How fear is a barrier to business growth

Claire Methven at the Marketing Centre on how you can overcome the fear of growing your business.

Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said ‘the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.’ This couldn’t be more true when it comes to business and marketing.

Although fear can hold us back in all walks of life, in business, fear is anathema. It stifles growth, has a detrimental effect on profits and can ultimately result in the thing we fear most in the first place: failure.

In order to implement a powerful marketing strategy and reach your true business potential, it’s crucial to overcome these fears. Here’s what ‘marketing fear’ looks like, how it’s holding you back, and how you can overcome it.

How do you know if you’ve got marketing fear?

One of the most obvious signs is inactivity. You’re so anxious for everything to be perfect that tasks take ages to complete, leaving your business marketing in a state of inertia.

Do articles and newsletters go out late – or perhaps not at all – because you’re unsure of the content? Do you only post on social media once in a blue moon because you second guess what you’re posting?

Being inactive has always been damaging but in this fast moving digital era, it can prove fatal for businesses. Waiting for markets to change, customers to find you, or your business to magically grow is a bit like Waiting For Godot: it’ll be a no-show.

Similarly when you pick holes in something or focus on the downside, you create justifications for why you shouldn’t do it. If an exciting new marketing plan only makes you think of a million reasons why you can’t do it, you need to ask why.

Are you measuring your marketing activity? Do you avoid looking at the figures because you don’t want to know how much money is being wasted? As humans we’re hard-wired to like good news and to try to avoid information which contradicts what we want or where we think we should be, so beware of wilful blindness. By focussing on details which serve to validate or distract us, we often unconsciously hide from facts which are difficult to accept. If you don’t face the problems, how can you hope to find solutions?

How to break through the barrier

If you’ve realised that fear is holding you back and creating a barrier to growth, don’t despair. You’re not alone and acknowledging that this is a barrier means you can do something about it. You could change your definition of marketing.

Marketing isn’t a magic box of random creative tactics – or at least it shouldn’t be. The objective of marketing is to effectively reach your target audience. Therefore, good marketing should be a strategic process developed around solid facts and figures, which takes time. Importantly, it’s a
process which never ends. If you don’t see instant returns or dramatic metrics, this isn’t a sign of failure – it may just be a sign that things need to be tweaked or that your expectations are unreasonable.

If you expect magic tricks or miracles, that’s where the fear creeps in. What if it goes wrong? The good news is it can’t ‘go wrong’ because marketing is an evolving, responsive process which can be modified. Adopting a more scientific, methodical view of marketing is the key to having realistic expectations and eliminating fear of failure.

Size doesn’t matter

Every business needs customers in order to survive, so every business needs to implement a marketing strategy – irrespective of size. The rise and rise of online marketing means you don’t need a huge budget or show-stopping ad campaigns to reach your target markets. According to a report by Magna Global, digital media will account for 50 per cent of the global advertising spend ($291 billion) by 2020, with this figure predicted to equal the combined global offline spend.

Fail to plan, plan to…

Have you ever noticed how much more in control you feel by just writing a to-do list? In marketing, planning is key to success – and to peace of mind. Without planning, you’re just shooting in the dark which is likely to result in wasted money, time and growing feelings of insecurity or fear.

Detailed planning is the lifeblood of effective marketing. A good plan should:

  • Identify exactly who your target audience is: why and how is your product right for them?
  • Develop business products and services that specifically target your market.
  • Identify your competitors and decide how to position your brand so that customers choose your business instead of theirs.
  • Set clear objectives, timeframes and metrics so you can monitor the results of a campaign.
  • Develop a detailed strategy, including all the channels and tools you need to reach your market.

By putting something down in black and white, it makes it much more likely that you’ll follow through, so don’t underestimate the power of planning the details. And make sure you update it regularly. Like all aspects of business, marketing plans aren’t one-offs – they need to change and adapt as your business does.

Focus on goals, not trends

What are your marketing objectives? Once you have the answer, stay focussed on it. It’s easy to get distracted by fancy trends and tactics, but marketing should be about reaching your goals, not about pursuing vanity projects or trying out the sexiest ideas.

If one of your goals is to increase sales within a particular demographic, stick to the channels which reach those individuals. How exciting it is should be irrelevant – stick with what works.

Know your customers

When it comes to marketing, knowledge is definitely power. By understanding your customers, you stand a much higher chance of successfully reaching them. This is especially true when it comes to creating valuable content. What are they interested in? What type of information would be of value to them?

Researching and creating customer personas can give you a clear idea of who you’re talking to and how you expect them to respond. Not only will it make it more likely that they’ll engage, it will also have a positive impact on their overall experience with your brand.

Focus on the positive

Just as fear promotes negativity, being proactive and decisive go hand-in-hand with positivity. Write a list of all the things you could gain from a marketing strategy. Imagine the best case scenario and where you think this activity could take your business in terms of growth. While it’s important to be realistic, developing a positive attitude towards your marketing plan can provide the impetus you need to just do it.

Test and measure

Just like a scientific experiment, good marketing should be methodical. Don’t be afraid to try things out. If you put off posting on social media because you’re worried your content isn’t interesting enough and nobody will read it, how will you know unless you try? By testing and measuring you can
steer clear of emotive decisions and let the data guide the changes until you’re happy with the results.

Use an expert

So you’re not a marketing expert. That’s ok. Often in small and mid-size businesses, the thinking is that you can – or should – do it all. This can naturally elicit feelings of fear or anxiety. How do you know if your ideas are likely to be successful? Involving an experienced professional – like one of our proven part-time marketing directors – is the best way to develop a strong marketing strategy.

A marketing director’s role is chiefly to develop effective, efficient strategies based on knowledge of the market and customer base. They should be able to predict what will work for your brand and identify what might waste your money.

The first step in combating fear in business is recognising it. If fear is holding your business back from achieving its full potential, the steps above will help you break through the barrier and move your business in the right direction. Active, decisive, well planned marketing is the most
effective way to remove fear in business, replacing it instead with motivation, direction and control.

Find out more: The Marketing Centre

Further reading on marketing

Content marketing trends: How will audiences be engaged?

Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for from 2018 to 2019.

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