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Many skilled professionals confess to me that they’ve been thinking about becoming an independent consultant for a long time, but something is holding them back. Of course, that unstated barrier is Fear.

I can certainly understand that Fear – the potential rewards of consulting are substantial, but the stakes are also very high. Most of us require a certain income level to sustain ourselves, and the pressure is even higher for those with a family to support.

Finally cutting the cord and setting up a freelance practice is just the start of the anxiety that new consultants will face.

First, there is the sweaty-palms discomfort of learning how to speak confidently about your professional rate. Then, there is the gnawing anxiety when the phone doesn’t ring for a while. This is followed by the pulse-racing stress of having to manage a deadline during a technology crash. Then it’s the pressure of landing the first assignment that really takes you out of your professional comfort zone. Finally, if your practice has survived this long, you get to move on to the Mac Daddy of all fears – the abject terror of public speaking to increase your exposure.

But in facing and managing all of those fears, I’ve learned something empowering and important: the more fear you take on, the less control fear has over you.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the Circle of Influence – these are the areas in which we have some control over our life concerns. His advice is to focus your problem-solving activities in your Circle of Influence – and you will see that circle grow.

Lately I’ve been thinking of Fear as having a Circle of Influence too. Depending on the individual, Fear’s Circle of Influence over them can be huge, or quite small. If your Fear has a large Circle of Influence over you, you have a limited comfort zone and appetite for risk and therefore limit your experiences, both personal and professional. We hear this a lot when people say: “I’d love to [fill in the blank]”, and then state some flimsy excuse why they “can’t” do that thing that essentially means “I’d love to [fill in the blank], but I’m scared”.

Happily, I’ve learned that as you begin to face your Fear, its Circle of Influence slowly diminishes. So, the things that seemed like a huge deal to me four years ago are pretty much par for the course now. Not that long ago I couldn’t turn down work (even if I knew it wasn’t the right work for me) because I was scared that nothing else would come along. Now I know I don’t do myself or my clients any favours taking on projects that are wrong for me. The first time I taught my course The Essentials of Research Storytelling, I was terrified. Now I get excited to teach it because it’s a subject I’m passionate about.

Thinking of fear as having a movable Circle of Influence is empowering because it means that that circle will get smaller with each step that you take. If going from full-time employee to full-time freelance consultant is too big a leap, then the key is to just keep taking steps towards your goal. Start small and get bolder and bolder. First, learn to not just survive, but thrive, in a networking situation. Then, start posting regular blog posts on your area of expertise to get comfortable in a thought-leadership role. After that, maybe it will be time to take on some part-time consulting work on the side.

Each step along the way is going to be daunting and uncomfortable, but as Fear’s Circle of Influence slowly diminishes, your power, and your professional options, will grow.

Ellen Eastwood is a Research and Insights Consultant with 17 years of experience. She specializes in Research Storytelling - transforming all that data into an executive level report that answers your business questions.