We’ve covered previously how to overcome The Fear of What Everyone Else Thinks when starting a new career, a new business, a hobby, or a life decision. But, when you’re past the mental block of the Fear of What Everyone Else Thinks, what about the practical concern of making sure that your new adventure doesn’t fail spectacularly and somehow ruin your life?
Here are some strategies to both minimize the risks of failing and ensure that, if you should fail, you can still win the long game by making forward progress toward your goals.
Pick the Opportunities That Give You a Chance to Improve
Choose new ventures that will give you skills, relationships, or experience that will be valuable even if this new venture fails. In many cases, you can gain a lot, even in failure.
Maybe taking a new job as a salesperson will teach you new skills and cause you to develop some valuable relationships. Sure, you could “fail”, but, during that failure you might learn a tremendous amount. You paid thousands of dollars for college, getting paid to develop valuable real world expertise is not a bad deal at all.
Try to look for the types of opportunities where you can learn valuable things and develop new relationships whether you succeed or fail.
Try to see that there is a consistent direction to your new ventures, so, that you keep progressing in a certain general direction. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport puts forward the idea of career equity. Newport says that the most successful people build up equity in a certain line of work by developing area-specific relationships, reputation, and skills. This ultimately makes them “masters” of an area, which ultimately leads to the greatest pay, freedom, and fame.
If you want to start or run a business, trying out numerous experimental ventures over time related to starting or running a business is a good way to go. Even if you fail in any particular venture, you are probably falling forward in a consistent general direction. It’s a good idea to fire bullets before cannonballs to minimize your downside. Over time, you will learn lessons, you will develop a network of contacts, and you will figure it out.
However, if you ping pong about in wildly different directions over the course of your life, it may be difficult to build consistent momentum in one area. If one year you want to be an actor, the next a game designer, the next a writer, the next a corporate CEO, it’s possible that the skills and relationships that you developed in each area won’t translate to the others (although you may sometimes be surprised at the connections that emerge). If you want to experiment or try something new, seek to find a way to leverage prior experience or relationships if possible and to move in the same general direction.
Manage the Downside
Look for ways to minimize the potential downside. In many cases by defining the possible downsides and targeting the risk that you want to eliminate, you can reduce or, sometimes, even eliminate your greatest areas of risk.
When Sir Richard Branson looked to start Virgin Airlines, he was afraid that the new venture might not work and that he would be stuck with a bunch of airplanes. So, he negotiated the airplane purchase deal with the right to return the planes and get most of Virgin’s money back if he wished. This was a brilliant hedge that eliminated a huge potential downside for Virgin. Once Richard had that downside out of the way, he was free to being Virgin Airlines, one of the most successful and popular airlines in the world.
What is your realistic worst case scenario? Really picture it. What are your biggest possible downside factors? Now, how can those be minimized? If you really think on these questions, you will be surprised at how creative you can get.
During negotiations, you may be surprised what you can get if you just ask. You might say that your potential landlord or supplier doesn’t negotiate, but, airplane manufacturers, typically, don’t offer a “return policy” either.
Let’s say you want to start a retail shop and you are hopeful about your future, but, ultimately, a little unsure about how things will go in a new business. You found the perfect location and the right lease rate, but, the landlord wants a 5-year lease. Consider asking for a one-time right to opt-out of the 5-year lease in 6 months if things aren’t working out. If an open-ended “out” option doesn’t work, propose an option where if sales are under a certain amount, you can opt out. If the property is in high-demand your request might not work. But, if the property has been vacant or if the landowner sympathizes with your interest in starting a new business, they may gladly take your offer.
The worst thing that happen by asking is hearing “no.” The worst thing that can happen if you don’t make the ask is getting stuck with an expensive 5-year lease with a failing business.
You can follow similar tactics when negotiating an inventory purchase or even furniture or similar items. If you are looking at a new job, but, concerned about being locked into something that you don’t enjoy, perhaps you could ask for a possible opt-out from an employment contract or an exclusion from a non-compete agreement with the new employer. If you dream of moving across the country, maybe minimizing your downside simply means doing some legwork on the internet and the phone and lining up a job before you make the move. Be creative and don’t be afraid to look for ways to minimize your downside. Remember that almost everything is negotiable to some degree.
When watching Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton a few years ago, one of my friends remarked, “Man, every time that guy get tackled he falls forward 5 yards.” Cam has a way of making sure that he gets every single inch out of every attempt. This approach to the game led Cam on to win the national championship, the Heisman, and an NFL MVP award in 2015.
There’s a lesson there. No matter what venture you are considering, and whether you succeed or fail, make sure that you fall forward and get every inch of progress that you can from it. If you do, things will probably work out your way more often than not.
Have you ever negotiated something “outside the norm”? Comment below or email me at email@example.com.