It’s that time of year again—you know, those 6-8 weeks when suddenly the gym is filled to capacity with those who have resolved to finally get in shape, smokers quit for a while, and you start seeing a lot more people in the aisles at health food stores. However cynical that may sound, the New Year is, in fact, as good a time as any to reassess your current lifestyle, habits, and assumptions and make those changes you’ve been putting off. For entrepreneurs running a startup or small business, this may mean making changes that not only benefit you, but your business as well.
At LLD, we specialize in working with startups and small businesses, so we know first-hand the kinds of challenges you face every day, and have compiled a list of potential New Year’s resolutions that you may like. Feel free to use any of them you find useful, or modify them to fit your particular situation. Perhaps some will help you making the changes you’re ready to make for your business in the new year.
1. Talk to human beings
It’s certainly a sign of the times that we have to relegate real, human interactions to something we must “resolve” to do. But with the emergence and rise of social media and other communication technologies, personal conversation is becoming a lost art. Think about it: how many times, even in the past week, have you tried to solve a simple issue, only to be routed into a maze of automated responses and menu trees? Perhaps you’ve even had your personal social messages reacted to by a series of “likes” and emoticons, but no real communication. Technology has brought great convenience and prosperity to our lives and businesses, but it comes at a price. In the coming year, try to treat your interactions—business and personal—as conversations with real people with real feelings. Even if you are dealing with a difficult customer who is complaining about your product or service, try to think of that other person on the phone or at the other end of an email as a human being who is frustrated because they are not getting what they wanted or expected, and go from there. We face a real risk of letting our machines rob us of our empathy, but working to sustain it will not only enhance our business, but our lives as well.
2. Pay attention
Something else we’re at risk of losing because of the way we mediate the world is the ability to pay attention to what is happening around us. Next time you’re out on a busy sidewalk, notice how many people are focused on their smartphone screens, and zoning out their immediate environment. This is not only dangerous (e.g. people texting while driving or crossing the street) but it’s also training our brains to filter out important information we may be able to get if we were more aware of our surroundings. For startups, this can be fatal. For example, when you launch a new product, you may hyper-focus on KPIs that you decided months ago would be your benchmarks. But if you ignore other, new information, you may be fostering a false illusion of success. Listen to your customers, look at new data you may not have anticipated, and always be prepared to pivot when presented with data that suggests you need to.
3. Commit to one bold experiment per month
No successful business ever got where they are by doing things the way “everybody else” does. True pioneers are those who go out on a limb, and are ready and willing to have that limb to break and fall, and for them to fall with it. The important thing is that you try something bold, often, and get validated learning from the experience. Make mistakes—success is all about them. The more you make, the more you learn, and the closer you get to your goal. Now I’m not suggesting you throw all your money into something that has little-to-no chance of succeeding, only that you consider building experiments into your business plan, and place value on the learning you’ll obtain if they fail. Eventually, one of them won’t—and it may be something no one else has tried.
4. Design for your customers
As designers, we know how easy it is, like Narcissus, to become mesmerized by our own reflection. When you’ve started a killer design, the tendency may be for the design to take over and for you, the designer, to get overly excited about how genius your (definitely award-winning) talents are. Unfortunately, this too often means that your customers’ business goals humbly crawl into the back seat for the ride. Don’t let this happen. Design can be beautiful, but at the end of the day, it serves a very practical purpose. “Wow factors” are great, but when a “wow!” is distracting from sales or any other type of conversion, it means the design is getting in the way. Resolve to take a moment at the end of each day and ask yourself, “how does the work I did today help my customers?” They will thank you for it.
5. Launch your MVP
To quote a classic ad campaign: Just Do It. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Rapid development and speed to market are increasingly important in a competitive business landscape, and waiting around for all your features to be built out are not only a waste of time, but depriving you of valuable insights. Launching an MVP (minimum viable product) will put you on the fast track to obtaining real feedback from real customers and to then making real changes based on your learning. I’ve worked in digital media for over 20 years, so believe me when I tell you that there’s no worse feeling than having spent months of your life and often tens of thousands of your company’s dollars waiting on that one “cool” feature… that no one wants. This resolution is closely related to #4 (design for your customers) but this one’s really for you. Do yourself a big favor and resolve to stop waiting around, and start moving!
6. Make time for yourself
This is probably the most “conventional” resolution on this list, but it’s an important one, especially for startups. The burnout factor for new business owners poses a very real threat, not only to your own sanity, but to your business itself. Workaholics pride themselves on getting things done, but often they are so exhausted and overworked that they may be getting 20 things “done”, when they’d get more value out of getting 5 things “done right.” Take a break. Go on vacation. Spend time with your family. Assign at least one day per week as a “no work day.” Doing these things will allow you to return to your business with not only fresh eyes, but with a renewed energy that propels you ahead to your next phase of success.
7. Attend a meetup
One of the best things about being involved in online professional communities like LinkedIn, Meetup, or StartupNation is not just the convenience of networking on their respective sites, but the opportunities to actually meet and network with other professionals in the real world. Not only are meetups good for socializing (and just getting out of the office) but they also give you an opportunity to show off your work, bounce ideas off of others, and obtain valuable insight about your own business by hearing what your peers are up to. I truly believe that synergy and cooperation are the lifeblood of any small business, and each person you meet in real life could potentially be a client, partner, or even employee sometime in the future. This resolution also reflects resolution #1 on this list (Talk to human beings) so get out of your bubble and have a meaningful conversation with a human whose insight could bring value to your work!
8. Write things down
If you’re like most people who run startups, you barely have time to wolf down a sandwich at lunchtime, and when ideas come to you and you don’t write it down because you simply have no time, and you never remember what it was at the end of the day, if you remember you had an idea at all. This is where you can take advantage of one of our greatest technological achievements—the notepad and pen. Pick up a little pocket-sized Moleskine at your local bookstore and keep it in your back pocket and when an idea hits you— however insignificant it may seem at the time— take 5 seconds and jot it down. If you prefer, use an app like Evernote, OneNote or Keep, but I prefer to go super old-school when it comes to note-taking. Then make it a habit to go through your notes at the end of the day when your work is done and your brain’s had a chance to rest. Now, I acknowledge that 90% of these ideas will go nowhere, but there’s always the possibility of the one that will, and all it takes is that one idea that can push your business to greatness. And just a heads up: a “mental note” is not a note, it’s memory, and memory is unreliable. A note is a note.
9. Find a mentor
One of the best things you can do for yourself as a startup or small business owner is to find someone who does what you do—or what you’d like to do—only better. The New Year is a great time to check your ego and admit, as we all must, that there are, in fact, others in the world who do some things better than you. If you want to become truly great at what you do, it’s worth seeking out someone who can offer you guidance, someone who has made mistakes and learned from them, and is willing to pass that learning on to you so that you can avoid the same landmines. Buddha said, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But Buddha, as it turns out, didn’t have Series A funding and a launch date, so sometimes we need to take the bull by the horns, swallow our pride, and approach an admired business leader and offer to buy her lunch. Meetups (see resolution #7) are good places to get the ball rolling.
10. Make yourself __________, one hour per day, 5 days a week.
I know it sounds cheesy, but success is a habit, as are most other things in our lives, and habits beget habits. To put it another way, habits are habits. If I resolve to [fill in the blank: ‘go to the gym’, ‘write poetry,’ ‘crochet,’ etc] for one hour each day—and actually do it—I’m creating a habit for myself, a discipline. I’ve always wondered why people who have don’t have great habitual skills will set the bar so high for themselves on New Year’s. Going to the gym twice a week is actually really hard if you don’t have other habits you perform regularly. This is why I recommend you start small, maybe with something like just “reading a newspaper with a point of view I don’t share” so that you’re doing something slightly out of your comfort zone, a sine qua non of habit-making. From there, it’s easier to apply this discipline to your business, and hopefully…eventually…someday… to success itself.
11. Learn something new every day
There a few people in the world to whom this comes naturally, but for most of us, we need to work to stay engaged and build a habit (see resolution #10) of actively learning. Newton’s First Law of Motion says that “bodies at rest tend to stay at rest” so we have to give ourselves a little extra push to move beyond our comfort zones—our “bubbles,” if you will—and take in new information. There are many ways to do this: watch a documentary on something you know nothing about, talk to a stranger at a coffee shop, take a different route home… the possibilities are nearly infinite. It can be a bit uncomfortable at times, but the benefits to you as an entrepreneur are plentiful. You’ll start to see the world—and your business— in new ways; ideas will come more easily; communication with your customers or clients will improve… I could go on, but do I need to? The concept of becoming more well-rounded and broadening your mind should speak for itself.
Once again, these are simply suggestions of ways you could resolve to make changes in the New Year, and not an authoritative list, by any means.
Don’t try them all at once, but if you think you might find a few of them useful, by all means, use the New Year as an excuse to try something new, go out on a limb, be bold, and put something great into the world.
From all of us here at LLD, we wish you a happy, healthy, safe and productive New Year. We look forward to working with you in 2018!