Credit: © Sergey Nivens/Dollar Photo Club
Entrepreneurs, by nature, have a high tolerance for risk. Clearly it takes a certain degree of confidence to be willing to put everything on the line to pursue the next great business idea. But even the most confident among us can have our confidence tested when it comes time to deliver that keynote speech, do that CNBC interview, or rally a room full of bright minds looking for clarity and assurance during a difficult time.
Fortunately there are some concrete ways to be more confident as you enter into those make-or-break moments in building your business. Following these six principles will help you build long-term success and confidence in your business career.
1. Action Breeds Confidence
You already know not every idea you have is going to work out the way you planned. It's great to have a sound business plan, but if you're wringing your hands over all the little things that can go wrong, you're wasting valuable time. In the words of Dale Carnegie:
"Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy."
Putting your plan into action also allows you to gain valuable information that's unique to your business. That first-hand knowledge will do more for your self-confidence than a thousand articles like this.
2. Preparation Leads to Success
As important as it is to take action and avoid analysis paralysis, there's no better way to be confident in your decisions than to be prepared. The more you prepare, the more confident you'll be and the more success you'll have.
In building your business, many factors will be out of your control. Preparation isn't one of them. Seize the opportunity to fully leverage the things you can control to minimize problems that arise from the things you can't.
3. Ask For Advice
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job. Especially in the early days of a new venture, you may be the only one involved in planning and putting the first pieces into place. Before long, though, you're going to run into a situation where you need straightforward advice from a trusted source in order to proceed with confidence.
To ensure sound advice is there when you need it most, you need to work consistently to build and maintain a trusted network of advisors and mentors. One of the best ways to ingratiate yourself with potential business advisors (assuming you've laid the proper groundwork by providing value first) is to ask them for advice. Make sure your questions are highly relevant to their work and show you've done your homework. Chances are you'll come away with some valuable business contacts who feel invested in your success.
If you're worrying you'll tarnish your reputation as an expert by asking questions, don't. In a series of studies led by Harvard Business School (PDF), researchers found that many people are reluctant to seek advice for fear of appearing incompetent. What they found, however, was that people perceive advice seekers as being more competent than those who don't ask questions.
4. Never Apologize for Giving it Your Best
Years ago I used to play guitar and sing at open mic nights at a local pub. Before I'd start playing, I'd often say something like "this is going to sound pretty rough...here goes nothing."
I suppose the subconscious thinking behind that caveat was that it would alleviate the pressure of actually having to be impressive. But what I was effectively doing - aside from disappointing my audience before I even started - was planting an idea in own mind that was both limiting and counter-productive in terms of building my confidence. This is similar to what self-help gurus call negative self talk, and there’s no place for it in business. Negative self talk undermines self-confidence by reinforcing ideas about yourself that probably aren't even true in the first place.
If you're going to get up in front of people to perform, no matter what the context, do it confidently and don't make apologies. People will draw their own conclusions, and they may not be as harsh a critic as you.
5. Believe in Something that's Bigger than Yourself
One thing I admire about Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is the confidence he shows in making decisions that affect so many millions of people. In an interview with Business Insider, he talks about being guided by a "compass." Here's Zuckerberg:
"We thought that [social media] was one of the most important trends of this generation. That as the world became more open, that could happen in a way that was good for people and that they could control their information and be empowered and have a voice."
When you believe you're contributing to something bigger, you gain confidence and inspiration not just from those who support your business, but from the community of people who support the larger idea or movement.
6. Remember: We're All Winging It
A few years ago I attended a farewell reception for a C-level executive at a major global company who was moving on to pursue another opportunity. This executive rose from ranks of front-line manager to the C-suite in impressive fashion, but upon being asked the secret of her success, she candidly revealed (I'm paraphrasing), "To be honest, I kept waiting for everyone to figure out I was a fraud."
There was probably a bit of tongue-in-cheek in that remark, but I don't think she was entirely kidding. This incredibly smart, educated, and successful executive had an impeccable track record and was an inspiration for countless colleagues throughout her career, and yet she still experienced moments of self-doubt.
It's reassuring to me that some of the best and brightest people I've known didn't have the confidence one might expect of people in their positions. Maybe we're all spending too much time comparing ourselves to the carefully crafted online personas of others, or maybe that's just human nature. The good news is, with the right mindset, we can have all the confidence we need to be wildly successful in business. As Pamela Druckerman puts it in her witty New York Times OpEd: "We're all winging it, some just do it more confidently than others."