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Last month I got an email from a friend.

After 6 months of hustle, she’s throwing in the towel.

Why?

  • Not enough sales.
  • No traction.
  • No growth.

I felt bad.

I hate seeing people fail.

I hate it even more when a project fails that hasn’t  been properly tested in the marketplace.

In my friends case, she had only tried one option.

It didn’t work.

Surely there’s a better way…

Only the Strong Agile Survive

Granted, not all projects are worthwhile.

Some simply aren’t economically viable.

Is your project economically viable? If not: Pivot!

Others might be able to sustain themselves through whatever means (force, trust fund, etc.), but to what end (the excruciatingly slow death of the postal service comes to mind)?

But the reality is: you can’t know whether a project is worthwhile from the first failure (not if you want to eventually build something that lasts)

So I told my friend that she shouldn’t shut down just yet.

Instead, she should pivot.

The Lean Startup Pivot

What’s a pivot?

Taken from Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, a pivot is a:

structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.

Good, but a little technical.

Here’s how Steve Blank describes it:

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find the your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

In simpler terms (hopefully without missing the point):

A pivot is adjusting your current approach to a problem.

Note: read all the way to the bottom to download The Essential Pivot Checklist and Workbook for when you’re ready to pivot your business or project.

Sometimes it’s a complete overhaul, identifying a new “job to be done” (the pain point you’re solving for people), sometimes in an entirely new industry or via a different medium.

Other times, it’s not so dramatic – just a simple shift in execution.

Every successful company in the world has pivoted at some point in their lifecycle. It’s inevitable.

Pivoting in business.

How do I Pivot?

After I told my friend she should pivot, she asked a reasonable question:

How?

My friend wanted me to tell her what to do in her particular situation.

Here’s the problem:

By its nature, pivoting is a creator-led process.

It requires the owner / operator to think, engage, challenge, test, break and build.

Nobody can tell you how to pivot, nor can someone do it for you.

So, instead of telling her what to do, I suggested some resources that could provide a framework for her to approach the problem. At the same time, I realized that most people have no idea what a pivot is or how to go about pivoting in their business.

While books like The Innovator’s Solution, Running Lean, 4 Steps to Epiphany and many others have covered pivoting in some way, these are very technical books and focus on the tech startup community primarily.

That sucks because everyone should know how to pivot (in business and life).

So here’s my attempt at breaking down a pivot for the less tech savvy people of the world (me).

This is the framework and the mindset I use to approach everything (from the books I publish to the products I launch).

I’m no expert, but I hope my thoughts on the subject can at least get you started on the right path.

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NOTE: this blog post assumes you’ve already built something and that it’s not working. However, it’s equally valuable for those about to build something because it probably won’t work (I’m not a pessimist, I’m just experienced in failure). So bookmark and take notes for later.

And if you like this blog post (and want more like it), shoot me a tweet to let me know!

[Click here to Tweet me to let me know you want more content like this]

* * *

Step 1: Lay the Foundation for Your Pivot (Figure Out What Worked and What Went Wrong)

In the Army, after every mission, training exercise, event (basically everything), they conduct what is known as an After Action Review (or AAR for short).

An AAR is a chance for key players (anyone involved in an operation or exercise) to identify:

  1. What was supposed to happen?
  2. What DID happen?
  3. Sustains – what did we do right and what should we do the same next time or in a similar (3 is usually the minimum)
  4. Improves – what did we do wrong and what should we do different the next time (3 again)

If you’ve read any of the business books I’ve listed above, you should see a thread that runs through the lean startup methodology

  • What was supposed to happen = Hypothesis
  • What did happen = Testing the hypothesis
  • Sustains / Improves = Measuring based on metrics you’ve established earlier so you can iterate (try again)

I conduct an AAR with myself or my team after every major shipped project.

For an AAR guide and pivot checklist and workbook, download The Essential Pivot Checklist and Workbook

AARs are valuable for things like:

  1. Writing. If I write for a major platform (like Fizzle.co or Problogger.net) then I want there to be some positive result (like X number of new email subscribers to my list, or Y number of comments, or…you get the idea). I need to sit down after something like this ships to see what the results actually were and if it’s worth doing again in the future (and how to improve the next time to get better results)
  2. Consulting. When I consult with someone, I want to make sure there’s a positive result for the person I’m helping. This is the only way to improve and continue getting clients.
  3. Projects. I launch a lot of projects. What were the results? What can we learn? How can we do better next time?

If you take away anything from this, know that pivoting begins with analyzing what was supposed to happen versus what did happen.

Without this basic knowledge, you can’t pivot (you’d just be shooting in the dark…which might work…if you’re lucky).

Step 2: Determine the Shift that Needs to Take Place for Your Pivot

Cool, so you know your first plan didn’t work…

Now what?

The AAR should give you insight into what to do next.

  • If your “sustains” included something that sorta worked, can you double down?
  • If your “improves” included something that completely missed the mark, can you scrap it altogether try a different approach?

More likely than not, some part of your original iteration worked.

If that’s the case, it may be useful to consider how you can maintain your original idea (mostly) while tweaking what worked to make it more effective (or reducing what didn’t work so it is less disruptive to your business model).

Conversely, if NOTHING hit the mark, it’s much more effective to change things dramatically.

Here’s Ash Maurya’s (author of Running Lean) take on it:

If the goal is to maximize learning, you have to pick bold outcomes versus chase incremental improvements. So rather than changing the color of your call to action button, change the unique value proposition. Rather than experimenting with different prices, experiment with different pricing models.

In other words: to know where to go, you need to know where you’re at.

That means determining if you’re FINDING the fit, or OPTIMIZING the fit.

Pivoting Before and After You Find Product / Market Fit

When I launched The Creative Entrepreneur (now Bootstrapped), I was shooting in the dark a bit.

Iteration 1: finding product market fit…

I knew I wanted to create some sort of annual publication with reoccurring revenue and I knew I wanted to focus on business.

The first thing I did was pitch the idea to potential contributors (the people who would produce the content for the publication.

This is how I received my first form of validation (I’ve written more about that here).

In a nutshell: I figured if people would write for the publication, then people would pay for the publication.

This is an assumption, of course, and needed its own round of testing (preorder sales).

I don’t want to go in depth here about validating an idea as that’s a topic that deserves its own analysis (read this article for more information on validation), but the point is: I was trying to find product/market fit.

With the preorders I received, I found it (at least in a small way).

Iteration 2: optimizing product market fit…better, no?

The next step for issue 2 was optimizing the product/market fit.

This required pivoting again by asking questions like:

  • How can I scale this?
  • How can I grow this?
  • How do we get more users, subscribers, etc.?

For us, that meant branding redesign, re-evaluating the content strategy, adding new sales channels, etc.

Have we optimized product/market fit?

We can’t be sure just yet.

Yes we’re getting subscribers and yes the reaction is overwhelmingly positive, but some of these tests take weeks or more to confirm for sure (especially big changes like a rebranding).

What’s the “Right” Pivot?

To be entirely honest, the answers to these questions are elusive at best.

Just like if you’re trying to pivot a new business (or an old one), you won’t know what the right answers are for sure. The point isn’t to know the answers at the outset.

The point is to have an idea and be willing and able to test until you find something that works.*

**just to emphasize again: what “works” for optimizing product/market fit is different than what works for finding product/market fit**

Step 3: Test and Measure Your Pivot

Testing and measuring your pivot is the simplest step.

Step 3 is all about taking meaningful action.

What did you decide to pivot?

  • Did you decide to change the pricing model?
  • Did you decide to add or remove features?
  • Did you decide to change mediums?

Whatever the choice, make sure you can measure it.

For example:

  • Changing a pricing model is easy: did you get more or less sales?  How does that affect revenue and profit overall? What’s the reception from your target market.
  • Adding or removing features? Again, how many more people opted in? Did you get more paid subscribers, more signups, more…?

You get the idea.

A pivot is only as useful as what you’re able to measure.

The Hardest Part of Pivoting

Testing and measuring your pivot is also the hardest part.

Not because it’s technical – it usually isn’t - but because it’s hard to pick ourselves up and test something that didn’t work out the first time.

It hurts to get rejected.

It hurts when we miss the mark again – sometimes more than the first time.

Here’s the deal:

There’s nothing to be ashamed of by retesting an idea in a new way.

If someone said no to your idea, it’s not grovelling to go back with a new pitch and ask again. In fact, the person you approach again should be happy that you adjusted course. After all, if this person is in your target market, they want what you’re trying to create.

So don’t worry about the rejection or failure (it’s all part of the process).

Instead, perceive and approach your pivot as an experiment and a game.

This works because…well, it is

So don’t stress – just test.

A Free Guide to Help You Pivot

Okay, so this blog post taught you a little about pivoting , but what’s next?

I always find it helpful to have some sort of guide or worksheet to help me follow through on material, so I took it upon myself to create a sweet downloadable (and FREE!) product for those of you looking to pivot in your business.

In the workbook you’ll get:

  1. A 2 page After Action Review workbook (including a breakdown of what an AAR is and how to use it)
  2. The 3 Step Pivot Evaluation Method (this will help you focus on what to target and whether you should focus on finding product/market fit or optimizing product/market fit)
  3. 10 “Target-Pivots” that Eric Ries of The Lean Startup uses when pivoting a business (this stuff is gold)
  4. The 5 Step Pivot Execution Framework (to help you put it all together!)

[Get your free copy here]

do it

* * *

I hope this blog and the accompanying checklist and workbook help you on your way to product/market fit and a successful business.

If you enjoyed this blog post, let me know.

Click to tweet me and let me know!

* * *

Started in Napa, California (just before meeting up with The Resistance, San Rafael Branch). Finished and Shipped in San Fransico, California.

Writing time: 9:14 (ouch…true story)

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Play

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Rebuilding America with Chad Grills

Chad Grills is a veteran, entrepreneur and the author of the currently-being-crowdfunded-book: Veterans: Don’t Reintegrate, Rebuild America.

Chad and I happen to have a very similar background, and like myself, he is currently occupying his time with a cornucopia of projects.

(bonus points for using the word cornucopia in a sentence)

In today’s broadcast, we touch on some seemingly random topics (but I promise – they make sense in context), including:

Chad’s military background, his new book, Antifragility, Post Traumatic Growth, and how to hit the ground running as a military veteran transitioning into the civilian world.

By the way, Chad has less than two days left to fund his new book.

I already have my copy preordered.

You can support Chad and get your copy here.

What Chad Grills and I Talk About:

  • Chad’s transition out of the military and into the civilian world
  • Antifragility and how it applies to creating a better life
  • All about the Regret Minimization Framework
  • Post Traumatic Growth, or: how to turn trauma into momentum, regardless of where it comes from
  • How to transform fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking
  • How to beat entrenched businesses as a bootstrapping underdog
  • Why it’s important to constantly run small experiments for personal and entrepreneurial growth

Wise Words from Chad Grills on Rebuilding America:

As Entrepreneurs, we need to give ourselves as much exposure to the upside while limiting the downside.

Where You Can Find Chad Grills Online:

http://chadgrills.com/

Additional Resources:

Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

http://highspeedlowdrag.org

http://highspeedelite.com (exclusive veterans mastermind and network)

* * *

If you enjoyed today’s podcast, please leave a review on iTunes here. Thanks so much in advance for your support.

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Today’s blog post is about a question I don’t ever get asked…

But I wish people WOULD ask me:

Tom, why should I share my work online?

Great question, Tom!

And I’ll explain in one second.

But first, a backstory…

I started my terminal leave from the Army 1 year ago this month (actually, 28 June to be exact, but I’m a little delayed on posting this).

Terminal leave is the confusing name the Army uses to describe paid-for-time-off. When I left, I had accrued about 2 months’ worth.

In other words, while I’d get paid like I was going to work, I could instead drink beer, grow a beard, and build tent forts all day long (winner-winner-chicken-dinner).

Here’s a video of me celebrating:

*warning: none of this was rehearsed (and it can never be unseen)

So that was me 1 year ago.

1 year ago, Tom?!  What have you been doing since then?

Good question Tom, I’m glad you asked:

I’ve been sharing my work.

And since I’ve had such a good time with it, I think you should do the same.

Here’s why:

5 reasons to share your work online

1. Posterity

It’s fascinating looking back at what you’ve created, isn’t it?

Whether it’s art from grade school, writing from high school, or college / post-college work, it’s fun to look back to see how far you’ve come, especially when it’s one of those projects that embarrasses you (better yet: surprises you)…

Years later, these snapshots of our past are astounding, aren’t they?

But more important than yourself (yes, there’s such a thing) is your family (and friends).

Have you ever wondered about the story of your grandfather or great grandfather (or mother)?

How cool would it be to read the words of someone close to you (by blood or otherwise) who lived 100, 200, or 300+ years ago?

How fascinating would it be to walk in their shoes?

That’s what I consider when I write.

Yes, I write for people here and now, for the people who appreciate what I have to say, but I mostly write for myself. And when I write for myself, I’m really writing for future generations of little Toms (or for other idiosyncratic, future revolutionaries).

The point is: why keep your life just for you? Why not share it with those who come later?

I promise you this: they want to hear your story.

2. Learning and Growth

Simply put, we learn more by teaching.

There’s a lot of literature and studies about this, so I won’t bore you with proof (just DuckDuckGo it).

But I will say this: learning – real learning (not academia’s fictional take on it) – occurs when we teach.

And when we learn, we grow.

And isn’t growth – in wisdom, knowledge, faith, and beyond – what’s most important?

If you’re content with being the exact person you are today 10 years from now, ignore this part (and the whole article).

For the rest of us – it’s time to start teaching, and there’s no better way to teach then documenting and showing the work you do on a daily basis.

3. Because People Care

Not sold on the personal benefits of sharing your work?

What if I told you people cared about your ideas?

Not just family and friends (although they may end up your most grateful fans), but strangers. People you’ve never met before in your life. People from around the world.

It sounds weird to write (although it shouldn’t, since I do all my shopping online, all my work online, and I even found my wife online…true story), but the people you DON’T know online can become your biggest supporters and even great friends.

Of course, to make those real connections it means being transparent and vulnerable.

i.e. show your work.

4. Become an Expert

You don’t have to be an expert to share your work.

But by sharing your work, you BECOME an expert.

Simple isn’t it?

My friend Nathan Barry, whom I interviewed for my next book on starting, finishing, and shipping collaborative projects, has written extensively on the subject of gaining expertise from writing.

In fact, he wrote the book on it: Authority.

I’d say that makes him an expert.

Following his lead, I wrote on Pay What You Want pricing. Guess how many advanced degrees I hold in that subject matter area? Guess how many awards / ribbons / medals / trophies I’ve gotten?

Exactly.

And it doesn’t matter.

Because I write on the subject, I’m considered the subject matter expert – to my surprise really…until I take a step back to realize the truth: we trust and respect the people who share their work.

So why wouldn’t you share yours??

5. Because Resumes are Dead*

Honestly, I’ve felt this way long before it became a popular opinion (okay, maybe not popular, but common in my social media streams…that counts, right?).

Since grade school I thought the idea of putting your experience on a piece of paper made little sense (yes, I was a forward thinking youth).

After all, if you’re good at what you do, if you create a lot, surely your work should speak for yourself, shouldn’t it?

Who would have thought, only 10+ years later, that society is catching up to this fact – at least in industries and roles where work – what you’re capable of producing – is more important than your prior bosses canned praise.

We’ve known for thousands of years that it’s who you know not what you know. Before, that meant getting lucky based on where you were born and to whom.

Now, those rules don’t apply anymore – not to the extent you might think they do.

Now, who you know is self-determined.

Why?

Because you can GET to know just about anyone in the world.

How?

You guessed it – by sharing your work.

Since I’ve started writing, podcasting, publishing, and instigating various projects (from business incubators to veteran’s membership sites), I’ve gotten to know some incredible people. My podcast connected me to someone who I later published, my blog allowed me to write for some massively popular websites, and publishing my own books got me interviewed on some of the most well respected business and marketing sites on the internets.

I also built real relationships with just about everyone I’ve come in contact with.

Don’t you think it would be handy to know the people you admire personally?

Don’t you think that might help you in the future?

I think so, but maybe that’s just me…

Beyond entrepreneurship, showing your work is important for employers.

Zappos recently removed resume submissions altogether, instead opting for an internal social network to determine who is or isn’t a good fit for the company.

Zappos isn’t the only one – almost every tech startup out of Silicon Valley has the same policy: show me what you’re capable of doing – your portfolio – not a resume.

If you’re worried your work isn’t good enough right now to share, don’t worry: you wouldn’t be able to sneak your way into one of these positions anyway. Better to share before you feel ready so you can improve and grow then wait on the sidelines to be ignored.

*resumes are not dead if you’re looking for middle management positions inside corporate bureaucracies, but for more and more startups, the idea of a resume is a relic.

How You Can Start Sharing Your Work

I wouldn’t rely on Facebook, Twitter or any other social networks to do what I’m recommending here. These platforms don’t care about you and owe you nothing (read the fine print).

Conversely, starting a blog and paying for your own domain name + hosting…

That’s something you own (and with cheap backup technology, it’s impossible to lose).

So my recommendation?

Start a blog.

It doesn’t have to be crazy or intricate. A simple blog can be set up in a few minutes.

If you go with a legit hosting company like webfaction, their documentation can walk you through the whole process (or if you ask nicely, they might even do it for you).

Once you have a blog / website set up, start filling it in a little bit at a time.

Consider it a long term / long form project…something that’s never supposed to be completed, only improved over time and then shared with the people who want to hear from you.

And trust me – we want to hear from you.

So what are you waiting for?

Started, finished, and shipped in Teakettle, Belize.

Writing time: 3:49

Soundtrack: The National

Leave a comment and let us know your top reasons for sharing your work.

Or if you don’t share your work yet, why not?

There are no wrong answers here so share away!

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