The three most common reasons why entrepreneurs delay pursuing their dreams – and how to avoid them

Entrepreneurs need to ‘make friends with failure’ and do it quickly.

Entrepreneurs need to ‘make friends with failure’ and do it quickly.

Published May 9, 2024


It’s easy to understand why some businesses appear to be overnight successes. From the outside, it may seem as if entrepreneurs simply stumble on a good idea and are in the right place at the right time to turn that idea into something concrete. In reality, however, many of the world’s most successful ‘overnight successes’ were, in fact, years in the making. As Steve Jobs once put it: “Overnight success stories take a long time.”

Then, of course, there’s another side of the coin to consider: What happens when an entrepreneur takes longer than necessary to take the plunge? What happens when a dream is deferred and loses its impetus? Many business owners can attest to the dangers of falling prey to procrastination and failing to act, even when all the signs were pointing in the right direction.

Entrepreneurs are often lauded as people who aren’t afraid to take action, when really, many aspiring business owners are just as vulnerable to procrastination as any other person in any other industry. And while there are many reasons why people delay pursuing their business goals, psychologists and experts in the field of business have found certain commonalities across cases.

Three of the reasons to consider as well as what to do to avoid them:

Fear of failure – and how to persevere despite it

There’s no question about it, no one likes to fail and certainly no one welcomes failure with open arms. A study published by the American Psychological Association found a positive correlation between fear of failure and procrastination across 57 studies. The good news, therefore, is that being afraid to fail, and putting the brakes on really going for what you want, is common. What’s not common, however, is taking action despite that fear – that single factor is the reason why so few business owners make it into the arena.

The solution is simple. Entrepreneurs need to make friends with failure, and quickly. Instead of seeing failure as a bottomless abyss from which there is no return, you need to reframe it as a bump in the road, something you trip over but end up falling forwards. You can do this by consciously searching for and reading the stories of other business owners who have learnt to “fail forward”, and use those stories as a driving force.

Any activity that builds your self-esteem can also make the world of difference. The more you can frame failure as something that’s not personal or a reflection of incompetence, the more you’ll be able to become unstuck and avoid letting fear get in the way of taking action.

Fear of success – and how to move past it

It might be hard to imagine that being successful can also be a terrifying thought. You might wonder: What could be so bad about doing good? The truth is that success often brings with it its fair share of difficult changes. Some entrepreneurs are afraid that being successful will mean losing a few people in their life – and it often does. Others may be afraid of what success will do to them – whether it will cause them to become overly ambitious, proud, arrogant or selfish.

Success also means heading into the unknown. It’s easy to wallow in the very familiar despairs that come with inaction and more difficult to head into uncharted territory with little to no knowledge of which monsters are awaiting along the way.

The way to sidestep this setback is to talk about it. It’s important not to suppress this kind of fear or let pride or embarrassment hold you back from sharing your experiences. For some, this might mean seeing a therapist or joining a peer support group. For others, it could mean doing a weekly check-in with a friend online. The important part is to give voice to the fear – to expose it so it doesn’t become a source of stagnation.

Lack of direction – and the importance of leaning on others

Another common reason why entrepreneurs avoid taking the first step towards important tasks such as conducting market research, applying for business funding, brainstorming go-to-market ideas or reaching out to their first customer, involves not having a sense of direction. Rest assured that almost every entrepreneur feels this way at one point in their journey.

The answer to getting over the hurdle it to reach out to others for help and guidance. Many entrepreneurs have benefited immensely from building a relationship with a mentor or a peer in their professional network who can provide objective advice, share some of the lessons they’ve learnt and offer invaluable advice. Many of the benefits of mentorship relate to the power of having someone in your corner, and what that can do for your own sense of purpose and motivation. The benefits extend even further and become more pronounced as you grow as a person and see your business evolve.

A study conducted for Wits University found that entrepreneurial orientation, as defined by the parameters of innovativeness, proactiveness and risk-taking, had a positive impact on SME growth and that the key to unlocking its power can be found in mentorship. Mentors don’t always have the answers, but they can often ask the right questions that will inspire the right thoughts and, ultimately, light the spark that starts your entrepreneurial engine.

Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners.