So... you feel like you have a new business idea, product or service you want to pursue. Now what? You need a framework so you’re not going at a reinvention or pivot willy-nilly.
Although reinvention frameworks abound, the one I’m about to outline is a bit different because it works just as well when applied within sticking points on projects and business plans as it does for career moves. So even if you’re not dreaming of a career or business overhaul, stick with me.
I think about vision as the crux of a pivot or reinvention. If you’ve ever played basketball, think about the motion you go through when you’re looking for your best shot. You keep one foot squarely grounded while pivoting with the other... and that’s what I’d strongly advise you to do while you’re defining your vision.
Ask yourself: What are your financial requirements? What do you gravitate toward? What interests you? What are your guiding principles? What's your “happiness formula?” You don’t need to create a “vision board” (although if you’re a vision board fanatic, go for it!), just spend time writing your vision down.
If you’re not sure how to answer these questions for yourself, I’d highly recommend Marcus Buckingham’s book, The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success. It’s super short and the title is a little hokey, but this book is magical. If you were a child of the 80’s, like me, you’ve likely heard the phrase “practice makes perfect—" Marcus Buckingham thinks that’s bullshit. Buckingham’s premise is that we naturally excel at the things we enjoy, so rather than focusing on improving weaknesses (which may never improve), focus on the things you really love.
When Decipher acquired my data visualization firm, the first few months working with my two new business partners was a miserable experience. We were all pretty much quarterbacks at that phase of our lives (mid 30’s) and because of that, we all wanted to put our stamp on every move the company made... which, as you can imagine, isn’t a terribly efficient way of managing a business. So we followed Buckingham’s advice and for a week, we each wrote down everything that we loved doing and everything we loathed. My partner Jamin loved HR and operations and my other partner, Jayme, loved finance and technology. I was horrified to discover that everything I loved doing was sales and marketing related. And that’s ultimately how we determined the areas of the business that we each “owned.”
When I exited Decipher after our acquisition in 2014, I was tempted to throw myself into another startup, but instead, I sat down for a week and went through Buckingham’s process again. The truth of the matter is the starting up part wasn’t that exciting to me anymore— it was the challenge to grow, and grow quickly, that really got my blood pumping. It's also where I had developed some truly field-tested methods that I felt I could easily impart to other business owners. If I hadn’t gone through that “vision” exercise post-Decipher, I likely wouldn’t be writing this blog post today.
2. Value Definition
This is the exploration phase— identifying and plugging knowledge and skill gaps and having a wide variety of conversations.
This is where having a diverse network is really valuable because the last thing you want to do is surround yourself with folks that are too encouraging or say “yes” to every idea you might have.
Before I launched my consultancy, I spent a lot of time looking at where the gaps and opportunities in the market were and talked a lot to prospective clients. It also goes without saying that you should be incredibly thoughtful and honest with yourself about your individual skill set, particularly around business development, if you’re starting a new venture (rather than just pivoting a career as an employee). I can’t even tell you how many firms I come across where a business has launched with a few loyal clients, but with no plan of how to generate any new business... which is incredibly risky! If you don’t like sales and marketing activities, so be it, but make sure you partner with someone who does or have a plan for how you’re going to acquire new clients.
3. Market Test
Next, test your concept in market. If you’re in the market research industry, market testing should be second nature for you! Think of this almost like running a series of pilots— small, low-risk experiments to test your new direction or business idea. Pilots help you gather data and prospective customer feedback, allowing you to adjust incrementally as you go, instead of relying on blind leaps (which I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of).
This is also a great time to conduct some price elasticity testing. Whether you’re selling a product or a service, testing different pricing models and strategies is paramount. This was a hard lesson I learned at Decipher when we pivoted from a services-based business into a software business. I figured if we offered clients a research platform that was easier to use and less expensive, we’d have no problems unseating our competitors. Not the case. Software integrations, as it turns out, can be a real bitch and we grossly underestimated how painful it was for big firms like Eli Lilly and Proctor & Gamble to rip out one system and integrate another. We had to come up with some really creative licensing strategies to worm our way in. It took much longer than we anticipated to gain critical mass on our platform.
Now here’s the thing... stop here until you’ve really got these last two steps down and you feel like you have a pivot to make. Repeating the above two steps as many times as necessary helps to reduce risk and gives you a greater chance of success. Think of “value definition” and “market test” as 80-90% of reaching your goal.
The next two steps are pretty self-explanatory.
4. Brand It
There are two paths here depending on whether you’re an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur. For entrepreneurs, it’s obvious— you want to go to market with a strong, well thought out brand that clearly communicates what you do and is “ownable space.” By ownable space, I mean a clearly articulated advantage that your competitors can’t easily claim. I’m not talking about statements like “we provide the highest quality service” or “our product tastes great.” Service is subjective and any can claim great taste (well, at least to drive the first purchase).
Intrapreneurs should be focused on making sure you are positioned to get into the right type of work by branding yourself such that it shortens the time it takes for the right type of employers to interview you for the work you want to do.
5. Land It
Land it is, quite obviously, just that— pulling the trigger and landing into work that is impactful and meets your vision, financial and lifestyle goals. This is the bigger decision that requires commitment, even in the face of uncertainty. Even with all of the preparation I went through to launch my growth strategy and advisory practice, I laid in bed the night before my website launched and the press announcement hit riddled with self-doubt. What if no one called? What if my press was met with the sound of crickets? Am I even remotely qualified for what I’m pitching? Or is this just another bullshit move in a long line of bullshit moves that just happened to pan out? Folks, imposter syndrome is real and it is toxic!
Needless to say, the worst of what I feared never happened. I was fully booked for the entire year within two months of launching my practice, and three years later, I have a waitlist to this day. The lesson here is don’t let self-doubt keep you from pulling the trigger.
Whether the reinvention you’re planning is a product launch, a job change or a total career pivot, consider this field-tested strategic framework as your guide. What’s your next big move?