Tips for Entrepreneurs with Too Many Ideas and Too Much to Do
Photo Credit: csm-web via Flickr

Hey, Mer –

My business is really starting to take off and I’m getting lots of feedback from my new customers. I have so many ideas for the new products and services they want, but I’m trying to bring on my new employees so I don’t have to do everything myself. I’ve got too much on my plate. I’m worried I’m going to lose track of my ideas or miss out on new sales if I don’t get the new products out. It’s too much. Help!

-R. 

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Hi, R!

First – Congratulations! You have customers, you’re busy, and they’re giving you new ideas for what they want. That’s every business owner’s dream. Wooo hooo!

Second – BREATHE. Are you breathing? Inhale… exhale…inhale…exhale…
No, really. Breathe. Breathing is one of those things that’s necessary for life. You can’t live if you can’t breathe. Are you breathing now? Good.

Your business needs to breathe, too.

When business is booming, you don’t want anything to distract you from the things your business needs to survive — happy customers that give you money for products and services.   You shouldn’t be doing ANYTHING that doesn’t directly help you deliver that to your customers.  Adding more variables — new products and services — right now takes focus away from the products that got you here in the first place.  That’s a recipe for what I call catastrophic success – being so successful that you expanding too quickly and you make fatal mistakes.

This is a critical time for your business. It’s also when business owners are most likely to make huge mistakes that can tank their business overnight. Why? Because you’ve been working for a long time and you’re finally starting to see some success. You’re finally starting to make some money. You have customers asking for things and you want to give them what they want! You want to finally execute all of the ideas you never had the funds to develop!   This is EXCITING!!!!  YOU’RE GROWING!!!!!!

You have to remember that a business isn’t healthy when it’s growing. 
It’s healthy when it’s stable.  

It’s like my physical therapist told me a few years ago when I was recovering from major surgery and complaining about how much I missed going hiking. My therapist – a middle-aged man from Idaho farm stock – must have read my mind. He knew that I was thinking about going on an unauthorized hike and he was NOT impressed. “Hold your horses, missy,” he said. “I know you feel better than you did three weeks ago, but you’re not stable. If you go on a hike right now, you’ll probably make it – but you’ll feel like hell for a week after. You’ll barely make it through these exercises. I’ll spend a week just trying to get you back to where you are now. Do the therapy. Do the boring exercises.  Get stable. And then you can go hiking every damn day for the rest of your life. “

Your business is doing better than it was before – but it’s not stable yet. That sudden burst of success actually means your business is even more at risk of tanking now because you have to make changes to survive — and you don’t know how those changes are going to play out.

To survive this big change, you need to do three things:

1. Identify and Minimize Risk
2. Stablize
3. Create an Idea-Tracking System

1. Identify and Minimize Risk

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Three Tips for Successfully Managing Risk. It boils down to identifying big changes that put you at risk, understanding how those risks could hurt you, and knowing what you can do about them,

Let’s look at your situation. You said that you’ve got lots of new customers and they’re taking up so much of your time that you can’t handle it all and you need to bring on new employees. I hear three major risks in that sentence:

The risk that more people are aware of you  – and more people will notice if you make a mistake

The risk that bringing new people into the business – and they unexpectedly change something significant that hurts quality and service

The risk that something will happen to you – and the business will collapse because no one else will be able to do the work

The best way to mitigate all of those risks is to put those other ideas on hold while you train your new employees. If you have well-trained employees, they can keep things running if something happens to you. If your employees are well-trained by you and you’re available to help them, they’ll make fewer mistakes and deliver better service. That translates into happier customers. The better you train them, the more work they can take on – giving you breathing room to start developing new ideas.

2. Stabilize

Once you’ve found new employees and trained them, give yourself – and them! – time to adjust before you try to develop new ideas. You need time to work with them, so you’re available to answer questions and help them understand unusual situations. They need your input and feedback so they know they’re doing things right and meeting expectations. You can’t give them that if your attention is elsewhere. And believe me – customers will notice if they have to wait while an employee tries to hunt you down to get answers or fix a mistake. Devote your time to supporting your new employees until they can perform their work without your help.

Then, wait.

Yes, wait. Wait a couple of weeks to make sure that the employees are working well on their own, that the customers respond well to them, and that quality isn’t suffering. A lot of things can go wrong in the first few weeks. Sometimes an employee that did great in training just isn’t a good fit after a few weeks. Sometimes employees get better offers and quit. Sometimes business drops off suddenly and you have to figure out why things changed. Give yourself time to know that your business is stable before you throw time, money, and resources into developing new products.

3. Create an Idea-Tracking System

This doesn’t mean you have to ignore your ideas while you’re stabilizing your business. It just means that you have to focus on only putting your energy into things that you can start AND finish without hurting your current services or driving yourself into an early grave.  And right now, that’s not creating new products. Until you’re stable, you need a way of tracking new and related ideas that you want to explore later. How you do it is up to you. Some people use a moleskin notebook or index cards, where they jot down ideas as they come to them. Some people use programs and apps like Microsoft OneNote, EverNote, or even secret Pinterest boards.  I like to use Google Documents and Spreadsheets, because I can access them from just about anywhere and I know they’re safely stored where a spilled sippy cup or fried hard drive won’t erase everything. Find a dumping ground that works for you. The goal is to quickly capture new ideas when they occur to you and file them in an organized fashion so you can reference and develop them later.

The other benefit of waiting until your business stabilizes is that you’ll have fewer unknowns – which means you can make decisions about new products with less risk. You’ll know your new employees and how they’re working out. You’ll know more about your customers. You’ll know more about your finances. All of that information will help you identify which ideas you should prioritize developing. So when you do expand, you’ll be ready and able to devote your time and resources to developing new products and training your team to sell them — without hurting the core products and services that made you a success in the first place.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.