In: Business 101, Hard Stuff,
Imagine you're seven years old, and you've never cooked anything before, so help your Fisher Price kitchenette.
But suddenly you're home alone, and you're tasked with making yourself a meal. So naturally, you do what any seven year old would do: You get a big pot, and you start putting your favorite things into it.
Pepperoni pizza—fucking delicious.
Chips Ahoy? Goin' IN.
Strawberry Pop Tarts—who's your daddy.
What's up, meatballs!
Dash of chocolate syrup…
Some leftover mashed potatoes…
Three frozen onion rings for good measure.
Oh! And Swedish Fish. Don't ever do anything without Swedish Fish. (It should be a law.)
You mix it all together (stirring pizza is surprisingly difficult), spread it out onto a cookie sheet, and slide it on into the microwave (you're seven, after all.) When you pull it out to eat, however—surprise!—it's disgusting. What went wrong? You put lots of delicious things into it…shouldn't something delicious come out?
You and I both know that that's not the way food works (unfortunately). Rather, you and I and most normal humans do the opposite: We start out with some idea of what we want to make, and then follow a recipe to get there. Logical, right? Yet somehow, the minute we step foot out of the kitchen, we all revert back into our seven year old selves as soon as it's time to start planning out a
Too many business plans start with, “Well, I like this, and this, and oh I'm very good at this! Why don't I just combine these all into one business? It'll be perfect!”
Here's why it may not be: Unless you can pull your love for saxophones, life coaching, snorkeling and kickboxing all together under one cohesive brand that makes sense in a given market, your business is going to be the equivalent of the “pizza slash sushi restaurant” that everybody knows to stay away from.
A common problem new businesses have is that they forget to start in the place that matters the most: the money. How you're going to generate revenue is what drives any business…and it should drive your decision making process, too. (Not the other way around.)
I've seen a lot of well-meaning folks try to hodgepodge together a variety of different interests, passions and quirks together into one business – perhaps because it feels safer this way, in the event one side of the business flops—and then try to figure out how they're going to make money between the two. The old “little bit of this, little bit of that” approach.
This is backwards. Just as backwards as mixing together pepperoni pizza, pop tarts and mashed potatoes and then trying to figure out how to make something edible out of it—let alone remarkable.
Start with the money.
It might be an unpopular opinion among the feel-good multipotentialite crowd, but my job isn't to make you feel good; it's to make you money. So it only follows that the money is the first logical place you start.
Think about what the thing is that you are going to sell, and then work backwards to figure out what pieces of the puzzle will support those sales—which will help clear up a lot of the ambiguity around “but I'm not sure if I should say this on my website, or this?” or “do you think I should blog about this topic, or another one?” or “what about this name?” or “does it make more sense to write this book, or that one?” or “should I accept this invitation to come speak on this semi related but not entirely relevant topic…or not?”
If it doesn't support your ultimate end game, toss it out, make it a hobby, masturbate over it in the shower, or add it to a list of “future businesses I'd love to start.” But don't tack it onto your business. You are not a five and dime store.
Remember: If they can't figure out where your edge lies, you have none. And edges are what people pay for.
By its very nature, an edge is defined by one sharp thin line…not four blurry lines merging together into some kind of demented trapezoid.
First consider your edge, and how much money that edge is worth to customers. And then reverse engineer your business so every piece of it logically supports that edge…and nothing else. At least for now, anyway.
Because building a business isn't just a metaphor. Just like in real life, you build it piece by piece. But not before you know what you're building.