If you are a woman thinking of starting a business, you are not alone. Thousands of Australian women are considering starting a dream business and thousands more have started one in the last year. According to recent ABS data an additional 46,600 female business operators have joined the ranks of the self-employed since 2018, bringing the total number of female business operators in Australia in 2019 to 715,300.
Business dreams are full of exciting plans and visions of success, but these dreams don’t always reflect the reality. Many women desire the lifestyle benefits of running a business but are unprepared for the uncertainty of income and the pressure to market the business at every opportunity. Self-doubt can quickly surface as the dream becomes reality.
The beliefs you hold about yourself and your ability to survive in business will be the glue that helps you achieve your dream, or lead you to second-guess your decisions. As you consider the practical needs of your dream business, also review whether your beliefs will build business confidence or end it.
Beliefs determine your focus
When I was still finding my feet in the business world, I had many ideas but wasn’t sure which one would be most successful. My past experiences had led me to believe that creative ideas wouldn’t make the income I needed. Instead, I settled for more predictable and routine work despite wanting to try something quite different and unknown. I shelved the creative plans so that I could focus on achieving a serious career.
Beliefs are so deeply enmeshed in our thinking that it can be difficult to see them in our everyday decision-making. In hindsight however, we identify how they led us to choose one path over another. For example, the beliefs in the above paragraph became the foundation for my business decision making over the following decade. Can you spot them?
- It’s hard to identify a successful idea with any certainty.
- My past experience will be the basis of my future experience.
- Ideas that are creative are less likely to make money than practical, service-based work.
- Known ideas are safer than different and unknown ideas.
- Creative ideas should be shelved if I want to focus on something financially secure.
Beliefs start early
Your beliefs formed in your brain during your earliest experiences of life with your primary caregivers and at school. At birth, your brain had approximately 100 billion neurons ready to form connections with each other, based on what you paid attention to. All the things you did and were exposed to as a child led to the creation of trillions of neural networks. A neural network is like a ‘map’ for thinking about something. Millions of neurons light up as the energy created by just one thought is processed by your brain.
Every belief you formed in your brain has its own neural map. And every belief, thought or behaviour that you as a child or teenager were actively engaged in, strengthened that neural map. However, these thoughts and behaviours didn’t have to be fun or positive to form a neural map. Negative experiences also form neural maps.
For example, in my family growing up, financial security was a big concern. As a blue-collar worker, my father impressed upon his kids the absolute importance of earning money through hard work. He stayed in a factory job he despised for over forty years because it put food on the table. His ultimate dream of getting back on a farm in the countryside never happened.
My mother, the most creative soul I know, turned her considerable talents into routine dressmaking to afford little delights. When she finally bought her dream craft shop in her fifties and it folded three years later, she was heartbroken. The lesson was learned over many years in my family – work hard at things you may not enjoy because the creative path is littered with tears and wasted money.
Beliefs affect your business dream
While these beliefs are no longer part of my thinking, they had a significant impact on my decision-making at the time. Maybe you have versions of these that have guided and directed your decision making in the past? I guarantee that as a woman thinking of going into business, you have a pile right now that are influencing your next move. The question is, do you know what they are? Here’s three to get you thinking:
While you are considering how your business will make money, ask yourself what beliefs you hold about earning a great deal of money AND earning very little money.
While you are researching how to write a business plan, ask yourself what beliefs you hold about your ability to be successful over the short term AND the longer term.
While you are plotting your business world take-over, ask yourself what beliefs you hold about facing rejection and surviving failure.
As you identify a few of your most deeply held beliefs about yourself, you may also see some of the future stumbling blocks to your business success.
Safety comes first
It’s a fact that your brain is primarily concerned with keeping you safe. Thoughts and beliefs that increase a sense of safety in you, are used more often, even if they have negative consequences. Bullying for example, is a frequently used behaviour by children to stay safe that some adults continue to use in business. Frequent use of a neural map strengthens it, which means that it fires off faster and more intensely at the slightest hint of the stimulus. You react without even thinking about it.
Other children learn that running away from a scolding is a quick way to find safety from the shame of negative feedback about their behaviour. As adults, they may not have learned another way to deal with negative feedback. They might continue to escape a room or get away from a situation if they think they are being judged, criticised or corrected. Their belief that safety is found by avoiding a situation continues to direct their actions.
Perhaps you can see how those old beliefs about what keeps you safe and what doesn’t can affect women starting a business? If your brain warns you that criticism about your business idea will be like getting told you did something wrong, you might be reluctant to tell others about your plans or seek further advice, even when it is clear that you need it.
Many adults carry a belief from past schooling experiences that failure leads to punishment. If you have this belief, you might fear business failure enough that your dream never becomes a reality. Better not to try and never fail then to attempt it at all.
Take Action: Ask the ‘what if’s…?’
As adults, we find daily challenges that look and feel like situations we were exposed to as children, and sometimes we react the same way as we did then. Take the time to examine a few key beliefs about yourself and your business idea, and what your typical reaction to them might be. The ‘what if’s’ are a good place to start. Ask yourself aloud:
- What if the business fails – what will I believe about myself?
- What if no one likes my idea – what will I believe about myself?
- What if someone steals my idea – what will I believe about myself?
Consider the beliefs about yourself that are triggered in each of these scenarios. If you hear yourself say, ‘Failing at business means that I didn’t try hard enough’, then you might have a belief that failure will be totally your responsibility. How will this belief help or hinder your dream? It might mean that you put yourself under enormous pressure to take on all tasks, or you aim for perfection in everything and burn out early
Update your beliefs about yourself
Now ask yourself if these beliefs are still a fit for you? Sometimes we forget to review our beliefs, holding onto them even though they no longer serve us.
Remember that beliefs about yourself are powerfully strengthened due to repeated reinforcement and habitual self-talk. The more you repeat a belief to yourself, the more you tell your brain that this situation is true for you. You can always create new beliefs to replace the old ones, an essential task if you have identified beliefs that won’t lead you to your business dream or help you continue it.
While dreaming about a business is a fun pastime, it’s also the perfect opportunity to assess your beliefs about doing new, courageous and creative things. Do you have a belief about yourself being able to thrive in this business adventure? If not, what belief is holding you back from trying new things and being successful at them? And then ask yourself, is this belief worth holding onto? Will it get me my dream business? If not, now’s the perfect time to throw it out and get yourself a better belief.