I’ve been coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs for a handful of years now, and a regular part of that interaction is working with them to figure out what to do next. Many times it comes down to simply not knowing the next step in a process they are unfamiliar with, and I am. Other times it’s a “forest for the trees” thing. Then sometimes, it’s a much more personal thing.
This became a post-worthy topic the other day when a college entrepreneur I had been working with for a few years, talked with me about deciding to quit pursuing the start-up she had been working on. There were the usual feelings of guilt and defeat which we worked through fairly quickly. Then she caught me off-guard a bit.
“I’ve known for a while I didn’t want to pursue this anymore, but what really held me back is not knowing what to do next. I’m very goal-oriented and not having any new goals to replace this business really hindered me truly letting go of it.”
Whether it’s the typical entrepreneur with so many ideas she doesn’t know where to start, or my college graduate who was afraid to move on with nothing to move on to, sometimes you need a simple way to figure out where to head next. It’s a fairly common question I deal with in a fairly simple manner.
First – Narrow the Field
A very simple exercise you can do to narrow down your options, is the tried and true Pro/Con method. Take a piece of paper or spreadsheet and create four columns. Label the columns “Idea”, “Pros”, “Cons”, and “$$”. Write all your ideas in the Idea column. Then for each idea, start to document all the good things about it under “Pros” and all the challenges you will face under “Cons”.
The “$$” column is optional and meant to represent some ideas around how much money it will take to get started. This could be a simple Low/Medium/High ranking, or you could get more specific if you like.
How much or how little detail you write is up to you – just keep the level of detail relatively the same for all your ideas. Also – this doesn’t have to be done in one sitting. Keep your list handy and work on it whenever you get a few minutes, or make it a task to do on a Friday night; it’s completely up to you. Let your own sense of completion guide when the list is done and ready for review.
Once you feel your list is complete, take a comprehensive read back through it. Normally, most people I work with find a number of ideas that just naturally fall off the list for a variety of reasons. Too many Cons, not enough Pros, or maybe too costly to start up. This process should really help you winnow down your list of What’s Next options.
So what do you with the small number of ideas you have left? Run them through the Golden Triangle, of course!
The Golden Triangle
I’m not sure where I read about this, even less sure it was actually called the Golden Triangle, but that’s what I call it and it’s very useful.
The Golden Triangle is that place where your passion, ability and connections align for any particular endeavor. While not a predictor of success, nothing is, it is a great place to start.
Taking the ideas that survived the Pro/Con exercise above, create another four column list with those ideas in the first column. Just like before, to whatever level of detail suits you, document how those ideas fit your passion, your ability and your connections.
For example, I’m a runner. Let’s say I had an idea for a new type of treadmill I was thinking I might want to pursue.
Working at a company that has an entire consulting division helping customers with Product Development and having run a product-focused incubator for 5+ years, I have fairly good connections in the product development space. I’ve also been a lifelong runner, so I have a good connections in the running and general fitness space as well. Green light in Connections!
Having coached entrepreneurs for a while now, and previously been a software developer, I have a fairly well-developed toolkit for project management, business development and business planning. I’ve also helped a number of entrepreneurs pitch and raise significant money from investors and clients. That said, I’ve never personally built a new product, nor started a company myself. Let’s give this one a Yellow light tending toward Green. So far so good.
As a lifelong runner competing in ultra-marathon events you would think Passion would be a no-brainer green light as well. Here is where things get tricky and this simple little exercise can not be so simple. My passion is for running, not necessarily for designing, building, pitching and ultimately manufacturing and selling a piece of exercise equipment. While I have a strong amount of passion for running and fitness in general, the idea on the list is not running, it’s creating a company around a new piece of fitness equipment. Quite an undertaking. While I do like creating things and building programs, starting a capital-intensive fitness equipment company from the ground up is not something I want to tackle right now. Yellow light tending towards red!
In the end – This idea goes from top of the list, to off the list in two simple steps, freeing up precious time and energy for other ideas with better rankings.
What’s your Process?
That’s my simple process for helping entrepreneurs and personal coaching clients think through the question “Now What?” As you can see, simple as it is, it can be helpful to have someone guide you through the process to think objectively.
What’s your process for figuring out where to guide the boat? Do you have one?