Do you have fears of failing as a photographer? Our fears can paralyze us and take over our dreams in business and life. Managing your fears as a business owner is an important part of the business puzzle. By this, I mean a successful business owner has a plan in place for when fears creep up. How do you overcome your fears as a business owner? What do you and other photographers commonly worry about? Some of us have a fear of speaking to clients on the phone, or a fear of our business falling apart if we don’t work hard enough. In this blog post, we’ll learn the role that fears plays in our lives and I will outline the steps you can take to manage your fears.
How emotions work
First off, the basic nature of emotions is that they help us survive. They are designed to alert us to what is going on and spur us into action if necessary. Negative emotions signal that something is wrong so that we can do something about it. For example, feeling anxious may result in taking steps to avoid situations we think are dangerous. Sadness encourages us to slow down and withdraw. Anger drives us to fight back against whatever threat has come up. As you can see, every emotion highlights a message for us. It is our job to slow down enough to hear what is being said rather than letting the emotion take over.
That being said, the second part of this work is responding to our emotions. We respond to our emotions through a combination of ways, such as what we feel, think and behave. Sometimes, emotions also carry a physical sensations as a result of experiencing it (ie. your heart races when a client is mad at you). These things are very normal and to be expected- after all, you are not a robot.
What is fear?
Fear is a normal, basic human emotion. We all face fears and none of us are exempt from experiencing them. Fear is not a bad or a good emotion. It is just an emotion. Emotions alert us to something that requires our attention. That being said, fear in particular is an expensive emotion to coddle in business, because it costs us sales. For example, if we have a fear of stating our prices confidently and leading a client towards making a large (gasp!) purchase, we are going to lose business. If we have a fear of picking up the phone and calling clients, we will lose out on 100% of the calls we don’t make.
How does fear hold us back in business?
Fear also leads us to make decisions that serve the short term (getting the feeling off your back) but again, will cost you in the long run (running a profitable business). You may avoid clients or situations that make you feel stupid. Or, you may avoid doing the tasks that you are supposed to master in order to take your business to the next level. Maybe you have a fear of failure and you can’t stand criticism, so you are burning out spending hours editing every photo so that your clients give you a lot of praise. Anyone not want to call a client because then they’ll hear how scared we are talking on the phone and will run the other way?
Yep. We have all been there.
In business and in life, fear is often a liar and not based on facts. For instance, the amount of money you made last year is a fact, but feeling inadequate or thinking you are worthless and doomed for failure is not a fact. It is a conclusion based on stories that you have told yourself. The good news is that you have the ability to manage your fears and transform your stories. Sound good? Read on!
What are your business fears?
Here are some common fears that photographers face as entrepreneurs:
• Not making enough money
• Having a hard time finding clients
• Afraid you are not a good enough photographer
• Fear of not getting hired
• Looking like a failure
• Not able to charge money
• Being seen as a hobby photographer
• Difficulty speaking to clients
• Paralyzed by the thought of calling clients
Imposter syndrome much?
A 2019 research article by Ladge et al. looked at the role of imposter syndrome fear in shaping one’s entrepreneurial identity. That’s a lot of fancy words. Basically what they looked at was how imposter syndrome, or self doubts regarding success, impacts how well a person’s business does and how they see themselves. The study focused on women and highlighted that entrepreneurship is a male dominated corner. If you are a female photographer and you run your own business, you are kind of a trail blazer when compared to the rest of the world.
Sometimes this brings out the fears hidden in the closet too. Women are more likely than men to fear success itself. We sabotage our own potential success because we are afraid of the very thing we want! Imposter fear in women is fuelled by the competing demands we have for family and motherhood.
How do we fuel our fears as business owners?
Let’s look at some ways in which we are NOT managing our fears in business very well. Many photographers do a pretty good job of making their business fears larger than life.
Here are some of the most common ways that our fears take over. Can you find yourself in this list?
• Avoidance/Relief. To cope with the idea of doing something uncomfortable in your business, you turn to shopping to make you feel good, or perhaps you drink to excess on weekends.
• Rumination. You obsess. And worry. It seems like all you can focus on are your fears, in cycles, over and over on repeat.
• Inflexibility. You do the same thing. You’re afraid to try a different way to dealing with something, so you continue doing the things that you know don’t work.
• Anger. Do you sometimes think you have an anger management issue? Anger is the “big lid” coping strategy that can mask a number of other emotions which are actually the culprit.
Part 1: Identifying your business fears
Step 1 – Name and understand your fears
The first thing step in overcoming and managing your fears in business is to put it out into the room. You need to name it because fear thrives in the dark. When we label an emotion or experience as fear, then we’re shedding some light on what is going on. I encourage you to be really specific here. For example, what do you fear exactly and how does it come to be? What does it feel like in your body?
Exploring fear in this ways allows you to get to know your fears better. Knowing your fears, understanding them, and being intentional about what to do next is powerful.
Step 2- Identify your strengths
Often in the face of fear, we forget what we are capable of. We are quick to blame our fears for what we can’t do, and forget that we have some very incredible qualities that we can apply to our businesses. Identify your strengths and look at how they contrast the fears you have identified.
Part 2: Actions to manage your business fears
Step 3 – Preparation kills fear
When something becomes familiar to you, the fear around it dissipates. Take for example if you had a fear of getting on the phone and speaking to clients. Familiarity comes from practice, so you need to practice for this specific fear to decrease.
Here’s a tip for this fear: Write down a script of exactly what you’ll say on the phone. Then, ask a friend or partner if you can practice your script with them. The point is to practice it until you feel comfortable enough to try it out on a client. In this way, we are preparing to deal with the fear rather than react from a place of fear every time this situation comes up.
Think about some of the fears and feelings of inadequacy that you have in your business and what you can do to prepare a little better for the next time that fear comes out to get you. Don’t forget, fear is an expensive emotion to coddle in business. And instead of hiding, we are going to take it on.
If you believe your fears are linked to your self-confidence, check out my guide on building confidence for photographers.
Step 4 – Create a mental toolkit
Firstly, let’s start off with how you are managing stress in general in your life. Are you scheduling time for activities you enjoy? Do you get adequate sleep? Is physical activity apart of your daily routine? Ensuring that you consider all aspects of your wellbeing are important in tackling fears. Lack of sleep, consuming junk foods and being overwhelmed are recipes for disaster. Our emotions work best if we are taking care of our bodies.
Second, create a list of go-to strategies that you can implement when life becomes too stressful, or when your obsessive thinking takes over. Maybe it’s calling a friend. Maybe it’s going for a bike ride. Whatever it is, create a mental tool kit of things you can do to help you as you work through your fears.
Step 5 – Find a role model
One of the most beneficial things a business owner can do is find a mentor or someone they admire. This helps directly counteract your fears by showing you proof that there is someone out there who is doing what you wish you could. Not only that, but there are people out there who you can hire or speak to about your business.
Many successful photographers can pinpoint their success back to finding a mentor they trusted to consult with. Is that one of your missing business ingredients? One of my areas of expertise is supporting photographers in their business journey. If you are interested in a mentorship opportunity, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing and overcoming fears as a business owner and photographer are things that all business owners and entrepreneurs face. And let’s be real for a second – If it wasn’t terrifying on some level, everyone would be doing it. That means that you should congratulate yourself for being brave enough to take on this entrepreneur stuff.
The next time you’re working through a fear think of this – If you had a friend who came to you and said, “You know what, I just can’t call my clients on the phone. In other words, I’m an idiot and completely worthless. My whole business is going to fall apart,” what would you tell that friend? Would you agree that they were worthless and stupid? Or would you encourage them to see the beautiful side of them who IS capable of doing this?
Can you start speaking to yourself in a more compassionate way too? Sometimes self-compassion is the key through this.
Ladge, E., Eddelston, K.A. & Sugiyama, K. (2019). Am I an entrepreneur? How imposter fears hinder women entrepreneurs’ business growth. Business Horizons, 62(5), 615–624.