX 77027, (713) 964-4006.

Capresso Inc., 231 Herbert Ave., Closter, NJ 07624, (201) 767-3999.

Gold Star Speakers Bureau, P.O. Box 37106, Tucson, AZ 85740-7106, (520) 742-4384.

SPAWN, P.O. Box 2653, Ventura, CA 93002-2653, (805) 643-2403.

Wilshire Book Co., 12015 Sherman Rd., North Hollywood, CA 91605, (818) 765-8579.

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