Do you have a big idea for a new business? Big ideas are fabulous, and they can provide you with a big payoff. On the other hand, they are often also riskier, more time consuming, and require a larger investment. So what can you do?
One way to manage a big business idea, is to dream big, but to think small. Consider your idea (a new restaurant, perhaps?) and think about whether there are mini or even micro versions of that idea. Using our restaurant example, you might think about a much smaller bistro space, and figure out whether you can make a decent margin using that business model. Or for an even smaller investment, a small catering operation with a rented kitchen might get you on your way, or even a #foodtruck or #foodcart. If you can start with one of those tinier businesses and have a plan to scale, you can reduce your risk at the outset, and build as you go.
Do you have any other big ideas you'd like to shrink down to a more manageable size (or have you used this approach successfully)? We'd love to hear your story.
"I'm buried in data. How can I make sense of it all?"
"When should I do research?"
"What's the right way to answer these questions?"
Does any of this sound familiar? Over and over, we hear product managers, marketers, even CEOs, asking these questions. Over the past 17-plus years, we've helped hundreds of them get clarity by working backward from their end goal. This is the question we ask, to get started:
"What decision do you want to make?" or "What action can't you take now, that you'll be able to take if you have more clarity?"
Most often, if you can answer one (or both) of these, you'll be in a much better position to map out the research you need. When you've answered them, you'll know:
You'll be able to decide whether you can sort this out yourself, or if you need help. You'll know if the answer needs to be quantified, with numbers (such as for a forecast), or if it needs a qualitative approach (getting your engineering team to see customers' frustration as they try to use feature X). And you'll waste less money, time, and effort getting something that's useful, practical, helpful, and actionable.
Whatever your questions, we're happy to work with you until you see everything you need.
Do you have a global business, or are you considering expanding or exporting? You might know that we've been travelling this past week - to the UK and Germany. One of our favourite things to do when we're in a new market or a foreign country, is to explore an ordinary activity, and ask, "what's different here"?
Above is the condiments collection at a Sainsbury's cafeteria. The breakfasts were similar, with a few different menu items (even here in Canada the big breakfast doesn't differ that much from the Full English Breakfast). But this collection of condiments was very different than what we might receive with the average cheap and cheerful breakfast here at home. Some of the things that reminded us that every market develops in response to customers, not the other way around, included:
Condiments collections are adapted to local tastes, even in quite similar jurisdictions. Payment options varied from country to country. "Contactless" - the equivalent of our debit "tap" - was popular in the UK, but didn't always work with foreign cards like ours. In Germany, debit isn't an option in most places unless you have a local account. And although many products on the shelves were easily identifiable, even under new brand names, once in awhile there were packages and presentations that completely confounded us.
So what's all this got to do with you and your customers? Just a friendly reminder, that it's about what *they* want, not about what you want to give them. Do yourself a favour, and make sure you consider the small subtleties that put the local in your global offerings. You'll be glad you did.
Does this sound familiar? For me, I’m always surprised when I hear this, although I hear it over and over again. The easiest business to start is one that solves a problem, one that people will pay to have solved. Whether that’s creating delicious homemade cakes that make the person celebrating feel extra-special, to measuring air quality and helping clients to put systems in place to improve it so they can breathe better, or even providing custom home renovation services for someone with ideas but who’s all thumbs – businesses that solve problems or challenges are simply easier to sell. That’s because you don’t need to invest as much time educating the customer as to why they would want to solve that problem in the first place. They’re already actively looking for a solution!
Of course, the next step is a bit trickier: you also need to have the wherewithal to solve the problem. If you’re not a baker, or an environmental scientist, or handy with tools and building materials, none of our examples are going to be a fit for you. So what CAN you do? This is an area where mind-mapping can come in handy. The mind-map is a great tool for capturing a lot of free-flowing, uncensored ideas. Set a timer for 15 minutes – no more. This is more work than it sounds, and by then you’ll need a break from thinking. Get yourself a large piece of paper, or a white board, or a large expanse of wall and a stack of sticky notes. Start by writing down all the things you can do, that solve problems for people. Capture everything. Don’t try and narrow it down yet. What sorts of things do people ask you to do already, because you’re good at them, or you know how to do them in a unique way, or because those same people don’t know how to do them for themselves? Keep writing. If one “job” makes you think of another, great. Write that one down too. Just keep going until the timer tells you to stop. Although it might be tough to get started, I’m pretty certain you’ll be on a roll as you move toward the end of your 15 minutes. Ideas always bring more ideas.
Now, go get a drink of water, or a cup of tea, or take a little walk. Then come back to your mind-map. It’s time to start sorting. Which ones do you really like doing? Which are you uniquely qualified to do, more than most people? And here’s the million-dollar question: which will people pay you to do? Often the things you’re best at, or that are most enjoyable, don’t obviously intersect with what customers will pay for. It’s up to you to find that intersection between work that works for you, and work that’s lucrative enough to make a living. So while I never advocate working at work you dislike every day, if something feels like a real calling, AND you feel like you’re fairly compensated for doing it, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it when your business hits its inevitable valleys.
Do you have some ideas that look like they might actually be the start of a business? Great! Next time let’s talk about ways to see whether customers really will pay what you think they’ll pay – or in more technical language, defining and validating your value proposition.
Are you planning to grow your business this year? Or do you just want to make more money from the business you're in? Those are the first two questions to explore. If you haven't already, take time today to figure out what you want, and it will help you get off on the right foot for a strong 2018. Imagine if this time next year, were busier and more successful than ever!
These are the 14 Questions that will help you get there:
If you're not into DIY, or you'd like help putting your plan together to answer one or more of these, we'd love to help. Whether you need strategic research, a facilitated strategy session, coaching, or a workshop, we're looking forward to seeing you succeed.
Have you received advice that starts like this?
“All you need to do”
“You only have to”
Me, too. I also get requests all the time for advice on how to live the life I do – unapologetically mine, in line with my values and priorities. And many of the people who ask those questions, are looking for answers that start with one of those three phrases. What’s the problem with that? Only this: having a great career is no easier than having a bad career. Both are work. Hard work. The good news, is that the work is worth it, if you get to have a rewarding, rich life along the way. And it’s important to realize that every day won’t be sunshine and lollipops.
The truth is, no life is ever easy. We will all have struggles and setbacks. Every overnight success story has many, many steps and stumbles that led to that moment of achievement that everyone gets to see. In the world of the striver, there are always many people watching every wobble along the way…some cheering, some jeering, and some just wondering when they will just give up.
“I wish I could work for myself like you do,” they say. “Then I’d be in control of everything.”
If you’re embarking on a journey with the vision of never being accountable to anyone else, let me let you in on one of life’s big secrets. It’s very likely at some point, that your vision is going come to a screeching halt. (Unless you want to live in a cave, on a mountaintop. In that case, have at it.) You can be the pilot of your own destiny, that much is absolutely certain. However even the most powerful individuals in the world have responsibilities and commitments to others. Most of us want a richer, fuller life, that lets us be more, give more, share more, and enjoy more. We want to have time with our kids, or our partners, or to serve in our communities. We want to be secure in the knowledge that there will be food on the table. And we want to know that we’re able to contribute our best work, every day.
Living the life that you choose means you must make choices about where to invest your time, talent, and resources. That part isn’t a choice. It’s an obligation. To be everything you want, you can’t always do everything you want. Sometimes things won’t go your way. Families, partners, collaborators, and customers all want different things from me, and sometimes all at once. And they will from you, as well. The one thing I’ve learned (and you can, too), is that I must choose how to handle those requests. And I can live with that. Can you?
Megann Willson is one of the Partners at PANOPTIKA, where we help you see everything, so you can make better decisions.
Too often, business owners and entrepreneurs forego educational opportunities and occasions to learn because they cost money. Oh, they'll spend money on advertising, or sales collateral, or even a new point-of-sale system. But when it comes to researching customers to serve them better, or worse yet, adding new skills to their own personal toolkit, they try to only use the "free" option. This is wrong-headed thinking, in our opinion. Why do we think that?
We believe spending money to learn is an investment. Investing in customer research can help you target more effectively, or move into more productive markets. Investing in tools or skills that make you more productive and a better seller will pay dividends to your business in short order. Thinking of either of these things as "spending" is a little like saving for retirement by putting your money in a sock under your mattress.
Of course you can't invest your money everywhere - so just like that retirement fund, you'll need to do some research to find what works best for you. And also like your other investments, you may have trouble figuring out just what that is. If that's the case, find yourself a coach who can help you evaluate your options.
There's a new skill or new information out there that will help your business grow. Start looking for your next investment, today.
When you think of startup founders, what do you think of? Do they look something like this?
There seems to be a perception lately that "startups" are only:
1. Tech companies
2. Mostly young men
3. Looking to scale exponentially and strike it rich.
In fact, this couldn't be further from the truth, and if you're over 50, an immigrant, or a woman, the next business to launch in Canada might be yours. In 2016, over 6.6 million Canadians over age 50 were in the labour force - about a third, and the number of self-employed persons of all ages was about 2.7 million. If a third of those are self-employed, that's 900,000 over-fifty entrepreneurs. A 2012 CIBC study noted that over-50s were the fastest-growing segment of the start-up market. While women don't make up the lion's share of business starts, their share is consistently growing. Immigrants, too, are finding that if they are struggling to find employment for others, building a business lets them create a job for themselves, and for others. So why not you?
As for the money, there's nothing to say you won't strike it rich. There are some late bloomers who went on to have very successful enterprises. Entrepreneurs also identify many other reasons, such as values alignment, more purposeful work, providing necessary but "missing" services in their communities, and employing others in their communities.
There are tremendous advantages to being an entrepreneur when you've already logged some career and life experience. Among these, you may have assets you can leverage for start-up capital, so you don't have to hand over part of your business to venture capitalists, but can retain control for yourself. You've also had lots of time to observe a wide variety of business models that work (and don't), and you've built valuable skills that can form the basis of your new enterprise.
Given the high number of workers over age 50, and yet an increasing youth bias in the workplace, there are plenty of mature workers who are (in the words of one columnist we read recently) "disappearing" themselves - doing everything they can to disguise or hide their age. Wouldn't you think that at age 50 you had finally earned the right to be yourself? So if you've reached the half-century mark, we'd like to encourage you to consider the "platinum pivot© " - think now about how you're going to take ownership of your career and rely on your own talents for your next 20, 30 or more years of your work life. Sure, there are plenty of youthful startups out there, but they'll all get older eventually, if they survive. You've just got a head start.
For a one-on-one consultation on how to figure out the business model that's right for you, get in touch. We can help.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help them See Everything. Here are some of the things we see.