How to Get Your Big Idea off the Ground

2 Ways Entrepreneurs Fail and a New Book That Can Help You Succeed

If there’s one thing most entrepreneurs don’t lack, it’s ideas. I dream up new products and businesses every week. You’re probably the same way. The problem is lots of ideas aren’t worth pursuing, are they?


Courtesy of iStock/JacquelineSouthby

One major facepalm for me was when we launched the Best Year Ever Leaders Edition last year. Best Year Ever is hugely successful, and I thought a version for leaders was a no-brainer. Not so much. After heavy development costs and rushing to market, we sold exactly one unit.

I wish I had Pat Flynn’s new book Will It Fly? then. It would have saved me thousands of dollars, a couple week’s worth of wasted time, and tons of grief.

2 Ways Entrepreneurs Go Wrong

Entrepreneurs usually go wrong one of two ways:

  1. They have runaway success but either burn out or check out because the business doesn’t align with their unique interests and abilities. (That wasn’t my problem with the leaders edition.)

  2. They experience terrible failure because they rushed into a project without understanding what they were building. (That was my problem.)

Even though they seem like opposites, they’re really the result of the same basic problem—trying to launch a business without a well designed plan. Will It Fly? addresses both of these failures.

Launching Without a Plan

The metaphor Pat uses is a paper airplane. He starts the book by describing how he and his son once folded airplanes.

Pat neatly folded his plane, following a simple but proven design. His son, however, was so excited he just started folding his paper any which way. When he was finished, he had a plane—but not one that would fly.

Maybe you can relate. I sure can. And that’s where Will It Fly? comes in. It shows you how to fold your plane, so you can get your big idea off the ground.


The Dream Filter

Pat walks readers through a series of exercises that, one by one, increase your odds for success. These exercises, most of which are fun to do, work like a filter for entrepreneurs’ dreams.

To simplify, I’d break them down into three main stages.

  1. Define it. The first stage is properly defining your product. You could start with the customer and their needs, but we usually don’t. An idea just hits us one day. And we need a process for sizing it up.

    The critical insight from Pat on this point is what he calls “your unfair advantage.” A product is most successful when it’s true to you, to what you can uniquely add to the marketplace.

    When I talk about Life Planning, I always encourage people to start with themselves. It’s like the inflight instructions about placing your own air mask on first. You can only help others if you’re functioning well yourself.

    It’s the same idea here. If your business ideas don’t capitalize on what you can uniquely offer, they either won’t work, or you won’t be able to keep up the work when they do because you’ll lose interest or lose heart.

    That’s not Pat’s problem. “A lot of people ask me how I’m able to get so much done,” he says. “My answer is because my mission is clear.”

  2. Refine it. The next stage is refining your big idea. Pat walks readers through several exercises that help with this process, but the purpose is straightforward.

    Refining your big idea helps you communicate it clearly. Why is that important? Because this stage is all about tightening up your plan and sharpening your thinking. That requires talking about it.

    Sometimes we like to protect our brilliant ideas until they’re fully formed. I get that. But feedback is critical for success, especially early on.

    We might find out our brilliant ideas are not so brilliant, and we could save a lot of time by moving on. Or we might discover how to significantly improve them. But without feedback—even the negative stuff—we’d never know.

    And the truth is that this is just delaying the inevitable. The market will supply the feedback eventually, good or bad.

  3. Test it. The final stage is testing your idea in the marketplace, and Pat has several helpful insights about how to get the size and scope of the market you hope to serve.

    What’s genius about Pat’s system is how it enables you jump past self-doubt. There are a million uncertainties in business.

    If you want to introduce one more, just ask detailed questions about whether customers want your product. Don’t ask. Sell.

    Did anyone know they wanted an iPod before Steve Jobs announced it? Jobs had the confidence of his market research, and Pat shows readers how to do the same for their products. “Listen to others,” he says, “but trust your numbers.”

    The case studies he provides in chapter 18 will show you what kind of testing works and how.

Projects go bust and businesses never get off the ground. It happens every day. But I guarantee you fewer entrepreneurs would fail if they took the time up front to define, refine, and test their big idea. Will It Fly? can show you how.

Question: Are you an entrepreneur with a big idea? What would it take to get ready for your launch date? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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