Total market domination. The sky is the limit. Conquer the competition.
These are the mantras of many business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. The problem with this type of “bigger is better” mentality is that it misses out on the beauty and utility of thinking small. Focusing exclusively on big goals can also increase your risk of procrastination, paralysis and burnout. Unfortunately, if your only choices are all or nothing, you may wind up with nothing.
Think about how many times you’ve resolved to write a killer business plan, or create a comprehensive marketing campaign, or reorganize your office. If you’re like most business owners, your reaction to that is, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to do that.”
Don’t get me wrong. As a coach, I’m firmly in favor of big goals. By all means, aim for tripling your sales, staff or square footage. Be audacious and unafraid to dream. But don’t spend all your time on vision. Once you have that clear vision for your company, get busy thinking small.
Focus on your first big win
So let’s say you want to expand your tax preparation business into a new service line, or you have an idea for great new smartphone app for parents. One of the most important things you can do is focus on early wins. Or, to be even more specific, your first win.
When expanding into a new service offering, it would be dangerously easy to focus on local competitors, or rebranding, or financial projections. Focus instead on finding that first paying customer, or free customer, or first prospect who will agree to let you pitch them for half an hour over coffee. When developing a new product idea, focus on learning just one thing about the customer and their needs that you don’t already know.
Whether you’re an aspiring bakery owner who needs to sell their first pie or an experienced consultant who needs to create their first public workshop, be sure to prioritize the actions that will create short-term momentum and learning. In other words, instead of your reorganizing your whole office, think small by picking just one drawer.
Start with 30 seconds
These “think small” principles have even spawned their own movement. B.J. Fogg directs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University and believes the key to success lies in starting with “tiny habits” that take 30 seconds or less. His approach (which makes even cleaning out a single desk drawer seem big) requires you do your new tiny habit after a well-established habit, and to always “celebrate” and emotionally reinforce yourself afterward.
An example of a tiny habit for business owners might look something like, “After I sit down at my computer for the first time each morning, I post one pricing promotion on our social media accounts. Then I smile and say, “Success!” Fogg writes. “As I see it, the real breakthrough is in having these skills(of creating new habits), not in any single habit.”
Change your thinking
Another reason to think small is that it fosters learning and experimentation. In a business environment that is rapidly changing, the faster you can acquire new knowledge, the better off you’ll be. It might seem daunting to attempt to “master the art of B2B sales,” but how about “find a good book on B2B sales,” or “read a couple of blog posts on B2B sales,” or even just “Google B2B sales techniques for 5 minutes.” Can you feel your blood pressure dropping?
And thinking small helps to reframe our entrepreneurial outcomes from win/loss to more learning/less learning. When you commit to the dogged pursuit of big goals, you might ignore some red flags or conflicting data that doesn’t support your course of action. By dropping the stakes, you improve your ability to process the information from your baby steps and see more clearly where they point you.
So remember, the next time you feel stuck with a business goal, ask yourself, “How can I think smaller?”
Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach, author of “Ask the Mompreneur,” and founder of the social shopping site CartCentric.com. Follow her on Twitter @DrJennieWong.
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