Monday, September 19, 2016

How To Stretch Your Comfort Zone For Business Success

comfort-zoneAs an entrepreneur looking for an idea, it makes sense to explore problem areas within your knowledge comfort zone, but when you are building a business with the solution, you have to stretch your comfort zone to keep up with the market and stay ahead of competitors. I haven’t found a successful and satisfying venture yet that was a comfortable and easy win.

The idea is the only easy part. The hard part is the business execution. For example, the concept of an online platform for social networking is a simple one, and has been attempted by thousands of entrepreneurs past and present. In fact, I still hear startup idea variations on social networking more often than any other, yet most people can only name a couple that have really worked.

The challenge is to isolate the actions that maximize your chances of a successful execution. I’m convinced that it’s not all luck, amount of money to spend, or super intelligence that makes the difference. Business is not rocket science, and success comes from pursuing a basic set of action steps well past your comfort zone – with innovations and perseverance that exceed competitors.

These actions steps include the following:

  1. Solidify a positive “can-do” mindset. The mindset I’m looking for is one that sees the business challenge as exciting rather than threatening, setbacks as learning opportunities and a conviction that effort and perseverance will overcome any obstacle. In addition, I look for do-it-yourself confidence that minimizes any dependence on outside help.

  2. Document and commit to specific goals. Building a specific business requires a roadmap or business plan, much like programmers needs specifications to keep them on track. Entrepreneurs who have no formalized goals often spend years in a random walk, without realizing they have no way of knowing if they are about to achieve their dream.

  3. Gather resources and skills for the journey ahead. The idea to run a marathon pales in comparison to the difficulty of the actual event. Smart entrepreneurs prepare for their business marathon by building a support team around them, honing their skills, and assembling resources in anticipation of stretching their comfort zone beyond past limits.

  4. Stop talking and start executing. Action trumps thinking and talking, especially when you are blazing new paths. I hear entrepreneurs who talk about their plans for years, but never get around to starting. You can’t learn much while you are talking. Your best learning will come from mistakes and pivots, so don’t fear those possibilities.

  5. Focus your efforts and prioritize tasks. Focus means starting with a single problem and solution, rather than broadening your solution to solve everyone’s problem. Lack of focus only confuses customers and dilutes your scarce time and resources. Practice the Pareto Principle, where 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the tasks you see.

  6. Define and use metrics to measure your progress. You can’t make a correction if you don’t know you are off the path, and you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. If your comfort zone is relying on gut reactions, it’s time to stretch your understanding of what constitutes customer acquisition cost, margins, pipeline closure rates, and sales ROI.

  7. Celebrate small successes with the team. Affirming and rewarding team members for every step forward creates momentum, excitement, and loyalty. Constant team communication and accentuating the positive may be outside your comfort zone as a technologist building a product, but these are key drivers to business success.

  8. Validate and scale your business model to success. Technical entrepreneurs are usually more comfortable continuing to perfect their product, than validating a minimum viable product (MVP). They also tend to focus on developing additional features, rather than scaling the business to capitalize on the first. Grow the business, not the solution.

Creativity and innovation in building the business are just as important as in building the solution. Yet too many entrepreneurs approach business building as a standardized process that can be learned from textbooks, or outsourced to professionals. If you are not stretching your comfort zone to learn and practice the business principles outlined here, even your best new idea will likely never get to the finish line.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on Forbes on 09/13/2016 ***




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