Did you see The Transporter? It’s a wild ride.
Jason Statham’s character, Frank Martin, survives in his high-octane world on grit and a personal code of “rules”:
#1 The deal is the deal
#2 No names
#3 Never open the package
Frank provides the criminal underbelly with a highly-specialized service — let’s just call it “transportation” — no questions asked. Frank lives on the edge. He avoids entrapment. He’s an expert driver. He’s adept at martial arts. He always finishes the job.
That’s why he’s the best transporter — highly-paid, respected, independent. Above all else, he adheres to his rules to stay alive and come out on top. That is, until he doesn’t . . .
Frank got me thinking about rules as a form of mental jiu-jitsu we can use to quickly eliminate crappy business ideas, and to refine current business ideas into smooth-running machines.
Here’s my take. How does your business idea stack up to these rules?
1. Productize Your Service
Traditional services introduce too many variables to support repetition and refinement (Rule #2). The solution is to market your service as a product.
For individuals and small teams, that product is likely to be niche knowledge:
2. Repeat and Refine
Customization is a train wreck — too many unknowns and unique modifications — it’s unscalable.
The antidote to customization is a standard process. Each customer may be unique, but the process for addressing their situation should be the same.
The beauty of a standard process is that it improves with repetition and refinement — the Japanese concept of kaizen.
3. Be Authentic
It’s so tempting to get involved with new projects that are beyond experience and skills. “Look at this opportunity!”
But no matter how straightforward something *should* be, it’s always more difficult and time-consuming if you haven’t done it a hundred times before. Fiascos are a real risk, followed by downstream reputation damage and opportunity costs.
Your project should be a natural fit for you and your team, informed by real experience.
4. A Nice Little Package
When is a project involving art, design, writing, composition, coding, or optimizing truly finished? It’s largely a matter of opinion isn’t it?
The ideal service-as-a-product is discrete, with a beginning and an end, so sell it as a package. Packages have a specific deliverable and known compensation. Packages also lend themselves to refinement and scalability (Rule #2).
5. Keep it Simple
For marketing purposes, your project must be explainable in a simple way. Customers want a straightforward, clear explanation of how your product benefits them.
My vote for best explanation ever goes to Apple’s original iPod: “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Wow. That says it all in 25 characters.
The goal is to boil down your project to its essence, without industry jargon. If you can’t explain your project in a concise, compelling way, you need to work on differentiation (Rule #9).
6. Deliver Fast
Push for short delivery times. That means performing the service, shipping the product, or providing customers with the resources to do the work themselves right away, today.
Fast delivery opens myriad opportunities to earn money, and if necessary, recover from mistakes. Slow delivery kills innovation and leads to huge opportunity costs if anything goes sideways.
Can you provide a quote, pitch your product, sign a contract, or deliver faster than anyone else? That’s a huge strategic advantage.
Marketing automation is the best way to extend reach, connect with ideal customers at scale, and speed things up (rule #6).
Set up systems to automatically educate, qualify, pre-sell, make offers, get paid, collaborate, follow-up . . . so you can focus on the core work you enjoy.
Computer and communications technology is ubiquitous and cheap. Perhaps it can take on a role beyond marketing. Is there a way automate aspects of production, delivery, or support?
8. Get Paid Up Front
The cure for cash flow problems is to get paid in advance or on-delivery. Can you design your product such that you get paid on a recurring basis? Even better.
The worst high-risk scenario is to invoice a few customers (or only one!) for large amounts. If a major customer can’t or won’t pay, it’s game over.
The ideal low-risk scenario is for many customers to pay smaller amounts for a standardized product (rule #1), on a recurring basis, in advance. Use computer technology to make it happen (rule #7).
9. Differentiate or Die
Market “positioning” is how customers perceive your brand compared to competitors.
To stand out in the market and to keep your marketing message concise (Rule #5), your service / product should be tightly focused on a niche, and obviously different from competitors.
That simple action powerfully concentrates marketing effectiveness and dramatically limits competition. Create your own spin on a solution to a specific problem.
10. Create a System, Not a Job
The last thing you want is to create a job for yourself that’s more time-consuming and stressful than a “real” job. So the project cannot be about you doing ongoing production work.
Your work is to design a system that delivers value to customers using a standard process (rule #2). Keep it lean: Minimize employees. Minimize facilities. Minimize overhead.
11. Design Your Project
All of this gets down to a core rule: you must design your business project to match the expected outcome.
What business project dovetails with your native skills? What lifestyle do you want? Distill the things you do best, then design a business project around those skills and the experience you want to have. Add a team and automation to scale it up as desired.
So the key question becomes: What do you want to achieve? From there, reverse-engineer your business project to deliver that result.