At a recent chamber event the table moderator asked us to share an aspect of our business we dislike. I cringed because the question was an invitation to complain and vent – not a productive activity – and nobody wants to hear you complain.
The moderator mercifully pointed at someone other than me to begin, so I had a moment to consider something productive and constructive to say. People took turns around the table venting about collections, administrative tasks, marketing, overwhelm, spam, tech issues and burnout. Any entrepreneur can empathize with such things, including me, but I really don’t want to whine about these nuisances, especially at a networking event.
What’s a pain point I experience in my law practice? From my perspective as a business attorney, I see too many people excited about their product or service, with a dream and vision about making it a reality, but they cannot get out of their own way. It might be fear of success or fear of failure, but fear is usually the root cause. You might call it self-doubt, but that is also rooted in fear.
They analyze until they paralyze.
Prospective clients often contact me to discuss their legal infrastructure, such as entity formation, contract drafting, trademarks, copyright, limiting liability, etc. This is in my wheelhouse. I quote a scope of work and cost, the client agrees, but sometimes the client joins the witness protection program and goes dark. I give them a few days then follow up, and I usually hear a variation of the following:
I need to run it by my spouse; I’ll let you know when I’m ready; I’m thinking about it; I’ll be ready to get started after I’m done dealing with __ situation; I just want to generate some revenue first.
I’m human, I get it. Life gets in the way. Money is tight. You’re overwhelmed. You doubt yourself. You need to get all your ducks in a row before you start. I see right through these excuses because I’ve made them myself. People get scared and feel like they need to figure it all out before starting, as if the path from startup to success is a straight line. They analyze until they paralyze. People rationalize that, because entrepreneurship entails risk, they must plan it all out in advance because they cannot fail. They are so afraid of failure (or success), they fail to get started and self-sabotage. You can’t fail if you never start, right? No matter how much you plan or wait for the "right time,” you’re going to get knocked down in business. So stop analyzing, and just start now with the tools you have. Failure is also the best teacher, and every successful entrepreneur has many failure stories.
I’d rather try and fail then allow fear to stop me from beginning. When I’m on my deathbed, I’d rather reflect and know I tried and learned. The regret of having not tried would be too much to bear.
I’m saying all this from a place of empathy and understanding, not judgment. I unhappily worked in toxic law firms, trading my entrepreneurial spirit for the perceived safety of a paycheck. I stayed in places longer than I should have, trading hours for dollars while watching law school classmates go out on their own.
We’ve all heard the expression, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend the first four sharpening his axe. Go ahead and sharpen your axe, but that tree isn’t going to chop itself. You must take action. That’s where I come in.
Once your LLC is formed, your contract is written, and/or your trademark application is filed, you’ve become invested in your business and are in action mode. Now you have skin in the game and it’s time to overcome paralysis and get to work. Setting up your legal infrastructure is an excellent way to thrust you into activity mode.