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by Patricia Fry

Business Start-Ups 1999


Do They Hinder or Help 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 constant. Like life, it changes. When those changes correspond with our desires or exceed our expectations, we’re happy and when they don’t, our emotions take a more negative turn.

Ann James, founder of AmeriGyn, an OB/GYN physician practice management company in Houston, 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 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?’ ‘What have I done?’ 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 left a highly successful and profitable attorney firm to found her company last July. 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 unknown. 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 x appears. Everything is harder now because you have to think about how to get these things done yourself.”

Starting a business from scratch is like traipsing off into the unknown. And it’s human nature to fear the unknown.

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 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. She says, “I had to examine my value system and ask myself which is the greater sin, failure or living life by default? For me, it was the latter. I had to try.”

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 Tucson-based Gold Stars Speakers Bureau, a 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 time frame. Looking back, Gold says, “I consider perseverance one of the most important qualities necessary to starting and growing a business.”

Gold shares her motivation for sticking with her now thriving business even through the lean times. “What made me hang in there was my husband’s support and encouragement and my vision. I also had to ask myself, ‘what is the alternative?’ I was not ready to work for somebody else again. I’ve had a very strong entrepreneurial spirit most of my adult life. Besides, I’m not a quitter.”

Humility is another trait essential to the entrepreneur. 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 to be right. You’re bound to be wrong sometimes. To learn from your mistakes, you have to be able to see them and that takes courage, integrity and humility.” Embree adds, “These aren’t just character traits, they’re deep, intense feelings.”

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 onset.

Research is key here as is a healthy portion of humility. As Gold points out, “A business owner has to remain humble and receptive to every information source available to them.”

Melvin Powers, founder of the highly successful Wilshire Publishing Company in Los Angeles firmly believes in utilizing available resources. In fact, two techniques he has found extremely valuable over his 40 years in business is brain storming and seeking expert advise. He says, “If it isn’t working you must find out why and 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.” Embree echoes others when she says, “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 in the face of such fears and discomfort? According to Don Hagge, CEO of 3C Semi-Conductor Corporation in Portland, OR, “I think the underlying characteristic of an entrepreneur is fire in the belly or passion.”

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 financial demands are so incredible that unless you really have a passion for what you’re doing, you will have a miserable life.”

Success in business is not only about 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 in life.

Michael Kramm, founder of Capresso, Inc., a two-year old New Jersey-based company that specializes in producing coffee makers and espresso machines, offers his perspective. “I think it’s important, before you start a business, to do some real soul-searching and think about whether you’re really made for it. Do you really want to get into all that is involved in business or is it better to go back into the so called safe haven of corporate business?”

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 hundreds of men and women every year 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 over 400 titles, some of them million-copy sellers and having experienced success in a couple of side business, as well, Powers offers this, “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 is as a failure.”

While some businessmen and women can turn negative emotions into positive ones so quickly that they scarcely miss a beat, most of us are quite aware of the temporary discomfort in feelings of fear, frustration, impatience and so forth. This is part of loving what you do – being attached to your work.

According to Kramm, “You have to love what you do. I don’t think you’re really an entrepreneur without emotions.”

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.

Patricia Fry is the author of A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press, 2000).

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