In my role as a new business advisor and occasional investor, I hear lots of people talking about their dreams of “someday” starting and running a new venture. They can talk with passion about their innovative new idea, and ask lots of questions, but never seem to really get started. The challenge we all have as business founders is to move from the idea stage to a real business.
The solution I recommend is to move forward with a few quantifiable steps, to turn your dreams into specific goals and milestones, and then measure your progress and celebrate each small success in achieving these goals and milestones. I found these bite-sized chunks to be far more achievable and satisfying than making that one big step from your dream to a successful business:
- Get the idea out of your head and onto paper. Even if it’s only a few PowerPoint slides or typed paragraphs, writing something down is the first step toward making it real. The process will force you to solidify the specifics, and mentally commit to them. Always write in the future tense, what you will do, and name yourself as the key person responsible.
Before you know it, you will have a ten-slide pitch that you can use to gauge interest from potential customers, as well as friends, family, and early investors. Suddenly you will find that writing a ten-to-twenty page business plan with details is easy rather than daunting.
- Create a specific plan to network to get the help you need. If you need funding, make a list of people you know who might help, and plan to attend specific business events where you can use your pitch and a written plan. Do the same for partners and co-founders that will buttress your strengths. Consult with business peers to learn what you need.
Take the initiative to join recognized new business support groups and the local chapter of relevant industry associations to meet people you can help, as well as people who can help you. Don’t forget the local Chamber of Commerce and local business executives.
- Set target date milestones and metrics to gauge progress. Pick a reasonable desired business rollout date, and work backward, assigning completion dates to all the interim tasks required. Quantify expected results, and the measurements you will use. Your goal should be smaller chunks and more milestones, allowing regular celebration of progress.
For example, every business needs a company name and logo, incorporation, an Internet domain name and website, social media accounts, prototypes, intellectual property, and key executive positions filled. Set milestones for each and measure progress to success.
- Take action on your plan, and finish something every day. You need to build momentum, and every milestone completion builds momentum. Celebrate each step forward, and check off completions to keep the team motivated and moving forward. Don’t get caught up in the crisis of the day, or be satisfied with just working hard.
Now is the time to build your company culture, and make it one with a can-do attitude, team collaboration, and empowered people with a constant focus on the customer. Also, your culture must be not afraid to pivot and to adapt your plan as things change.
- Narrow your focus daily to the key things that really matter. Dilution of focus kills too many small businesses, as they try to attract more customers and counter more competitors. The best are determined to do one thing well, rather than many things poorly, with limited resources. Time is also of the essence, so make your impact early.
I once worked in a software startup that continually delayed initial shipment to add new features, based on feedback from early adopters and competitor concerns. The result was a product that was bloated and late to market. I recommend the minimum viable product (MVP) strategy.
For aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners, ideas will not turn into businesses, no matter how long you wait, or how hard you work, until someone builds and executes a plan with specific milestones and expected results. If your dream is to change the world in your lifetime, now is the time to stop dreaming and start executing.