If you’re running a business and you find yourself whispering under your breath “What the heck am I doing?” at least 4 billion times a day, then welcome to the club. Have I got some comforting news for you today!
Old mates Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of a little company you may know called Google, started writing code in 1996 and didn’t really know what the heck they were doing either. Huddled up together in a dusty little garage in Cali, the boys, although smart and dashingly good looking in that cute as hell PHD Student way, had no real solid plan of how this idea was going to put bread and butter on their tables or what the business model would or should look like.
Before I continue, I’ll admit, I know it’s a cliche to use Google as a case study. It’s too easy right? Pick the most successful, most booming business on the globe and imply that you too can be a $130 billion company, but stick with me guys.
The founders of Google started out with next to no business plan just like the rest of us. They fumbled, they fell and they (most probably) ate tinned spaghetti for a very long time.
It’s hard to believe that even the founders of one of the world’s most valuable companies didn’t know what the heck they were doing. If that doesn’t feel like a giant dose of St. John’s Wort on your tongue, then I don’t know what will.
As the story goes, it wasn’t until 8 years after they started coding the beginnings of what would become ‘Google’ that they monetised the platform with AdWords and AdSense. And my friends, that was the beginning of a series of extremely lucrative business decisions.
So what does that mean for the rest of us? The sooner we get used to tinned spaghetti, the better. Oh, and don’t spend countless hours pouring over a 200 page business plan for years on end before getting out and testing your business idea. If the boys from Google can fly by the seat of their pants without a business plan and make it to the top then I think our best bet is to get out there and wing it too.
The thing is, great businesses aren’t built on complex formulas or cookie cutter plans. They’re built on ideas that fill a gap in the market, that play to the founders’ strengths and have been tested and tweaked on the go until they work as smooth as honey.
If you look at the companies that are receiving all the teachers’ gold stars today (Apple, Netflix, AirBnb or Uber), you see innovation and an idea that’s employed experimentation, hard core self -belief and a test and measure process to solve a problem, revolutionise an industry and dominate a market. Of course these businesses are lead by seriously smart founders who did their homework, but the key here is that they got out early, tested their idea and didn’t sit on a business plan for years on end before making it a reality.
So jot down the basics of your business plan on the back of an envelope and get going with the following ammunition up your sleeve.
1. Procrastination is the worst kind of sedative.
So many of us stall, falter and procrastinate because we haven’t got it all figured out yet. We put off launching our website until it’s pixel perfect in every way. We hold off having that meeting until we can afford our new letterpress, gold foiled, fangle-dangled business cards. We stall on our own success by fearing that it will never be a success. But what I’ve found most valuable in my own experience is throwing yourself in the deep end and learning how to swim. Decide once and for all exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and go after it like a pig after truffles. The sooner you take control, the sooner you can conquer your goals like Bey hitting the Coachella stage. Because the simple fact is, unless you’re under eight years old, if you don’t stand up and do the thing, no one else is going to show up and do it for you.
2. Test before you invest.
So you’ve got the million dollar idea. It’s the idea. It’s good. And by good, you mean, really good. It’s the idea that’s going to change the way the world works and going to make you Kimmy K levels of loaded. Good on you.
But before you blow your entire life savings, and your mum’s, do your best to test out your idea IRL. Can you make a prototype? Can you do a small run? Can you do some market analysis? Can you rope your friends into trialling the concept? The sooner you can get some real life feedback, the sooner you can ensure your idea is the idea and your execution is top notch. Every product or idea has a 1.0 model, it’s the newborn phase where you can test and measure and refine before going full strength into world domination mode.
3. Play to your strengths and delegate the rest.
Do you know why successful people are successful? Because they’ve narrowed in on their strengths. By playing to your strengths, you’re able to free up your time, energy and focus from doing things you’re not great at to instead allowing yourself to thrive in your ‘genius zone’. One of the reasons so many entrepreneurs fail in business is that they’re trying to do everything themselves and eventually run their business (and themselves!) into the ground. The best piece of advice I was given in the early days was to outsource your weaknesses and delegate the things you simply don’t enjoy. Literally every single member of my team has incredible attention to detail, because, well, mine is about as non-existent as my interest in Eurovision.
But let’s be clear, strengths aren’t the same as talent. My partner is an amazing gardener, he can literally grow anything you ask and can bring a plant back from the dead – yes, even those ones. He has a natural talent for gardening. But it’s not his technical skill or physical ability that makes him a great gardener. What makes him a great gardener are his strengths – his patience, curiosity, care and eye for observation.
4. Perfectionism is the arch nemesis of productivity.
My business coach used to tell me that ‘done is better than perfect’. At the time I was like, ‘Nothing is better than perfect, duh, that’s why it’s called perfect’. For a long time, Perfectionism was my kryptonite. I would bury myself head-long in a task and lose days, maybe even weeks fine-tuning and tweaking piece by piece. But now I realise that perfectionism is actually the arch nemesis of productivity and the days I spent chasing perfection, were days I lost working towards my bigger picture goals.
Being productive doesn’t mean being a perfectionist, it means doing the best you can, with what you’ve got. Don’t get bogged down in making sure everything is 100%, exactly one pixel to the left and one Pantone shade darker than the way it should be. Productive people know that done is better than perfect.
5. Momentum fuels momentum.
When you’re starting a business it often feels like you’re pushing fourteen siamese cows up a hill. It’s a long hard slog and when you’re doing every for the first time, you face roadblocks and hurdles at nearly every step of the way. I remember the first few years of starting my business felt like each day I was a contestant of the 90s TV show, Gladiators, fighting my way through intense and absurd challenges to finish the day bruised, battered and completely exhausted.
When you’re in the thick of it, remember, momentum fuels momentum, so when the going gets tough, you really do have to get tougher. Once you start to make strides, the strides will get easier and easier. Small wins turn into big wins and like a rolling stone you’ll soon start to lose that mouldy moss.
6. Keep your curiosity alive.
The key to winging it in business (and in life!) is to keep your eyes peeled at all times. The more responsive you can be to what is going on around you, the more you can refine the way you do things to ensure better outcomes. Keep your curiosity alive, test and measure like it’s nobody’s business and continually ask for feedback. Learn from your mistakes, don’t dwell on them, and use each step you take to ask yourself, how can I be doing this better?
And lastly, nothing can stand in the way of hard work. If you ask me, elbow grease trumps a 200 page business plan any day of the week.