One of the things I’ve learned in the cold, cruel worlds of corporate work and entrepreneurship is that success doesn’t happen just because you have a great plan. To get anything done, you eventually have to stop planning and get started. And one of the key differences between good leaders and everyone else is that leaders have mastered the art of knowing when to shift from the planning to the starting.
In fact, I read a theory by some stuffy old evolution-theory scientists once that leadership is entirely about starting: critters that move in a group down to the watering hole survive better—and the one with the guts to move first becomes the leader. (Something obviously went wrong here for lemmings—which should remind us that following a “first mover” doesn’t always pan out…)
With that in mind, here’s a formula to get you on track to mastering the delicate art of getting started:
1. Always start with a minimum viable product
One of the deadliest pitfalls business owners get into (even when they know better) is trying to start too big. Those of us who are R&D nerds really struggle with this (i.e., wanting to build the “perfect” product or service, with all the bells and whistles we think it ought to have…). Or we insist on an elegant, overdone website, or want to hire someone to rank us # 1 on Google before we get serious about marketing.
The only real problem with this is, well… folks, this is expensive and time consuming! It tends to create things that real people don’t even care about, and worst of all, it makes the project
so big that just starting it becomes a herculean task! (Ladies, we do have an edge here—we’re a lot less prone than the men to forget that this is all about creating value for people, which helps us avoid falling into the “bells and whistles” trap.)
So, rather than betting the farm on Version 1.0, instead focus on something simple. Put together a simple version of what you’re working on—write a LinkedIn article instead of a book, create a simplified version of your widget with only the most essential features, create a coaching concept that will work on a one-on-one or small group basis, and use that as the staging ground for working all the bugs out. You’ll find that this is much easier to start—and way more likely to get finished!
2. Do your beta-testing in the real marketplace
Get out there with this simple version of your product or service and ask people what they think. Sending your hair-brained idea out into the world to see if anyone bites is the ultimate sanity check. If you’re showing it to “perfect customers” and still getting no interest, it’s back to the drawing board. (Thank goodness you didn’t sink your life’s savings into it, right?) And if someone does like it, make sure you do what separates successful businesspeople from everyone else: ask them what they like about it, how they use it, and what changes would make it work even better for them.
3. Do it again!
Plan on going through a couple of iterations of “starting small,” getting solid feedback from your customers, and building that insight into the next generation.
Success begins with getting started. It can be an art, but with this formula you’ll find you have a manageable series of steps that you’re practically forced to take one at a time—vastly reducing your chances for burnout or overwhelm while ensuring that your idea is on-track for success with real customers.
So, dust off that project you’ve been putting off, and get started!