How to Stop Asking for Permission to Start a Business

By Laura @ IWMLB Project | What business shall I start?

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Oct 08
Asking for permission to start a business seems ridiculous when you think about it. 

Maybe you don’t even think you do it. But if you haven’t started your business yet, what are you waiting for?

The idea for this blog post came about from a conversation with Vix Anderton from the Practical Balance.

I was interviewing her for my podcast (coming soon!) and we were talking about how when starting a business, we seem to be waiting for permission to get started.

It’s like we feel we are breaking the rules somehow, and need to have someone else’s permission to break them.

Some rules in life, are definitely not to be broken. Like the law for example. Driving at the speed limit makes the roads safer for everyone. You do not need to ‘drive it like you stole it’.

But other rules are either self-imposed or set by others because that is the way they did things.

“You can’t start a business until you have a website”. “You shouldn’t leave a well-paid corporate job to start a business.” 

These rules or ideas are what can prevent us from starting something really important to us. So we ask for permission to start.

permission to start a business

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How to Stop Asking for Permission to Start a Business

Why do we ask for permission?

We Grew Up Asking for Permission

“Please Miss, can I go to the bathroom?”

In schools everywhere, children stick their hands in the air to ask permission to do things.

Of course, schools need to maintain some kind of order, it would be chaos otherwise. But it conditions us to expect rules and follow rules.

When we are kids, we need rules to understand boundaries and learn to behave.

We have to ask for permission in corporate roles

The ‘permission-asking’ continues into adulthood if we work in a corporate company.

In corporate environments, you have to ask permission to take holiday or get your work signed off before you can go ahead with it.

If you want to get ahead you generally have to ‘play the game’ which means abiding by the company rules, whether they are written or unwritten.

You wear the right clothes, use the brand or company terminology, defer to the senior management. It’s all there for you to follow.

Women had to ask for permission for a long time

I’ve recently started watching Mad Men, (I know, I am not exactly an early-adopter) but it’s made me very uncomfortable in parts about how repressed and discriminated against women were.

And it is set in the ’60s which is really not that long ago…..

I looked up some statistics from the Manchester Metropolitan University which you can see in full here.

1918 Women over 30 were granted the vote.

1964 Women entitled to keep half of any savings she has made from the allowance given by her husband (allowance!!!).

1970 Women could only get a mortgage with the signature of a male guarantor.

1975 Made illegal to sack a woman because she is pregnant.

1980 The first time a woman could apply for a credit card.

This seems nuts to think about now….

We want reassurance when starting a business

Starting a business is scary

Starting a business feels terrifying. It shouldn’t be really as it is something we are trying out to see whether it works. 

We attach such meaning to it (this is going to release me from my hell-job and give me more time with my kids!), it takes on a huge importance and feels totally overwhelming.

We want reassurance that the risks we feel we are taking will be worth it. 

Imposter syndrome is a killer

“That person who is making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year must be so much smarter than me.”

“I’m too old to start a business, all the start-up founders are in their twenties”

We think that we aren’t qualified enough, smart enough, old enough, young enough to start a business.

We look at everyone else who is doing what we want to do and make them more important than they are.

We lack self-confidence

Sometimes asking for permission to start a business goes back to how we feel about ourselves overall.

If we aren’t confident in who we are, and what we believe, it feels very difficult to make the decision to start something that will be down to us entirely to make it succeed.

Building confidence to start a business can limit the number of times we ask for permission.

Ways we ask for permission

There are so many ways we ask for permission, some of them very obvious and some little sneaky ones that we don’t realise we are doing!

Many of these ways we ask for permission to a start a business, also double up as procrastination. Anything that involves you waiting to do something means you are putting it off due to fear!

Asking people directly

The most obvious way we ask for permission is to do exactly that, ask.

“What do you think of my business idea”.

If you are asking your ideal customer as part of your market research, then you are validating your idea.

If you ask this question of someone who is not your ideal customer, you are asking for permission.

Using more successful people as validation

A more subvert way we ask for permission is looking at other people who have done what we want to do.

We make ridiculous comparisons to give ourselves the go-ahead to start (I have done this many times!!).

“Oh well, she had the same education as I did so it’s okay for me to start a similar business.”

“Oh, that person was my age when she started her business so I can totally do that too.”

I spent many hours googling successful women who started a business over the age of 30, or who have failed businesses before they founded the one that made them millions.

I can clearly see now that I was trying to give myself permission to start. The irony is, that once I started my business, I didn’t really care what other people had done as I was too focused on working on the business!

Social media

We scroll through Instagram, lurk in Facebook groups and follow Twitter hashtags looking for reassurance that the people who have started successful businesses are human beings just like us.

Problem is most people edit out all the bad bits and just project a shiny perfect image on social media, so it just makes us feel more inadequate and less able to take action!

Trying to learn ALL the things

It’s so tempting when starting a business to think you need to know everything before you start.

We ask permission by reading books and taking courses as if to say, it’s okay for me to start once I have learned what this person says about XYZ.

I’m not saying you should never read a book or take a course, but make sure you are doing as a way to enhance the action you are taking, not as a consent to start.

Why it’s so harmful to ask for permission

You might never start your business

The most obvious issue with asking for permission to start a business is that you never start!

Confidence in your business will come about from taking action on it. Waiting for permission means that you won’t take action and therefore your confidence won’t increase.

Rules Limit The Potential of Your Business

If the rules that you are following are self-imposed, you will be limiting yourself in what your business could be.

“Thou shalt only use Pinterest to drive traffic”

“Thou shalt only use *insert website software here* to set up your webpage”

All these “rules” that we pick up by reading books, blog posts and course lessons, can seriously limit where our businesses could go.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” — T. S. Eliot

You curb your creative thinking

If you are asking for permission by looking at Instagram influencers and how they market themselves, you could be stopping yourself from creating the right brand image for you.

Take this website, I have taken a course on starting a blog, but I don’t agree with all of it as it doesn’t fit with who I am and what I want IWMLBproject to be.

I am trying to let IWMLBproject grow in a more organic way. It’s very tempting to hop into the course Facebook group and say ‘is it okay to do X a bit differently?” but that would be me asking for permission to do what is right for me.

You are saying that aren’t good enough without outside validation

This is the biggie. By asking permission, you are saying that you don’t know what is best for you.

You are using other people’s opinions to validate yourself. Which means that you don’t trust yourself and your decisions. 

How to stop asking for permission

“Do you really need permission? Still waiting for that invitation to your life? No one is going to give it to you…only you can do that.” 
― Jennifer Ho

Decide which rules are breakable

Some rules need to be followed, others don’t.

Tax Rules

Tax rules do need to be followed. You don’t need to ask permission from the tax authority to start your business, but you do need to let them know when you have.

Home rules

There is a big difference between asking for permission and making a joint decision with your spouse about how to make starting a business viable.

If starting a business is going to impact on your relationship and family, then it’s a good idea to discuss this will have with your partner and children.

You can decide between you what is reasonable in terms of the time and money you will spend on your business.

Ignore what everyone else is doing

This is your business which you can build your way.

There is no point looking to social media or other successful businesses for permission as it’s very likely they didn’t start out that way anyway.

There are people breaking rules all over the place, and still being successful. Think you need to set up a website before you start a business? Nope.

Emma from Isonomic didn’t build a website for her company until after the first project. She charged 33% upfront for the project so had already made a load of money before she even thought about a website.

Know that you ARE good enough

Stop and listen to yourself. What do YOU want to do? What feels right to YOU?

Shut out the noise, do some meditation or go for a walk. You will know what the right thing to do for your business is once you realise that you do know the answer.

I don’t mean you need to know exactly how your business will pan out or what it will become. But just know that you are good enough now.

You can take the first step to start your business, and then you can decide on the next step.

“You aren’t waiting for someone to give you permission to live; you’re waiting to get permission from yourself. It’s okay to live the life you want.” 
― Avina Celeste

Do something without asking anyone

The way to break a habit is to replace it with a new habit.

If you are used to asking people what they think all the time, try doing something without asking.

  • Wear something new without asking a friend or partner whether you look good in it
  • Cook a meal without asking if everyone else likes it
  • Decide on a business name without asking people what they think

Get used to trusting your own opinion so that you feel more confident in your business decisions.

Get to know the rule breakers

Most people know someone who just doesn’t conform to the rules.

They enter through the exit tunnel in the subway, drink their takeaway coffee sat down in the cafe *gasp* and start a business without consulting a million different books or courses.

Get to know and spend time with these people. You don’t need to start breaking rules left right and centre, it’s just good to realise that you don’t always need to conform to expectations.

And finally,

If you keep asking for permission, you will never start your business.

Be realistic about it, it won’t all be a bed of roses, sometimes you will want to throw your computer out the window and you will make mistakes.

But remind yourself that you are a resourceful, intelligent woman who will figure it out as you go along. 

Trust that you know what is right for you and your business. 

It’s your life, and your business, you don’t need someone else’s permission to build it.

how to come up with a business idea when you have no clue

P.S If you haven’t come up with your business idea yet, I have made a free ‘Business Idea Worksheet’ for you to use.

You can go through the sheet to brainstorm your business ideas and select one to get started with. Click on the link below to get your worksheet.

Get my free worksheet!


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About the Author

Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)