So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start a business. Well done you!

Having mentally prepared yourself for what lies ahead by researching, reading about and talking with others about what it takes to start a business, you know that ‘success lies on the far side of failure’ and are prepared for the risks and sacrifices it takes to achieve the success you want.

The problem is, it is unlikely that everyone in your life is as excited about your decision as you are. Including the people you care most about. In fact, it is likely that some of them will think it’s downright stupid and irresponsible to even contemplate the idea.

Partners, spouses, friends, parents, grandparents, children (if they’re grown), colleagues… You know they love you… so why can’t they be more supportive of your decision?!

As I’ve mentioned before, telling your loved ones that you’ve decided to start a business is both the hardest and easiest step on your entrepreneurial journey. The hardest because this is the point where you are making a public declaration to the people you love and respect the most and you want them to support you, and the easiest because, well, compared to everything else you’ll have to do after you tell them, it’s actually a walk in the park.

From our own personal experiences, and from talking to other entrepreneurs about this, here are some common situations you’re likely to face with well meaning but negative family and friends.

1) Your partner.

That is, your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or significant other, is outwardly encouraging but inwardly thinks you’re making a mistake, doubts your ability to make it happen, or is generally worried about how it will impact your life together. This is such a tough situation. The person you love most, whose opinion you hold in the highest esteem, and who you most want to make proud, has doubts about your business idea and/or your ability to achieve it.

You may be facing this now. And it’s completely understandable, especially when a couple’s finances and financial future are intertwined. Especially if there are kids involved.

2) Your parents.

Q: Whose parents enjoy watching their kids go through dangerous and sometimes painful experiences?

A: Hopefully not yours.

Like it or not, most of us come from families who value security and reputation above adventure and ambition. It’s built into our parents’ psyche, as part of their nurturing instinct, to want to protect us from all the painful experiences out there – and this includes the pain of financial hardship, ruin or humiliation as a result of potential business failure. While they may have been your biggest fans, cheerleaders and encouragers when it came to sports, the arts or other endeavours in your youth, few challenges in adult life are as daunting, or have as serious repercussions, as entrepreneurship.

While it is rare for parents to be outright discouraging (they still want you to see them as your “#1 fans” after all), it is common for them to be sceptical.

So once you’ve had the “Oh really… Are you sure that’s what you really want?” conversation, it is very common to experience mini-interrogations at every family function or get together. The, “So how’s business (one eyebrow raised) then?” questions from Dad, and equally as many, “Are you eating ok darling?” questions from Mum which you know are parent-speak for, “We love you but what the hell are you doing throwing your life/career/education away like this?!”  

While not quite as unnerving as doubt from your significant other, underlying feelings of negativity from your parents towards your business building dreams can nevertheless be a little disappointing.

3) Your friends.

Our friends… where would we be without them? Often we’re even closer to our friends than our family, and in this respect, it’s easy to understand why they may experience the same fears and doubts as our partners and families above. They say we become like those we hang around with most – if all of a sudden you’re off on this business building trip, what does that mean for your friends? Hopefully nothing, but it can change things. Unfortunately, as many entrepreneurs report, with some friends this negativity may start to take on the form of sour grapes; especially when you start showing signs of success, as opposed to fear and concern for your wellbeing.

So, what to do about all this?

Step one: stop trying to convince people

One thing’s for sure, no matter what you say, you’re not going to be able to convince the doubters that it’s a smart idea. We all have different personalities and risk thresholds and entrepreneurs are proven to have a higher tolerance for risk. That’s why not everyone does it!

So spare yourself the agony and frustration of trying to prove yourself and convince people that it’s a sensible and logical choice. Because logic really has nothing to do with the passion, instinct, curiosity or desire that inevitably drives an entrepreneur to take the initial leap.

In fact, the ‘logical’ thing to do is to get a high paying safe secure job, live on beans and rice for 30 years and buy a property in Auckland. And how boring would the world be if we all did that?

Sure, show them your business plan and financial projections if you feel it might help. While they may not be convinced you can achieve the numbers you’re planning to hit, it may at least assuage their fears knowing that you’ve actually got a plan. Be aware though, that if you do this, you’re most likely just inviting an argument about the ins and outs of your business plan. Remember, ‘a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’

Those who believe in you will believe in you with or without proof – be grateful for them and stop trying to convince the rest. Because the only time they will stop worrying is when they actually see you succeeding – making money, expanding your business, buying baches, boats and basketball teams.

Step two: don’t take it personally

Remind yourself that the reason people may not be as supportive of your dream as you might hope them to be is because they care about you. If they didn’t care about your wellbeing, your financial security, your family, or your reputation they wouldn’t be worried about your risk of failure.

So be the bigger person and choose to see it as a sign of their love, rather than seeing it as a sign they don’t believe in you. Say to yourself, “They want me to succeed, but they want me to be safe. I should be more worried if people don’t care.”

Step three: decide whether the relationship is one which you can live with or not

OK, this is where some tough decisions need to be made.

Building a business requires 100% dedication and commitment – a lot of sacrifice over and above the standard 9–5 job – be it time, money, attention. There will be many times when you’ll wonder if you’re doing the right thing, and many opportunities to give up. You would be surprised at how often an encouraging word from a loved one at the right time can help an entrepreneur push through to success. Similarly, pervasive negativity towards your entrepreneurial aspirations can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

As an adult, the nature of your relationship with family and friends is likely to be such that you only spend a bit of time with them every so often. So any negativity from these groups is likely to be sporadic, and in small doses, allowing the entrepreneur to take it in their stride and ‘shake it off’ between visits. Most likely, you can deal with these well meaning but negative vibes without having to fire your friends or divorce your parents.

But if it’s a negative partner you’re dealing with, it’s potentially a much more serious problem.

On the one hand, if it’s negativity that stems from worry or doubt about the business idea, it could actually be a positive thing; the best relationships are those in which partners complement each other as a team, keeping each other in balance. When one is struggling, the other can be strong. When one is quick to spend, the other will save. When one is chasing every new idea they hear about, the other can be more considered. Yin and yang – stronger together.

So even if your partner is not involved in your business, if they believe in you, but are simply fearful or doubtful about the idea, all’s not lost. Presumably you are with your partner because they have personal qualities, skills or wisdom that you value. So talk openly and frankly about your goals and plans BEFORE you make the decision. Give them the ability to be involved in your decision-making process, to ask questions, offer suggestions, tell you their concerns.

Fear of change and the unknown is understandable, so while your partner may have no clue about business or the idea or industry you are wanting to tackle, hopefully the more they feel that you are taking their ideas, thoughts and feelings into consideration, the more informed and more supportive they will feel. Announcing out of the blue one day that you’ve already made a decision which will dramatically change your lives, and riding roughshod over their fears and feelings is unlikely to get you the support you want!

Partnerships are a two way street after all – just as you have asked them to share in your life journey, they have also asked you to share in their life journey and you have agreed. So when you start a business and you are in a relationship, you are asking your partner to share the risk by default. Give them the courtesy and opportunity to make an informed decision, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

On the other hand, if it’s more than simply a case of fear of the unknown or mismatched risk profiles which can potentially be worked through, and is instead a case of a partner consciously or subconsciously not wanting the life you want, not wanting you to grow, or simply trying to control you or your lifestyle, this is a bigger problem.  

While you may well have started your relationship with the same goals (financial freedom, nice house, happy family etc), the entrepreneurial pathway is quite different to the comfortable corporate or ‘9-5’ pathway with which most people are satisfied. The moment you decide to become an entrepreneur is the moment you are heading off the beaten track – your path is diverging from the path you were previously treading, and as painful as it might be, if your partner cannot or will not be happy to accompany you on this new path, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship.

Ultimately, this is a very personal decision and no one can tell you what the right thing to do is. Many people place their relationship with their significant other ahead of fulfilling their personal dreams and goals, and who can blame them. After all, what is more important than family and relationships?

If you’re lucky, you will have attracted a partner who shares your goals and dreams, and who understands that it may require a different path to get there – in which case their attitude to your aspirations will be more “Yeah!” and less “Meh!”, just as your attitude to their aspirations will be the same.

Step four: surround yourself with positive people and get on with making people proud

The first test and lesson for the entrepreneur is to let go of what others think.

In his excellent book How To Get Rich, Felix Dennis (founder of Dennis Publishing) says, “If you cannot bear the thought of causing worry to your family, spouse or lover while you plow a lonely, dangerous road rather than taking the safe option of a regular job, you will never get rich.”

Regardless of whether wealth is one of the drivers of your entrepreneurial aspirations, ultimately what he’s saying is that as an entrepreneur you cannot let other people’s fears and opinions define you – even those of your nearest and dearest.

Once you’ve made peace with the fact that not everyone will be as excited about your choices as you are, your job is to get on with the task at hand and prove them wrong. But go about it with grace, humility and respect.

Remember, when times get tough, it’s these people’s support (and in some cases food, money and shelter) you are going to rely on to get you through. They may not always understand your choices but they are not the enemy. They are your family and friends and they love you. Never forget that in your quest for a life less ordinary!


Richard Liew is the founder and Editor of NZ Entrepreneur magazine. He is an entrepreneur specialising in sales and marketing and holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance, from the University of Auckland. @nzpreneur

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