I have more ideas than time!
My team is so frustrated. We are loaded with good ideas—ideas that will make us money! But we can’t even get the work done to execute on the services we already have going! When my team sees me roll in with another “great idea” their eyes shoot daggers at me.
How do I decide what we should execute on, and what we should delay? Should we just work harder? What do I do with these ideas we can’t get to?
When a business is just starting out, the most important question that a business owner is asking (and they ask it a lot) is, “Will this thing GO? Can we survive?”. When you’re facing survival, trying everything is a rational strategy. You don’t really know what’s going to work, so you try a lot of things to see what gets traction—i.e. that sweet spot where what people are willing to pay for and what you want to DO meet. That’s what most business owners do; they throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks.
Hopefully, in that process, you find one or two things that people are willing to pay for that you also want to do. (In business lingo, you’ve found “product-market fit“.)
Congratulations, you have a business!
You have things that you want to do and that you are GOOD at, and (amazingly) people will pay you money to do it! That’s great! But those initial offerings are likely, not perfect, they still are not producing enough money, or they’re just not growing fast enough to give the owner confidence that the business will survive. What if my customers get attacked by bears? What if no one ever hires us again?
When that happens, we tend to go back to our initial strategy; and we keep throwing things at the wall to see if we can find the next thing to help us grow! Hopefully, those new things are things that we can sell to our existing customers and that are similar to what we already do; but innovation is what got us to this level of survival; innovation is what has worked so far. Why not stick with it?
The trick is, once you’ve found a “good market”, and have a product or service that people want (better if they tell you they can’t live without it), then the challenge ISN’T actually innovation. It’s optimization. Once we know who will buy our service and what they want it for, we need to work to improve that “product-market fit” so that we become more valuable to those clients and find ways to increase what they are paying us. We need to consider how and why we are saying “no” to our existing customers and think about what they are buying elsewhere in order to get more revenue from the market we’re in. At this stage, our innovation needs to stay closer to home!
While it may not “feel” right, here’s the trick: to get started, you have to try many things; to GROW, you need to do a smaller set of things, over and over, so that you get really good at those things! Survival depends on innovation, but growth depends on optimization.
Optimization is hard for many business owners to do! We get bored! We want to try NEW things. Doing a small set of things repeatedly doesn’t feel like we’re making progress—or it feels like the progress is too slow. But if we’ve actually found our “business”, growth will come from just doing more of that business and doing it better!
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems to solve! Doing things over and over means that there are opportunities to create systems, checklists, automation, measurements, reviews, etc., that make all those repeat tasks happen more quickly, more easily, and with fewer errors. It means sweating the small stuff you glossed over in a rush to survive. It means digging deeper to optimize your marketing and attract more highly targeted leads.
So those dagger eyes that your team is throwing your way might just be justified! If you can’t tell if those eyes are justified or not, here are some quick questions you can ask yourself to determine if your latest “idea” should ever even be mentioned to your team.
- Is this “idea” something that your current ideal client would want to buy? Is it something that a slightly larger version of your current ideal client might buy?
- Did this idea come from observing or listening to your ideal customer? Is it something that they told you they needed?
- Is this going to increase the value of our current offerings significantly?
- Does it open up a lower price point offering that we could sell to our current ideal customer? Does it open up a premium offering that we could sell to them?
- Can this idea be executed without adding any significant new service delivery skills to our team? (It may require additional admin or marketing skills that we could potentially “rent,”; but if the client-facing team needs additional skills, that’s a red flag.)
If the answer to any one of these questions is “no,” then I think you should park that idea for a while until you’ve made the most out of the market you have.
A word about the role of the CEO
The CEO’s job is to break things. The team’s job is to fix the things that get broken. Said another way, the CEO’s role is to make a change. Without change, the organization gets stuck and can’t move forward. But you can’t make change faster than the team can absorb it. When you do that, you have CHAOS. (And you don’t want chaos, do you?)
It’s a skill as a CEO to learn how fast you can make change without breaking your team. Try slowing down and see how it feels. Your team will thank you.