The 3 Step Framework for Starting Anything From Scratch

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.
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What Makes You The Expert?

Me jumping off a bridge in Ecuador. It has nothing to do with this blog post but it still rocks.

This past June, my wife and I spent 15 days exploring Ecuador.

Unlike the other countries we visited this past year, our Ecuador adventure involved a lot of bus travel.

On the plus side, Ecuadorian bus travel is cheap.

We traveled by bus from the Pacific Ocean to the Amazon jungle, with a couple stops in between for good measure, all for less than $100 USD.

On the not-quite-plus-side, the bus system is entirely unpredictable and you never know how many buses you’ll need to change to get to a particular destination.

On one such night, after about 6 hours of travel (with a few more hours to go), we found ourselves stopped at a standard Ecuadorian bus stop:

  • Old ladies working in kiosks selling laffy-taffy
  • Bathrooms you have to pay to enter
  • And a bus terminal “exit” tax they levy against you when you leave (which I guess means if you don’t pay, you can’t leave the bus station…)

As we waited for our next bus, we came in contact with two other gringos; a couple taking a 2 week vacation in Ecuador. They had spent the past few days in the Galapagos and were now headed to the Amazon jungle.
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11 steps to building a heart-centered business from scratch

Last week, we wrapped up the The Flight Formula LIVE – an intensive, in-person, heart-centered business incubator program.

For 7 days, a small group of motivated entrepreneurs met in the mountains of Asheville to discover their gifts, activate their purpose, and build heart-centered businesses from scratch.

Jason and Asher led the way (with me providing a virtual support role from Peru) providing a truly transformative experience for all attendees.

It’s only been a few days, but the reviews are starting to roll in…

“I spent $380,000+ over 5 years and got 10% of what I needed to build a heart-centered business. I attended The Flight Formula LIVE and got the other 90%.”

– Samuel Nazar Walsh, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

“Words fail – one of the most truly transformative, powerful and meaningful events I’ve ever been a part of….”

– Bruce Brodeen, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

“There are so many people who I think would benefit from this work…I am totally inspired and grateful for the experience. All my clients and colleagues want to know about it and I tell them it totally exceeded all my expectations – WOW!”

– Ciel Walko, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

“Wow. Just… blown away by the content of this retreat… and by the compassion-filled spirits that are joining me for the experience.”

– Lehua Kauhane, The Flight Formula LIVE 2014 TRIBE #3

These are just a few of many reviews and testimonials that are coming in.

Truly humbling to say the least.

What’s The Flight Formula Secret Sauce?!

Good question.

In a nutshell, we focus on:

Inside to out; Gift to service.

Not many business incubator programs work this way….actually, none do (that I know of).

All other business incubator programs start with an unmet need in the market.

This is great.

It helps focus our solutions on a real problem (not something we created in our own heads that doesn’t really exist).

But it also misses a fundamental piece of the pie…

Your gift.

What you can give and how you can serve best.

That’s what’s different about The Flight Formula:

We start with the person, his or her gift, and design and implement a way for that gift to serve others in the marketplace.

And today, I want to share with you the 11 step formula we built for The Flight Formula to create transformational change in our students and help them launch heart-centered businesses.

My hope is that these 11 steps will help you create the same transformation in your own life and business.

*note: if you like this post, shoot me a tweet and let me know [click to tweet me!!]

Let’s get to it:

Step 1: Discover Your Gift, Purpose, and Story

There’s no such thing as a heart-centered business if the founder doesn’t understand his or her gift, purpose, and story.

Every heart-centered business starts with a powerful purpose explained through an equally powerful story. And the founders of heart-centered businesses are people who lean into their gifts.

The discovery of your gift, purpose, and story is something that takes quite a bit of time if you’re doing it on your own.

But if you create a safe container or safe space – a tight-knit group of people with shared core values, in an equally safe environment free of criticism – you can multiply and magnify your results in a fraction of the time.

We built this safe space into The Flight Formula as a core, foundational component of our program.

You can develop the same “safe space” into your group, organization, or program. All it takes is a cooperative group to sit down and set expectations from day one and hold everyone accountable to the same standards (no criticism, no judgement; just pure focus on gift, purpose, and story).

Step 2: Break Through Limiting Beliefs

Like clockwork, once someone has discovered his or her unique gift, purpose, and story, a set of mental roadblocks emerge from who-knows-where.

  • This isn’t going to work
  • I’m not smart enough
  • I’ve never done anything like this before
  • I’m too young
  • I’m too old
  • I’m too inexperienced
  • What will Henry VonHater think?
  • What gives me the right?…

And so on.

These limiting beliefs are deep-rooted and generally only expose themselves when under attack (I’ve written about this a few times before).

This is the enemy, of course, and while we rationally understand why the enemy is wrong…the excuses can seem so real.

Like discovering your gifts, purpose, and story, breaking through limiting beliefs is hard to do by yourself.

It’s much more effective when you have unconditional support from a tight-knit group who share the same values (and are at a similar stage). Coaches and mentors at this stage are invaluable and can speed up the process dramatically.

Step 3: Identify Who Are You Serving

Once you’ve overcome the mental hurdles of why you can’t succeed (be honest, we all experience this), it’s time to focus on who you’ll serve.

The people you decide to serve are your target market or target audience.

I personally prefer the term “who am I serving” versus target market or target audience simply because it is much more tangible and visceral for me to think of the people and individuals I can directly serve…it’s just much more human for me than target market or target audience.

That said: different strokes for different folks, so think of it whichever way you prefer.

Regardless, the people you serve or your target market are the people that need your gift and who, if presented and approached the right way, will happily pay you for it.

Step 4: Define the Transformation You’re Creating

Step 4 is all about clarifying your offer to the people you’re serving.

This is the part people mess up on…a lot.

Just because you have a gift for playing Halo or drinking craft beer or playing dodgeball (guilty on all accounts) doesn’t mean that it’s something that can serve others…

Whatever your gift, you need to set it in the context of a need that must be met.

In other words: what is the transformation your gift is making in another person’s life?

This transformation must be specific, applicable, believable, and something the person wants and would pay money for.

How do we frame the transformation?

It’s all about outcomes.

Here’s a quote from James Gibson of The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception that helped me better understand the transformation process (and how to frame it):

“What we perceive when we look at objects are their affordances, not their qualities. We can discriminate the dimensions of difference if required to do so in an experiment, but what the object affords us is what we normally pay attention to.”

We don’t look at grass and think about color, saturation, length, whatever.

We think: that’s a nice spot to lay (because it looks soft), or: that’s a nice spot to grow something (because it looks fertile)…

Affordances NOT qualities…

Or to translate:

OUTCOMES (benefits) not features…

Step 5: Create Your Mini-Transformation Product or Service

At this point, you’ve got to bring your gifts in alignment with those you’re serving. The fastest, most effective way is to start with a mini-transformation.

What is a mini-transformation?

It’s a simple solution to a problem that positively changes the person you’re serving (your target audience).

The point of a mini-transformation isn’t to be groundbreaking, but to build trust with the people you intend to serve.

After all, who do we follow / believe in / want to be like?

Those people who demonstrate they are capable of doing (or being) what we want to do (or be).

Can you fix just one small problem your target audience has? Of course you can.

(and if the answer is: I’m not sure what problems they have, engage with them: they’ll be happy to tell you)

This step is all about connecting your gift, the most beautiful part of YOU, to the offer and how you can best serve others.

Simple – not easy.

Step 6: Listen and Engage

What do the people you intend to serve want?

What are they willing to pay for?

It’s not good enough to say “I have this problem, so I’m going to build a solution for it.”

I interviewed Andrew Warner of Mixergy for the next issue of Bootstrapped (the magazine formerly known as The Creative Entrepreneur) coming out this July, and one of the most powerful things he said was to NOT try to solve our own problems. Andrew has interviewed over 1,000 entrepreneurs, CEO’s, and business owners from across the world. He’s had access to some of the sharpest minds in the world.

So when he gives business advice, it’s best to listen up.

Don’t try to solve your own problem. Get to know the audience you want to serve, find out THEIR problems, and find out what solutions they would pay for. This is called product/market fit.

Identifying product/market fit isn’t rocket science, but it can be uncomfortable.

*note: if you’re an entrepreneur / artist / writer (or aspiring to be any of those): get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Step 7: Design the Flagship Product

At this point, you do not want to build anything. You simply want to wireframe a solution to a particular problem that your target audience said they would pay for.

In order to build out the wireframe (and, for the record, that is the ONLY thing you’re building at this stage – just a rough draft / outline / wireframe), we need to take the feedback from our target audience and mold it into the product or service they said they would pay for.

Wireframing your flagship product is not done in isolation.

You must continue to go back to the people you’ve initiated contact with (the people in your target audience who you listened to and engaged with in step 6) to develop the idea into something worthwhile.

Remember: Creation does not exist in a vacuum.

Use your potential and future customers for help in building what will be a solution to their problems (I promise they will help).

Step 8: Pre-sell to Early Adopters

Once you’ve gone through a few iterations with your target audience to develop the product or service wireframe, it’s time to sell.

If you’ve been communicating with the people you intend to serve throughout this entire process, getting presales will be easier than you think.

Why?

Because you’ve built trust with them and you’re providing a solution to a problem they said they would pay you for.

Simple, right??

These are the people that will buy your product or service on proof of concept alone (in other words: they are your early adopters).

*p.s. you have to actually sell your product or service at this stage – that means real money in your pocket (doesn’t matter what your mom thinks of your product at this stage unless she’s putting money down for the first version)

Step 9: Learn. Improve. Evolve.

This is an ongoing process and if you want to build a business that sticks around, you must continually learn, improve, and evolve.

Remember what I said about antifragile businesses – business success isn’t about the best products or the greatest profit. Success in business = survival.

By continuing to grow from the feedback you receive from your target audience, by continuing to build better versions of what they ask for, and by being able to pivot or change direction if necessary, you increase your chances of survival (and this is all that counts).

Step 10: Launch v1.0 of Your Flagship Product

By now, you’ve connected with and built trust with your target audience, you’ve built out a wireframe that your audience is willing to pay you for, and you’ve taken additional feedback to develop and improve the initial concept.

Now it’s time to launch.

Launching isn’t the simplest process – there are quite a number of variables to launch a product the right way, especially if you use an upside-down sales funnel like we did with The Flight Formula.

That said, by the time you get to this point, if you’ve done everything else right, you’ll be able to leverage your early adopters (the ones that bought on proof of concept, remember?) to be your most effective promoters and marketers of your product.

While not recommended, if this small group is all you can leverage to expand distribution of your product or service, it will suffice for now.

*note: I’m writing a book on how to validate a business idea, assemble a team, and ship a collaborative project to market (complete with how to nail a big launch for your product or service).

Get Early Access to My New Book: COMMAND

Step 11 (and beyond): Progressively Validate, Build and Ship New Solutions

For The Flight Formula, we started with a very expensive, premium product.

While Pay What You Want, the nature of the program being at a particular place and time meant it was inaccessible to some people.

Once we successfully launched the in-person incubator, the next step was to build out another solution that was accessible to a wider audience.

A lot of businesses start with a small sale and upsell from there (like a $39 eBook to a $399 course to a $2000 whatever).

We decided to go the opposite way, starting at the top and working our way down. This gave us more working capital and validated that what we were creating was a true need in the market.

At this point, we’re developing an online incubator program which we’re getting ready to launch in a couple days (a couple spots are available but we close up shop Monday night – if you’re interested, go here).

In the future, we can continue to build out even simpler and less expensive options for those interested in the same transformation but with limited time or funds (for example: a DIY course with all the core elements, but completely self-guided and self-paced).

The key here is to continue to find and fill unserved needs in the marketplace. You can do this by looking at income level (less expensive or more expensive products or services will attract different audiences), time (people with more or less time on their hands want different solutions), or any other number of variables.

Next Steps

So that’s The Flight Formula in summary form.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into anything that creates real transformation (like people, mentorship, one-on-one time, space, access to the tools, strategies, techniques of the best in the industry, etc.), but I hope this gives  you a new way to approach building a business.

You don’t have to do things the conventional way:

  • You can start from the inside and work your way out.
  • You can sell your idea before you build it
  • And you can create something that impacts people deeply, personally, and for life

But it all starts with you:

Will you take the plunge to build a heart-centered business?

Started, Finished and Shipped in Huaraz, Peru

Writing time: 6:34 hours

Just Beyond that Beach (the creator’s dilemma)

 Myrmidons! My brothers of the sword! I would rather fight beside you than any army of thousands! Let no man forget how menacing we are, we are lions! Do you know what’s waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it! It’s yours! [Troy]

Creators have a dilemma.

We want the freedom to create whatever, whenever we want…

But the market will only compensate us for what IT wants.

This leaves your average creator (whether entrepreneur, writer, artist, etc.) in a particularly uncomfortable position, with only two real options.

Option 1: Create what you want, ignore the market…

Many creators do just that.  They build for themselves and completely ignore the rest of the world.

There’s only one problem with this: it rarely pays off.

Yes, there are outliers.  But that’s exactly the point: they’re outliers.

If the market doesn’t like what you create, you bear the burden.

‘Do what you love’ sounds fun and sexy, until you realize you’ve been living on your mom’s couch for 3 years.

Option 2: Create for the market, ignore what you want…

Many other creators (probably the vast majority) choose this route.

They ignore their curiosities, inspirations, and passions, and build widgets instead.

There’s only one problem with this: it comes at a cost.

How long can we supply the demand for something we don’t care about?  How long can we commit to creating something personally valueless?  How long until the money’s not worth being a robot in the robot factory?

A False Dichotomy

Of course, this is a false dichotomy.

It doesn’t take a human geographer to realize there are other options besides ‘starving artist’ and ‘miserable cog’ when it comes to the life we choose for ourselves.

Just look at how many starving cogs and miserable artists there are in the world…

I kid (sort of…).

So why do we do it?

Simple:

We create this dichotomy, first and foremost, because it’s easier to process the world this way.  The brain can only process so many things at one time, so simplifying things makes the brain happy (we avoid sensory overload).

Second – and much more insidiously – we create this dichotomy to create an out

The Enemy wants to keep us stagnate.  An ‘either / or’ dichotomy with seemingly brutal consequences is the perfect weapon to make this happen.

If the world is a zero sum game, if it’s either win or lose, if it’s either me or him…well, better reason to just stay put, keep our heads down, and blend into the rest of the tribe

Now that we have a good, rational reason to sit still, we are off the hook for not taking action.  We have our out.

The Real Creator’s Dilemma

But of course this out isn’t really an out.

It’s submitting for comfort and safety (or so we think…).

The real dilemma isn’t: do I do what I love, or do I do what makes me money?

This dichotomy doesn’t exist – it never did.

The real dilemma is: do we acquiesce to a life and lifestyle undesired because it’s comfortable and safe?

Or…

Or do we take the uncomfortable, uncertain, and difficult path…the one we know won’t be easy, clear, or guranteed…the one fraught with hardship, setbacks and failure…

Because we know it will be worth it?

Take it. It’s yours.

You can do important work and make money from it.

It’s possible, I promise you this.

I meet new people doing it every day.

More importantly, they’re doing it their way:  they’re picking the route, choosing their packing list, and drawing the map as they go along.  No, it’s not easy – but it was never supposed to be.

The same reality can be yours.

It’s waiting for you, just beyond that beach…

The question is: will you take it?

p.s. interested in taking the beach, but rather do it with an army?  I’m writing a new book that will teach you how to assemble and lead a team to take the beach (and own your market). Sign up here.

 

Start, finished, and shipped in Cape Town, S. Africa (after hanging out with penguins!)

Total writing time: 5:30 hrs