When I flew down to The Makers Summit, an unanswered email from a large chain of stores sat in my inbox. The collaboration proposed in this email had the potential to change my company’s direction and structure indefinitely. It would significantly grow my business seemingly overnight, and also require several months and considerable cash to integrate their business systems and meet their requirements. For me, this was big. This meant time, money, energy, and straight-up hard work – but with the potential for tremendous rewards and brand exposure. How could I say no? I couldn’t say no, at least in theory. But I got scared and intimidated. The risks, the long-term commitment. The fear.

When looking at any given risk, I like to identify, dissect, and analyze it. In my perfect world I would get to judge the heck out of every risk before choosing whether or not to embrace it. Often, though, I need to sketch out the circumstances and argument quickly and make a decision sooner rather than later. I’m learning to give my fears the same practical treatment. Here is part of the fear-based dialogue that ran through my mind all week, and how I decided to manage it. These are all pretty specific to what I do, but the steps to respond are the same. 

What if people don’t like the products, don’t like what I do, and by extension, don’t like me?

Putting the most insecure question right out there! I don’t know any creative people who don’t have this self-doubt, at least occasionally. We put so much of ourselves into what we do that the finished item feels like an extension of us, but really? Someone’s reaction to something I made does not get to dictate my self-worth. I can learn from what sells and what sits, but it isn’t personal. It’s business. So! I dropped the loaded last portion of the question and answered the first part. While I will do what I can to make my product likeable, others’ reactions are largely beyond my control. Furthermore, the usually-faceless They are not judging me personally and They know nothing about me. It’s really not about me anyway. So this one is already done, by default. That fear needs to be out of my head. Much easier said than done, but I owe it to my sanity to release the rumination and ultimately accept that I can’t control this.

What if it doesn’t sell?

This is a lot like the first question, but much more specific. Turn the question around. Make it actionable. What can I do to make it sell? I can make sure the product is perfect or as close to perfect as I can make it, and continually work to improve it. I can design packaging and displays to convey the excellent quality, ethics, and handmade care behind the product. I can work with retailers and show them what I think works to sell the product: what makes it unique, suggestions for use, my vision of the target customer. I can and should ask retailers for their ideas because they know their customers and the general vibe of their store better than I ever could.

Those are four concrete actions, among many others, that I can do to encourage sales. Done. Out of my head and onto the paper so I can work out the details later. My to-do list is growing but my chaos is becoming more organized.

What if it sells so quickly that I can’t keep up?

Ack! A good problem to have, but still overwhelming. My answer: I will hire people and find a facility if I need. I know I can make it work because my team is great. My team is comprised of my family, my friends, and also my customers. I know that if I need help at the last minute, I have people I can call and say “Hey, I really need help labeling/packing/shipping/delivering/whatever. $X an hour – are you in?” And there are always at least a couple people free. If that rate of production continues, I will look into other more sustainable ways to meet the demand. I can extend the order-to-ship time with my customers if needed. I don’t like doing that – no one wants to wait longer for their stuff – but sometimes workload and life necessitate longer lead times. Done.

What if it grows so much that I don’t get to spend enough time with my family?

This one looms large. Of all the risks and fears, the risk of losing time with loved ones is the most intimidating for me because we can’t get that time back. I think about this particular brand of risk often. My kids are two, four, and six. I think I’ll feel similarly when they’re 13, 15, and 17, and beyond, too. They need and seek a strong foundation in their family, and strong connections with their parents and each other, so they can face the world boldly and joyfully, knowing they have people who have their back no matter what. If I’m gone all the time, where does that leave us?

I’m going into this thinking about what I can do to not only address this risk, but also minimize its inevitable impact. I can show discipline by making sure that when I’m with my family, I am truly present and engaged with them. (Put.Down.The.Phone.) I can hire people for my company to give myself the gift of time with my family. If chosen carefully, the new hire makes up for their wages in increased productivity. I can do more business, take on more customers, and get more done because I have help. Now, the children. When I cannot be with them, I make sure they’re in the care of someone who will lovingly support, engage with, and teach them. That’s huge.

This risk is never really done or gone for me, but it can be managed. And that’s enough for right now.