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Start-up Advice

Limiting Beliefs of Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Three reasons why entrepreneurs fail – and none of them are related to skills or competitors.

Axel Rittershaus




When we’re watching our competitors, the market and our product, we can miss looking at an even more important element responsible for our success: our mindset!

Talk to any successful entrepreneur about his success formula, and he will almost always place more emphasis on his mindset than on education, skills or product features.

Looking at my coaching sessions and trainings with entrepreneurs, I can confirm that. Let’s investigate a bit more and discuss three major limiting beliefs of aspiring entrepreneurs:

Why Me?

Many people have great ideas. They would be great entrepreneurs. They would be inspiring leaders. They develop great concepts and are very positive that they will work.

But they don’t act. Because a voice in their head is asking: “Why me? Why should I be the one who is making this happen?”

And the voice goes: “If this is such a great idea, why didn’t other people come up with it already? I’m sure I missed an important catch and the idea isn’t that great.”

Since the mind is really powerful and wants to test you, it takes the last punch to eliminate any remaining will power:

“Who do you think you are? You don’t have the experience or the education or the network or the money nor are you smart enough to do that! There are so many people out there who are much smarter than you! You are so stupid. If you try doing that, you will fail miserably. Your friends will laugh at you, your family will be disappointed and you will make a fool out of yourself. Forget it and stick to your roots. Keep on doing what you have done so far.”

Does this sound familiar to you?

These words are very common, especially for people who have never run a business and who are not surrounded by other entrepreneurs.

Now listen to some wise words by Steve Jobs:

“Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

Now ask yourself again: Why you?

Because you have the passion, the persistence and the will power to do it. Because you will do it in your own style, you will make it different to others and that makes you unique. You don’t have to put all your eggs into one basket immediately. But you have to get over these limiting beliefs by taking a few little steps. Just a few steps to get some feedback from real people and customers and not only your inner voice.

Be assured: Many successful people had and still have to fight with their inner voice which is trying to hold them back.

What can I do if it fails and doesn’t work as expected?

Okay, you’re ready to go out, pumped up with your mind-blowing business idea that will change the world forever. You expect everybody to buy into your idea immediately. You want to see excited faces looking at you, begging to be your client.

Unfortunately this might not happen to you, because it almost never happens. At least not at the first try.

And since we love our idea, we expect everyone to love it too. This can become quite frustrating.

When we experience an unexpected (negative) reaction to our business idea, we tend to question ourselves. Many aspiring entrepreneurs will take this as proof that their idea was not that good. That they are not smart enough, and it was a crazy idea to even think about becoming an entrepreneur.

Whatever you do in life, it will most likely not always work immediately. We have to be prepared to fail. And failing scares many people to death!

A successful entrepreneur expects setbacks.

He knows that setbacks and rejection are key elements in creating a great product or service. You can only improve by getting feedback! If a client tells you why he’s not buying, you should say “thank you.” If you know his “why” you can work on your offering and make it better. Get back to him later and provide the new solution.

By the way: You don’t need to make everybody love your product or service. This would be a nightmare – because you won’t be able to handle it! Getting a market share of 5%, 10% or 15% is a pretty good share for many businesses. This means, 85% – 95% of the prospects would not like your product. But who cares if 5% – 15% do actually love it!

Even at a later stage in your venture, there will always be setbacks.

If you’d be a football player, a striker, would you use every chance to make a goal if you see an opportunity? I trust you would.

Would you stop playing football, because you shot at the goal once and did not make it? I don’t think so. You and your teammates would go on and on and on – until you make it. Even Lionel Messi, maybe the best football player ever, is not making a goal whenever he fires at it. So don’t think you have to score every time you’re talking to someone!

But never stop trying!

That’s what differentiates the successful people from the struggling ones:

  • The struggling people are taking a setback as a proof for “I won’t make it.” In the end this mindset will take them exactly there.
  • The successful entrepreneurs take a setback as a part of the journey. They expect setbacks and are willing and ready to learn from them. This mindset takes them wherever they want to go to.

What is the perfect thing to do?

If you believe in yourself and expect setbacks, there is still another little ‘thing’ in your mind that might jeopardise your breakthrough as an entrepreneur.

This ‘thing’ makes the difference between an idea and success.

You won’t believe how many strategy papers I read from mid-size and large corporations. They had great ideas, perfect plans, and excellent strategies. They only failed in terms of that one little ‘thing’ which I call Taking Action.

We tend to ask ourselves for hours, days, weeks and months “What is the perfect way to do this?” Asking this question means that you are never going to do it. Because you will never know what the perfect way is!

As an entrepreneur you have to accept this. Especially in the beginning, you need to stop looking for the perfect way, because it will hold you back from taking action, and without taking action, nothing will happen.

Replace the hunt for the “perfect way” with the quest for the “most promising first and second step.”

By the way: This does not mean you can deliver bad products or services! You have to deliver great quality. The quality has to match your client’s expectations – at the very least. Then keep on going and make it better. Many people never act since they are never satisfied and never think that it’s perfect. This is a procrastination trap, making success impossible!

It’s like climbing a mountain: First you make a decision which mountain to climb; next you choose a route to take and start walking. On your way you will change the route whenever appropriate, depending on the terrain and weather. You will keep an eye on your mountain top and adjust your approach. But you will never get on top of it, if you don’t start walking and keep on going.

Wayne Gretzky, the best ice hockey player the world has seen, and holder of numerous world records, once said: You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.

Start now and take action, learn from it and keep going.

Axel Rittershaus is an internationally renowned C-Level / Executive Coach & Author who started as an entrepreneur in the IT industry in 1993. He knows that success is the result of hard work and determination even more than innate talent. A master of maintaining focus and follow-through, Axel supports C-Level leaders globally in achieving goals. Axel is dedicated and passionate to see clients succeed beyond their expectations. Axel is also the president of the International Coach Federation South Africa and a multiple Two Oceans and Comrades finisher. You can follow him on twitter.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. lizwe

    Apr 5, 2012 at 16:30

    Great article and inspirational words, just what every self-doubting business person I meet every two days at least, needs to hear. Often I come across people who believe that the success of their businesses is base on what happens ‘around’ them and never ‘inside’ them. I like referring to ‘mental strength and a tough stomach for business challenges’ as the real separator of would-be success stories and those that will never crack it. Well said Axel!

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Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden




You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden




Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck


This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black




Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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