Starting a new business venture from scratch can sometimes feel like jumping out of an airplane and assembling the parachute on the way down. That's because, as is often the case, business success happens largely through trial and error. And that's where a road map comes in handy -- yours should help you so you don’t get stuck.
If your path is like most people's, here’s how it will proceed:
- You'll start out with a personal road map, and when you find your passion, you'll develop a business road map.
- Your journey will start at point A, but point B will not be linear: There's often no straight line between the two.
- You'll plant seeds to achieve your personal goals and see which ones grow. When you find one that does, you'll chart a course to follow that growth.
- Should that growth become a passion, and a business, you'll then plant more seeds (typically, more calculated ones) within your business, to see which ones work. This is the start of your business road map.
Don’t be afraid to aim high. Google wasn’t built in a day, and you won't reach your primary goal in a short time, either. In your business, production, marketing, sales and other departments will have to establish their responsibilities. Budgets will need to be created and adjusted. Products and services will need to be developed. Sales will need to be made, and orders fulfilled.
All these incremental activities are necessary to reach your goal. You’ll want to focus on the pieces of the journey as you build your road map, not just the end goal or the quickest way to get from point A to B.
Of course, not all incremental steps will go as planned. That won't be the end of the world or necessarily a major failure. Instead, the next thing on the horizon will be where you can refocus your attention, within the scheme of the larger goal of building and running a successful company. Each new incremental goal will become your next mountain to climb as you travel the road to your final goal.
So, start by defining your passions and goals, and you’ll already have the makings of a definitive plan. And don’t be afraid to give it 100 percent. Once you have set an intention and a goal, don’t just dream about it, attack it.
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Keeping your road map fluid
Startups have to be nimble and open to change, especially in the first few years. Groupon started off as an online collective action and fund-raising platform before pivoting into the social commerce space. There’s a fine balance between retaining products that fit your market and stubbornly trying to hold on to ideas, products or marketing strategies that are not attracting a significant target market.
Sometimes you can pound a market, but the product will still not work. It’s the old square pegs-into-round holes scenario, and of course that does not work. Consider these stories of well-known pivots in which companies changed in order to grow:
- Flickr was a role-playing gaming site for several years before emerging as the now-popular photo-sharing social media site.
- Apple started out selling computer kits to kids before making its own computers and emerging as a $700 billion business.
- Lego started by making wooden ducks. A few years after a fire burned down its factory, management switched to plastic toys, and what emerged? The interlocking bricks that spawned a multibillion-dollar business, which today encompasses TV shows, movies, creation contests and more.
- Nokia began as a paper mill and expanded into rubber goods before moving to electronics, and eventually mobile phones.
- Avon was started by a door-to-door book salesperson who gave away free samples of perfume. The perfume got better reviews than the books, so he did a pivot and dumped the books in favor of starting the California Perfume Company, a precursor of Avon.
Here, then, is a (broad) step-by-step list of how to get where you're going in business. It's worked well for me:
- Plant seeds and constantly observe your garden, looking for growth opportunities and pockets of passion.
- Set an intention and write it down.
- Learn the business thoroughly through classes, internships, seminars, books, networking, etc.
- Work for someone else first, and keep learning.
- Conduct due diligence on product-market fit prior to writing a business plan.
- Find talent, steal talent and keep that talent happy.
- Talk to your customers consistently to capture feedback.
Also, don’t forget to always be flexible. There's no straight line from point A to point B. And success is never linear.