How the Rookie Crumbles

Practicing Perfection

Josh Barsch, 29, knows he isn't flawless, and he's always trying to fix what he believes may be broken. "Most things are learnable, provided you can manage your time well," says Barsch, president and CEO of StraightForward Media, a Peoria, Arizona, marketing firm that specializes in pay-per-click search advertising. "You can consistently work on your weak areas and become better at them."

Barsch is doing just that. He wakes up at 4:45 a.m., and he heads to the gym to lift weights. Instead of driving to the gym in a sleep-induced fog, he listens to foreign language tapes and now speaks passable French, German and Spanish. He admits, "I wouldn't want to conduct business in those languages anytime soon," though that's clearly his end goal.

But Barsch's weakness used to be much more serious. When he began his business in April 2001, he was afraid to tell people what his services cost. "In the beginning, it's hard to wrap your mind around the fact that it's OK for you to charge X amount of dollars for what you do," says Barsch, whose business was projected to pass the $1 million mark in 2003. "At some point, you have to jump in and do it. You can't ease in and ask half of your rate today and 60 or 70 percent with the next client. There are always going to be people who think you're too expensive or too cheap. As long as a fair number of people think you're the right price and become your client, then that's OK."

Barsch managed to quote his prices from the beginning, but it was always done with a gulp and a knotted stomach, and it took a lot of practice and time before he could do it without feeling strange about it. His memory of other days didn't help him. Before he began StraightForward Media, he worked as a journalist for a paper in rural Missouri, and his editor asked him to convince a tractor supply store owner to buy an ad. "I choked up. I couldn't do it," says Barsch, who did make a clumsy attempt. The owner cut Barsch off, saying, "I don't need this; everybody knows me." Within seconds, Barsch says, he was out of the office and back on the street.

Silvana Clark, a Bellingham, Washington, motivational speaker and author for 13 years, specializing in every topic from small-business problems to parenting issues, recounts a similar experience. "I stuttered when someone asked me my speaking fee. For the average person, hearing that a speaker gets several thousand dollars or more seems outrageous," Clark explains. "I've had people say, 'You actually expect us to pay you?'" But she realized that "if you speak with confidence, people just accept what you say."

Barsch echoes that advice. "The worst thing that can happen to you is that somebody says no. All you'll be in is the same position you're in now. It can't get any worse. You have to get past the fear that somebody is going to grab you by the belt, put the other hand on your collar, and toss you out. That doesn't happen. 'It's more than we can afford,' is all they're likely to say."

So if closing a sale is your biggest problem, you either have to do as Barsch did and learn to get over it, or partner with somebody who is comfortable discussing fees.

It can be daunting and depressing, searching for your drawbacks and realizing you're not a natural in a critical part of your planned business, but you should be applauding yourself for looking for possible fault lines in your personality, instead of beating yourself up about it. Better to realize you're easily intimidated and start working on it now than to wait until you enter a meeting with several clients, only to turn white and lose all ability to function.

"I've talked to so many businesspeople who have one personal problem or another that's holding them back," explains Christian. "Everybody has to deal with these issues at one time or another." That's just life. That's how the cookie crumbles.

Foiling Your Foibles
Obviously, there are numerous ways your weaknesses can spill over into your business. You can probably think of half a dozen right now. But Marcia Reynolds has been in the trenches, as the president of Covisioning, a Phoenix coaching and leadership training firm that works with individuals and organizations. Her Web site is appropriately titled www.outsmartyourbrain.com. She offers a few typical ways entrepreneurs undermine their enterprises, with her suggestions for fixing them:

Problem: You're always operating in chaos.
Solution: Determine what annoys you in your environment. Something is making you feel like everything's out of control, so start asking questions. Do you need to exercise, delegate some errands, or is it maybe as simple as cleaning your desk every day?

Problem: Your temper always gets the best of you.
Solution: "Get to know your body signals," suggests Reynolds. "The chemicals released with anger generally act to tighten the stomach, arms and leg muscles. Catch your body readying for a fight. Then, before you open your mouth, breathe. Release the tension, clear your mind, and focus on one thought or word that describes how you want to come across-like direct, disappointed or curious."

Problem: You lack confidence-and it rattles you when you least need it to.
Solution: Give yourself a daily pep talk, suggests Reynolds. "Focus on your strengths, not just what you're capable of, but who you are. Are you generous? Are you compassionate? Are you open-minded? These are some major strengths, and you need to remind yourself of those. Remind yourself of who you are, and not just what you do."


Geoff Williams is a writer in Loveland, Ohio.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the February 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: How the Rookie Crumbles.

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