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Cherish Fear
By Bob McElwain

Many argue it's best to overcome fears, to put them in their place, so to speak. For me, that place is right out front where I can meet them head on. Embrace them even.

It's fear that keeps us from coming too close to the edge of a precipice or climbing too high in a tree. In business, it points out the pitfalls ahead and allows us to plan a way to avoid them.

Fear is of two kinds. Rational and irrational. It is rational (sensible) to avoid falling off a cliff. It is irrational (nonsense) to believe all the people in the crowded room are watching you. Expecting you to do something naughty, maybe.

To the degree possible, crush irrational fear. Meet it head on. Why do you feel everyone is watching you? Look about at those around you. Study their faces. Their smiles and frowns. Their ernest or frivolous dialog. Listen to their chuckles and laughter. Are they really watching you? Do they even know you are in the room? Would anyone notice if you did do whatever? The answer is no. But cling to such questions until irrational fears are laid aside. They block our way, slow our pace, and add uncertainties, none of which is helpful.

But rational fear is useful. Harness it, then give it free rein. Listen to what it tells you. Evaluate. Are you too close to the edge of the cliff? Back away. If it is only of goblins in the night it speaks, say the words right out loud, "Stuff and nonsense!"

Building a business online or offline is fraught with fear. Listen to what it says. Lean closer if the voice is too faint. It will help you foresee a great deal of the future, of problems that may beset you, and barriers that may need to be overcome. It is unlikely all of this will come to pass, but think of the added confidence gained in being prepared for those that do.

Taking risks is an essential ingredient in growing a business. From making changes in a website to expanding into another area, all is laden with risk. But if no action is taken, there will be no growth. Instead, the business will wither and die. Let your fears assist you in planning a clear path around possible obstacles, then move forward boldly. With good plans for the unexpected, you can not be seriously harmed.

Specific to your website, recognize that your visitors are real live people, not just hits reported to log files. As such, they are also subject to fears. Know some have not made the distinction between rational and irrational fear; they have both kinds lumped together. Their behavior will be all the more unpredictable.

Some have reported as many as 65% of visitors fail to complete order forms. While I have never seen mention of it, I would bet good bucks that many click away in fear. "Why do they want my address; I didn't ask them to mail anything to me?" "Why do they want my phone number?" "Who are these people butting into my life this way?"

We know how important it is to build trust with the content and presentation of a website. While we may have failed to achieve this goal completely, we have worked at getting close. I suggest another step be taken.

Since indecision and uncertainty often lead to fear, and thus to flight, erase all possible points at which a visitor may stumble. Easy navigation is clearly a must. But look for less obvious things. A link that misleads. An ad that may offend. A line in a sales pitch that is too much to swallow. That is, look at every element within your site. Identify every point at which a visitor might stumble, then make sure it won't happen.

Watch the birds in your backyard. Or the deer in the foothills. Fear keeps them alive. Given any challenge that can not be instantly identified, it is always fight or flight. These options are far too fundamental and primeval to ignore. In your business, harness fears so the next action can be taken. On your website, be sure visitors do not click off from fears of which they may not even be aware.


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