As with most things in life, the best way to take any idea from conception to reality is going one step at a time rather than trying to do it all at once, says Tara Gentile, author and creator of Quiet Power Strategy.
"Big ideas start small," she says. "So when you conceive of your great idea, go ahead and indulge your fantasies about what it looks like as a beautiful, final product. Then, shelve those fantasies."
When you're ready to start tackling vision, Tara recommends you start by challenging yourself to come up with a Minimum Viable Experience of your idea. Ask yourself, "What is the absolute most minimal, bare bones version of this that would still deliver the value I envision?"
Don't try to make it perfect and don't try to do too much; there's almost always a less time-intensive, less expensive, less difficult way to do what you have in mind.
Once you have that created, invite people you'd really like to work or share with to offer their feedback. Then design the next phase and add complexity to it with each iteration.
We recently checked in with Tara, who leads business workshops on CreativeLive, a website offering free online classes covering topics ranging from photography to small business. Here, she offers more advice to entrepreneurs on how they can turn their big idea into a reality.
Can you tell us the story behind your partnership with CreativeLive?
I've been working with CreativeLive for over 18 months. They bring excellence, showmanship and accessibility to online learning. I absolutely love being a regular instructor on their platform because they create an environment where I can do some of my very best work.
What are some of your favorite stories about how CreativeLive students have used what they've learned in your classes?
One student from my last workshop, "Market, Launch and Sell Your Next Big Thing," turned what she learned into her first six-figure quarter. Another student decided to up-level her brand and raise her prices after my "Value Pricing & Business Models for Creative Entrepreneurs" workshop and vocal support from the online audience.
But probably my favorite story is from Sasha Cagen, the author of QuirkyAlone, who has been a student for each of my three previous CreativeLive workshops. She's connected with lots of new community members just by showing up! But she's also worked to clarify her message and her offerings so she's booked clients and sold tickets to her tango retreats in Buenos Aires because people have watched her in my "hot seat."
You help coach entrepreneurs and idea people on building their business...what seem to be the biggest hurdles when it comes to turning ideas into reality?
There are three main hurdles turning your ideas into real products and services that serve people. The first is seeing your idea from your prospective customer's perspective. Creatives and idea people love their ideas. They live and breathe their passion and point of view. But that doesn't always translate into knowing why someone would want to buy your idea. That leads me to hurdle No. 2.
The second thing people struggle with is being able to articulate the connection between their idea and the need their customer actually has. This is the difference between what I call "Buy In" and "Buy Now." Creatives and idea people are really good at Buy In - getting people excited about a great idea - but they struggle with Buy Now - why someone would choose to get out their credit card for that idea. I work with them on communicating their customers' problems in their customers' words and then connecting that to their idea through a key insight.
The final hurdle is focus. Entrepreneurs and freelancers are bombarded by so much noise about how they should be marketing themselves and their businesses. They rarely take the time to get quiet, focus and really discern what's actually going to work for them. Focus is about more than concentration; it's an unwavering commitment to bring your goal to life. It's hard to make that commitment when you're being pelted with other people's opinions. You need to take time to get in touch with what's going to be effective for you personally.
What are some basic finance skills you think every entrepreneur should have a good grasp on before launching their business?
One thing that I see entrepreneurs struggle with is the idea of profit and I think that's related to a personal finance issue. At home, you probably need to figure out what's Mine, what's Yours (a spouse, family member, or roommate), and what's Ours with expenses and income. When you conflate what's Mine and what's Ours, it leads to misunderstandings and resentment.
Something similar happens in business. There's your Income, there are your Expenses and then there is Profit. When you conflate Income and Profit, you miss a key opportunity to find the resources to grow your business. You need Income to support your daily life and you need Profit to reinvest (or to play with, but let's talk about that another day!). Too many entrepreneurs fail to work true Profit into their pricing and business models.
Another softer finance skill that entrepreneurs need to learn is how they personally balance spending more on things they really value and spending less on things they don't. We all make choices with the way we spend our money. Some would rather hire a housecleaner, others would rather spend their Saturday mornings cleaning up. Some would rather eat out regularly, others would like to cook at home but buy organic produce. Examine your personal values and how they impact your spending. Then consider how your customers' personal values will affect how they decide to invest in what you're offering.
What are the most common mistakes you observe entrepreneurs making in the early stages of building their business?
One common mistake is trying to be all things to all people. They'll try to respond to everyone's advice and requests instead of focusing on one clear strategic path. That makes a business less compelling and less likely to stand out.
Another common mistake is being reactive instead of proactive. They wake up each day and respond to whatever is in front of them instead of creating the tasks and environment that are going to get them where they want to go.
Of course, another mistake here is that they don't have a clear vision of what they're trying to accomplish. They're more focused on paying the bills than creating something extraordinary. Decide where you want to take your business and exactly what that's going to look like so that you can steer your own ship instead of letting the current take you wherever it's flowing.
What are the smartest things entrepreneurs can do from a financial perspective to help shore up their business and themselves?
The first thing is to really examine your lifestyle. What's necessary and what isn't? That doesn't just mean cutting all the fun stuff out. It means creating a plan to cover what's really important to you. Build your business to cover what's important to you, the expenses you need to draw that income, and, as I mentioned earlier, profit above and beyond that.
The second thing is to make sure your business model creates financial momentum. What I mean by that is that when you sell one product, it should set you up to sell other offers in your model down the line. That means that putting energy into one part of your model creates momentum that rewards you financially in other parts of your model.
The third thing is to look at your numbers. I'm constantly surprised how often business owners don't watch their numbers because they think they don't know what they're doing so it won't matter. Use bookkeeping software to automate the bookkeeping process and then spend a little time every week just seeing what's happening. You don't need to run lots of crazy reports. Just start by seeing if some numbers go up or down. Then look to see whether some numbers influence other numbers. Once you're feeling more comfortable with that, you can start to play games like challenging yourself to increase sales without increasing expenses the same amount.