I get asked questions every day about starting, finishing, and shipping things.
Let’s be honest: I bring this on myself.
Not only do I write about these topics, but I ask everyone I meet or who joins The Resistance to tell me what they’re struggling with (and how I can help).
The nature of this is that some questions come up again and again.
I find they fit a certain trend.
So today, I want to talk about the second most common question I get asked (right behind “why are you so handsome?” – a question that has no human answer):
First, the question:
“Tom, I want to [place description of doing something here, like: write book, sell more kitten mittens, etc.], but I don’t have [place description of excuse here, like: an audience, money, connections, platform, etc.]. What do I do?”
Now, the solution is actually pretty obvious: go build or create the thing you’re lacking (audience, money, whatever), then do the thing you want.
Thing is, though, this advice is about as useful as telling a diabetic to stop consuming so much sugar.
Great thought, but the obvious isn’t what we need. If that were the case, the problem would be solved already.
Case closed. We won. Let’s go home.
No, most humans are great at recognizing what needs changing (whether in diet, business, relationships, or life). What we’re not so great at is implementing the changes necessary to succeed.
So what we DON’T need is someone reiterating the problem and telling us a solution.
What we DO need is a framework to facilitate success: a process to help us make change; a template to help us ship our project (or lower our cholesterol).
So if you’re stuck, confused, depressed, exhausted, or ready to throw in the towel (or already have), here’s what you need to do.
3 Steps for Starting Anything from Scratch (even if you don’t have money, connections or an audience)
#1. Take The Lead
Nobody is going to create your vision for you.
Nobody is going to write your book, or call the wholesaler to coordinate the import, or build your website (the way it needs to be built).
Nor is anyone going to tell you how each chapter ought to be written, how to structure your import / export business for your particular idea, or how your website needs to be designed for your goals.
That’s on you to do the hard creative work.
That’s what “Taking the Lead” means.
- actually executing your idea at the lowest level possible, and
- building a business model with concrete action steps, deadlines, and ship dates
Because I personally find examples helpful for learning, here you go:
How to Execute an Idea at the Lowest Level Possible
For the past week I’ve been in Traverse City, MI, so I’ve been drinking a bit more delicious micro-brew than usual, so I figured we could use a brewery example.
Now let’s say you have an idea for a brewery…
The answer isn’t to imagine cool flavors you’d brew or great names you’d give them. Sure, this part is fun, but fun doesn’t create anything.
Your job is to brew (or source the brewer), connect with people who love artisan beer, and sell your beer to them.
When enough people are buying, it’s time to scale.
In other words, your job is NOT to:
- dream up the coolest brewery name
- talk about how awesome your brewery could be in location X
- think about how much fun it would be to own a brewery
- tell your friends about your brewery over beers at another brewery
- create a logo
- complain about not having an audience
- work as a bartender to get experience
- build a website
- hire a VA
- wish you had money
- ask people for money
- take out a loan
Your job IS:
- to sell your own beer
(or, if you don’t care about the creation aspect of it: sell someone elses artisan beer)
That’s what a brewery is.
Everything else is a distraction until money exchanges hands (for delicious micro-brew).
How to Build an Actionable Business Model
Now, once you understand you need to execute your idea at the lowest level possible, you ought to build out a lean canvas.
Yes, it’s possible to try executing your idea at the lowest possible level with no plan, but let’s be real: you’re shooting in the dark.
So an actionable business model is essential.
1. Build Out a Lean Canvas
I’ve written about the lean canvas before, so I’ll simply share the results of my hypothetical brewery lean canvas here.
This took me 10 minutes to create:
As you can see, stuff is pretty basic right now.
We have a solid idea, though, of:
- What we’re creating (Solution / UVP / unfair advantage)
- Who we’re creating it for (customer segment, early adopters)
- How we plan to reach them (channels)
- How that might look financially (cost structure + revenue streams).
The lean canvas is a living document and something you should continue to develop and refine as you execute, but even this basic structure is enough to get started.
Once you have your lean canvas created (again, this should take about 15 minutes), then it’s time to break it down into a series of systems, processes, and checklists (so you can move from point A, the idea, to point B – your minimal viable product)
2. Develop Your Project Management Board
Next, turn your lean canvas into a project management board.
I prefer Trello to just about everything out there (it’s free and awesome):
As you can see, I’ve started to flesh out precisely what needs to be done to bring this thing into reality.
The key with a good project management board: there is a system for turning ideas into reality (and a way to track it).
I generally like to assemble my boards using the: “To Do” “In Progress” “Done” framework.
- No more than 1 item per person in the “In Progress” section of the board (so if you’re a team of one, that means only one “card” can be in that “list”).
- Always keep a “Done” tab so you can (1) track progress and (2) celebrate progress.
- Always celebrate.
3. Develop a Checklist System
I know – people hate checklists.
But here’s the deal: without them, nothing gets done.
And on the opposite side of the spectrum, with detailed, clear checklists, ANYONE can execute on your vision – important if you ever want to build and lead a team (next section) or eventually scale the operations of your business.
For this task, I like to create a Todoist project:
Todoist is a simple checklist program. Like Trello, the basic software is free and incredibly valuable.
Keys to a good checklist:
- Always set a ship date!
- Assign ONE person to be in charge of one task (even if there are multiple levels)
- Itemize by priority
- Chunk (break the tasks into subtasks – Todoist lets you do this very easily and in a simple to execute framework)
Once you have your lean canvas, project management board, and checklists setup, it’s time to multiply your results the SMART way.
#2 Assemble a Team
“But Tom, I don’t know how to brew, or I don’t know how to get my beer in local taprooms, or I don’t know how to blah blah blah.”
First: yes, you do.
Or at least: you could…
You could learn to brew, or figure out how to get your beer in local taprooms, or connect with investors, or figure out the proper licenses you need to whatever.
It takes creative hustle, sure, but it’s possible.
But let’s say you really do come up against something that seems insurmountable:
Like you want to start a brewery but don’t know how to brew, nor have the passion to master it.
What do you do?
Simple: you find the right person (or people) to team up with to bring your vision to live.
This is what it means to “assemble a team.”
No one has every skill they need to build something from scratch.
For the new book I’m writing, I interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs who have built and led teams.
Recently, I sat down with Chris Guillebeau, bestselling author of The $100 Startup and creator of one of the biggest conferences in the world (at least it seems like it it) The World Domination Summit (WDS for short).
I asked Chris how he did it – how could he possible launch WDS when he had:
- no prior event coordination experience
- no sponsorships to pay for the event
- a dozen other projects going on (like traveling around the world and touring the States for his book launches, among other things)
Here’s what Chris did:
- he assembled a team to do all the things he didn’t know how to do
- he leaned into this team and trusted them to deliver
- he kept the whole project moving forward and made sure it shipped on time
- Chris had the vision, developed the tentative idea, then brought people on board who could compliment his skillsets and assets (in other words: he didn’t really need someone with a massive audience to help him out, but he did need an event coordinator!).
- Chris believed in his team and leaned into them to deliver. At first, this was difficult for him, but he managed to step back and recognize nothing would happen if he didn’t release control to others. This was difficult for a self-proclaimed perfectionist.
- Chris was still in the lead and made sure the conference shipped on time. That meant, while many of the decisions were democratic or in the hands of other people (whom he trusted), he still had to make sure everyone was communicating and that nothing was missing as they got closer to the launch of the conference.
If I were doing the same thing with a brewery, I would figure out what skills and assets I brought to the table, and source the rest.
For example, I’m good at:
- getting people to drink beer
- inspiring word of mouth sales
- project management and leadership of a project (mandatory if you’re the leader of a collaborative project)
- coming up with the best beer names in the world
I’m not good at:
- legal stuff
- not drinking too much
It would behoove me then to team up with a brewer who was committed to the project. And as far as the legal stuff goes, I’d either suck it up and read some laws (and ask other brewers how they did it), or potentially find a lawyer who loves beer to team up with.
That would be the basic formation of the team (sales + product creation), and all you need to get started.
#2 Ship Your Product to Market
Once you’re underway with your collaborative project, it’s time to ship the thing to market.
What does “ship to market” mean?
It means ACTUALLY launching your product so that people exchange dollars for your idea (for your delicious micro-brew, in this case).
I’ve written about lean launching projects from scratch before, so I won’t go into detail here.
What’s most important about shipping your product to market:
- You set a ship date
- You stick to the ship date
This doesn’t mean rush and pump out garbage. The world is noisy and full of half-assed stuff (books, blogs, businesses – you name it), it doesn’t need more.
But by setting a ship date and definitively committing to it, you break through the enemys roadblocks, propaganda, and obstacles, and increase your chances of success dramatically.
An important reminder when it comes to launching something:
The real winners aren’t the people who ship perfectly.
The real winners are the people who ship.
If you’re working on a project, I hope this gives you a helpful framework to follow to turn your idea into reality.
If you enjoyed this post, then you may want to check out my new book:
COMMAND: Take the Lead, Assemble a Team, and Ship Your Product to Market.
I briefly covered the main topics of the book, but in the book itself, I’ll be deep-diving into the details (and corresponding bonus interviews, ecourse, and live events).
In COMMAND, you’ll learn:
- How to thrash and chunk your idea so you have a clearly defined plan of action for whatever you want to create (business or otherwise)
- How to build out a lean business model and how to turn this model into an actionable project management framework
- How to find and connect with people who will make your ideas way more successsful
- What resources and tools to use, how to use them, and how to build systems and processes around them (something nobody else is teaching right now)
- How to assemble and lead a team (from creating the contract, to managing a team and multiple projects, to best practices for communication)
- How to ship a project to market (including how to lean launch a project, how to leverage a co-launch, and how to fund your project so you never need to seek outside financing if you don’t want)
And much more.
If you sign up, you’ll get a behind the scenes look at the making of the book, early access to some of the material, and first access to the book when it launches (1 November).
Thanks, and I hope you enjoyed todays blog post.
Leave a comment below and let me know what project YOU’RE working on and where you’re stuck.
I promise to answer every single question.
Until next time, stay frosty.
Started, finished, and shipped in Traverse City, Michigan.
Total writing time: 3:45 hrs
Soundtrack: Kishi Bashi