People often ask me what my No. 1 piece of advice for running a successful business is. Here it is: Get a fear management strategy.

  

Why?  Because so much of starting and running a successful business depends on how you deal with all the fear that comes with the job. Here are six steps I've developed over my 14 years in business to mitigate fear. (They also help in life beyond business.)

  

1.  Calm yourself. Pint of ice cream? Yoga? Cooking? Whatever it is, know what it takes to calm you when fear comes calling. I like to have a quick go-to method, like a deep breath and exhale with a loud UGH!, and long-term strategies, like cooking on a regular basis.

 

One caveat, DON'T OVERDO IT! It's easy to let anything that provides relief get out of hand. Keep things balanced so they don't become part of the problem.

 

2. Say your worst-case scenario out loud. Fear feeds off secrecy and silence. The longer you keep your feelings to yourself, the stronger they become. It is imperative to confront your fear and visualize it as a worst-case scenario. For many of my startup clients, it's losing their health care insurance, putting their family in financial jeopardy or having to ask their family for a bailout. Whatever it is, speak your truth out loud to an adviser, confidante or to the mirror. After you do this, move on to item three.

 

3. Brainstorm your solution. There was a point in our business life cycle where we lost our key client. It happens to most businesses, and it WAS scary. What it WASN'T was debilitating. Primarily because I had already, following step two, visualized this worst-case scenario in my mind, and spoken it to my business partner.

 

After I calmed myself (step one), my team and I engaged in a great brainstorming session about how to deal with our new reality. No idea was too crazy, and we came up with several good ones that allowed us to start working on our future rather than freaking out about the past.

 

4. Mitigate the fears of those around you. Transparency is the best tool you have in mitigating others' fears. I know it sounds counterintuitive. You keep things to yourself because you don't want to worry anyone. But guess what? They are already worried.

 

Fear loves empty space. When you fill that space with the facts, you give your partners an opportunity to be empowered to help find a solution. We have seen this work in our own business with great results. We adopted a 100 percent transparency policy in our business a little over a year ago. Not only did it eliminate the overblown scenarios that flood into a space that lacks real knowledge, but our employees took on a greater ownership of every challenge and success that has come our way.

 

5. Don't pull your goalie. In the epic hockey battle of the 1980 Winter Olympics the United States took home the gold thanks in part to a semifinals victory against, by all accounts, a superior Soviet team. The Soviet coach pulled his great goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, after Tretiak missed a save in the first of three periods, and put in a third-string goalie. Many believe this decision cost the Soviets the game.

 

This story reminds me how fear can cause us to do rash and stupid things, including changing your team. Sometimes a change is required, but usually that decision comes after multiple missteps, not in the heat of fear. The better response to a fearful moment is to stay calm and trust in your team to get through the moment together.

 

6. Turn question marks into creativity all the time. I once had a client who had a lot of really good ideas for starting his own business, and they were all attainable. Unfortunately, he struggled with the unknowns of how these ideas would play out. If you find it hard to live with uncertainty and question marks, start working immediately on an everyday strategy to cope.

 

I cope by turning any question mark I have into an opportunity to create new ideas. Whether it's a complex business deal or what I'm making for dinner, I apply creative thought to the question. This is similar to brainstorming as a fear management strategy in crisis (step three), but this strategy should be used as an ongoing maintenance. If you keep your creativity muscle working on a regular basis, you'll get more comfortable with the unknown. You even start to crave it.

 

- Kathryn Dickel has been a part of growing creative communities for 14 years through her business, MidwesTix, which serves the event needs of clients throughout the U.S. from its home base in Des Moines. She has presented numerous workshops and panels on entrepreneurial life and has worked with dozens of startup clients as a private consultant. You can reach her at 

kathryn@midwestix.com

 

CONNECTION POINTS: She serves on the board of the Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation and the Civic Music Association and is founding member of the Greater Des Moines Music Coalition, the Des Moines Social Club, KFMG-LP and the Iowa Entrepreneurs' Coalition.