Keeping with our theme of an entrepreneurial mindset, this article details, in practical steps, how to turn any dream into a reality.
The key to successful entrepreneurship is effective opportunity exploitation, but unfortunately for many, opportunities can seem elusive. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure so an opportunity for one person could simply be a waste of time for another. Since uniquely suited to the individual and circumstance, an opportunity can be difficult to identify, unless you know exactly what to look for.
Successful entrepreneurs aren’t lucky. They’re looking. How do you learn to spot opportunities? By being prepared. Being prepared begins with planning. This is what business professionals refer to as strategic planning. It consists of analyzing your current status, identifying your greatest capabilities & assets, creating a picture of your desired future standing, and developing & maintaining a viable course of action.
Step 1. Know Who You Are- Acknowledge your fate-what you were born to do and not do. Identify your strengths and account for your weaknesses. Consider both personal as well as situational attributes and limitations.
Business strategists call this step the SWOT analysis. The organization’s internal Strengths and Weaknesses are analyzed along with external Opportunities and Threats. The firm’s positioning, the marketing environment in which it operates, is also considered. Another focus is the company mission– what the company does to provide value and its overall philosophy to doing business.
If you haven’t given much thought to the beneficial versus the detrimental areas of yourself and your surroundings, then this initial step could be quite time-consuming but nonetheless important. This analysis will aid you in developing feasible and attainable goals. Plus, you (probably) don’t want to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel. A SWOT analysis will help you to fully leverage your current assets while accounting for any barriers that may be encountered along the way.
You’ll need to honestly consider the positives and negatives associated with areas such as, but not limited to, the following:
- Your physical strengths & limitations/medical needs
- Your family & community obligations
- Your work obligations
- Your skill sets
- Your work or volunteer experience
- Your education & training
- Your hobbies & interests along with any particular disinterests
- Your core values- things which are most important to you
- Your income as well as debt/financial obligations
- Your personal resources-home, auto, technology tools
- Available support from family, friends & associates
- Relationships, alliances, networks of friends & relations
- Societal resources & barriers – infrastructure, taxation, regulation
- Demographic factors- rural or urban area, young or aged population, economic conditions, local & regional industry & infrastructure
The above analysis makes up your identity- your mission (core beliefs & values) and your positioning (how you best serve society in which you live). This is who you are, your purpose. This information is not based on an image or a reputation and not merely an opinion or a judgement from some other person or entity. This is the real you-what you know to be true about you and your situation. This is where you are now and serves as the basis for how to get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.
Step 2. Focus on Your Strengths- Look closely at your talents, your values and how you best contribute to society. How a business serves its customers is called its value proposition. It’s what makes their customers choose their products or services. The value proposition also helps to provide an edge in a competitive market.
You know your strengths and weaknesses. Step one not only told you what you’re best at but also hinted at your value, the manner by which you best serve fellow mankind and how others benefit from you. It’s how you solve problems and improve situations.
- What makes you unique?
- Do you have particular skills or abilities for which others often compliment you?
- In what areas do you have a lot of practical skills & experience?
- Is there an area that you are really passionate about?
- How do you like to spend your free time? What are your hobbies? Any sports or games you excel at?
- What are your best subjects?
- Did you uncover an overall theme in your step one analysis?
Now that you’ve uncovered your value, do you have an idea of how you’d like to share that value in the future?
Step 3. Know What You Want- How do you see yourself in the future, putting your talents and interests to use? What do you want that future to look like? This is your dream, an image of what you want to be. It is what business executives call their organization’s vision statement– a clear and realistic picture of how the company sees itself in the future. The vision describes how the company wants to be and how it will need to be in order to be successful and fully utilize capabilities.
A vision statement is a general broad description of what you want your future to look like. It should represent the end point of where you wish to be in a designated time frame. It needs to remain somewhat open, leaving room for adaptability and creativity. Also, even though we are using entrepreneurial principles, remember that these methods can and should be applied to areas outside of work life as well. In other words, it’s perfectly fine if your vision does not relate to your career or professional life, but it should reflect how you will use your talents to provide value.
You can write your own vision statement based on the following steps & examples:
- Your targeted time frame for accomplishing your vision (In ___ years, I will be…)
- How you will utilize your talents to benefit others- use action words (teaching, providing, publishing…)
- Your value, your service or offering, your talent or skill, along with a delivery method (an educational program, a restoration service, an insightful & exciting magazine…)
- The value you’ll be offering along with what group you’ll be serving (providing coping skills to recovering addicts, preserving the beauty & value of homes to owners of historic properties, sharing experiences & promoting exploration to people interested in international travel…)
- How you will do it (by building an open online community, by consistently offering valuable & expert home repair advice, by increasing my knowledge base & building reader trust.)
So, sample vision statements using the examples from above would be:
In four years, I will be teaching an educational program, providing coping skills to recovering addicts, by building an open online community.
In two years, I will be providing a restoration service, preserving the beauty & value of homes to owners of historic properties, by consistently offering valuable & expert home repair advice.
In three years, I will be publishing an insightful & exciting magazine, sharing experiences & promoting exploration to people interested in international travel, by increasing my knowledge base & building reader trust.
This step is all about development and transformation. Even though a vision statement is short (typically only around 30 words or less), take your time with it and really put a lot of thought into it. Your vision statement will form the framework for your goal-setting agenda and plan of action. It will keep you on course and focused, providing general direction and an overall sense of purpose. It will also keep your dream preserved for future reference. Many future decisions will be gauged against this vision statement.
Knowing where you want to be, now it’s time to figure out what you’ll need to get there.
Step 4. Know What You’ll Need- What activities will you need to complete and what resources will need to obtain in order for you to accomplish your vision? This step will provide an overview of how you will move from your current status to your future position. It will be a cumulative result of the steps you’ve completed so far. The steps you’ve completed so far, along with this step, are what business leaders and organizational change professionals call strategic planning.
- Goal-Setting- You will need to have written goals in place, both short-term (daily, weekly, monthly) and long-term (yearly and beyond). Be firm. Monitor these goals daily and keep up with your progress. Be flexible. Make adjustments as needed if something isn’t working as planned.
- Prioritizing- You will need to organize your goals into a workable order. It is possible that the step one analysis could have revealed situations which may call for implementing one strategic priority before pursuing another. For example, maybe you are lacking in funding or technology needed to move on to the next step. Remember that some goals, although deemed to be very important, can still be scheduled for a longer term completion date.
- Problem-Solving- You will need to think about your weaknesses and how they could potentially impact your goals. Be alert to the possible pitfalls uncovered in your Step one analysis. Being aware of those potential issues has made you much better prepared to develop effective solutions to problems as they arise.
- Focusing- Although you have to be flexible and receptive to change, you still have to remain focused on your overall objective (your vision), endeavoring to not get side-tracked or bogged down in minute details.
Now that you know what actions will need to be taken, you can now develop an outline of how and when to accomplish those tasks.
Step 5. Implement- The best plans in the world are of no use if they aren’t acted upon. You must have a plan of routine objectives and procedures needed to meet your goals. This is your action plan, and it will concern what needs to be done in the very near future. It will serve as your agenda, your to-do list which will be checked off daily. The action plan will be your road map, detailing the steps necessary for you to get from point A to point B.
- An action plan addresses key (and most likely complex) strategic goals for next 12 months. Immediate goals (ones that need to take place this year) are broken down into smaller & more manageable steps (daily, weekly & monthly tasks).
- Although very detailed, you do not need to make your action plan too complex. You do not have to utilize every capability or address every single limitation uncovered in your Step One analysis. Also, while you don’t want to over-estimate your strengths, you certainly do not want to let weaknesses stifle or scare you to the point of immobility. Remember, you are now much better prepared to solve problems, as they arise, if they arise.
- Allow for balance & flexibility in your action plan. Always be creatively perceptive & open to new ideas.
Like the Step One SWOT analysis, developing an action plan can be very time-consuming to complete, but extremely vital. This written agenda will not only serve as a present guide for action but also as a future record of progress. The breaking down of large complex issues into smaller simpler steps will enable you remain focused and organized and keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Your action plan will be a daily reminder of where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re headed.
Step 6. Monitor & Update- You’ll need to regularly revisit all of these steps in the future. You’ll want to stay consistently in tune to changing capabilities and circumstances. Changes in your internal capabilities or your environment (the SWOT analysis) will most likely lead to making necessary adjustments to other areas (like vision or strategy).
As stated earlier, you’ll be monitoring your action plan daily. Although focus and commitment are important, also realize that an action plan is not written in stone. It is a living document detailing the daily procedures necessary for achieving your vision. It can and should be updated as necessary in response to changes. You will keep all goals, including long-range goals, readily in sight to be addressed at the most appropriate time. Remember that an action plan covers a 12 month time frame. So in a year, it will be time to update and revamp your action plan.
Continual monitoring and reassessment takes time and commitment but provides the intelligence needed to stay up-to-date on what resources you’ll need to continue working toward your desired future.
At this point you may be thinking- what in the world did all of this have to do with finding opportunities?
We were put on this earth to be abundant and giving, utilizing our resources fully. Identifying and utilizing opportunities is something that should become routine and second-nature. It’s not about “luck,” rather it is a skill that must be practiced and honed in order for you to remain successful and happy.
If you don’t know who you are or where you’re heading, you simply do not know what resources you need, much less how or where to spot them. Now you know where you stand presently, where you want to be later and what resources you need along the way. You now know what to look for and you have a good idea of where to start looking so when an opportunity comes your way, you will notice it and be prepared for it.
Always look forward to future gains, but most importantly, remember to be thankful for what you have already attained and accomplished. No one can go through life on their own. You’ve had help this far, and you’ll continue to need help. The opposite also applies. You’ve helped others in the past, and as you become more successful, you’ll be able to help even more. Don’t forget, like your Creator, you too are a creator so have faith in yourself and in your abilities. Thank your Creator for the opportunities you’ve been given as well as for those you will receive.
Wishing you the very best!