Did you see The Transporter? It’s a wild ride.
Jason Statham’s character, Frank Martin, survives in his high-octane world on personal grit and a 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. He 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 kick crappy business ideas to the curb, and to refine current business projects into smooth-running machines.
Here’s my take on 11 rules to filter out dumb business ideas as well as to refine ongoing projects. These rules especially benefit solopreneurs and small teams.
How does your business project score?
1. Productize Your Service
Traditional services involve too many variables to support repetition and refinement (Rule #2).
The solution is to package and market your service as a product that solves a specific problem.
For individuals and small teams, the “product” is likely to be niche knowledge: Consulting, training, coaching, speaking, writing, technical solutions, representation, or information.
Or, it could be a physical product, as long as it’s not customized (rule #2).
2. Repeat and Refine
Customization is a disaster. Simply expending the energy to cope with it increases the likelihood the overall project will fail. Customization involves 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 benefit and beauty of a standard process is that it improves with repetition and ongoing refinement — that’s the Japanese concept of kaizen.
3. Market What You Know
It’s so tempting to get involved with projects that are beyond your experience and skill set. “Check it out — it’s a growth 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, with all the downstream reputation damage and opportunity costs. Technology in particular is a notorious graveyard for the well-intentioned.
Your project should be a natural fit for you and your team, informed by real experience.
4. Wrap it Up
When is a project involving art, design, writing, composition, coding, or optimizing truly finished? It’s largely a matter of opinion isn’t it? Your customer’s opinion may be different than yours.
Ideal projects are discrete. They have a beginning and an end. They have a specific deliverable and known compensation. Discrete projects lend themselves to refinement and scalability (Rule #2). They are not an open-ended hobby that just rolls on indefinitely.
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. Boil down the project to its essence, without industry jargon.
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.
If you can’t explain your project in a concise, compelling way, you need to work on differentiation (Rule #9).
6. Deliver Fast
Seek short delivery times. How short? Let’s say an hour, up to one day.
That might be mean performing the service, shipping the product, or providing customers with the resources to do the work themselves.
Fast delivery opens myriad opportunities to earn money, and if necessary, recover from mistakes.
Conversely, slow delivery kills innovation and leads to huge opportunity costs if anything goes sideways.
Bonus: speed drives sales. Can you provide a quote, pitch your product, sign a contract, or deliver faster than anyone else? That’s a huge strategic advantage.
7. Release the Robots
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, 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. Collect 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 automatically? Even better.
The worst high-risk scenario is to invoice a few customers (or only one!) for large amounts. Invoicing relinquishes cash flow to someone else. 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 a small amount 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 “position” 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. Create your own spin on a specific solution to a specific problem.
That simple action powerfully concentrates marketing effectiveness and dramatically limits competition.
Can your strongly differentiate your project? If not, keep at it.
10. Lean for Life
Don’t really need that person? Don’t hire them. Keep it lean and clean. 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 and would also be satisfying? How can your reverse-engineer your business project from the end result you want to achieve?
Distill the things you do best, then design a business project around those skills and experience. Add a small team and automation to scale it up as desired.