Got a Minute?

In the time it takes you to drink your morning coffee, you can start a business.
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11 min read

This story appears in the September 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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There's nothing as fragile as a great idea--especially a great business idea. With that in mind, how do you develop a new business idea so that it not only gains momentum, but actually takes on a life of its own? You have to make the commitment--stick with it and follow through.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Life happens, and everyday circumstances can stop you dead in your tracks. That's why it's essential to have a foolproof plan to keep you going despite your lack of time, knowledge or resources.

According to a survey by Yahoo! Small Business and Harris Interactive, 66 percent of American adults say they've considered starting a business. But many never take the leap.

Know this: Getting started is not about knowing exactly what to do. There's plenty of expert advice within your reach about the nuts and bolts of all aspects of business--from writing the plan to implementing marketing strategies to finding capital. But having the right information doesn't guarantee you'll put it into practice.

The art of the start is really about setting yourself up with a system that provides clear direction and keeps you moving forward no matter what challenges you face.

Lack of inertia is the number-one killer of great ideas. Take a clue from Newton's first law of motion: Bodies in motion stay in motion. What does physics have to do with getting started? Keep yourself in motion, and you'll attract the necessary circumstances, situations and people to answer your questions, solve your problems and support you in building your business.

Staying in action doesn't have to overwhelm you, and it doesn't have to dominate your time. All it takes to keep your business in motion is 10 minutes a day.

1. Choose a Business That Fits You. You probably already have your dream business idea. Just be sure it's something there's a market for. Whether it's a franchise, retail or homebased business, choose a model that appeals to your personality traits, talents, skills and lifestyle preferences.

Lon Cohen has always been passionate about music. In 1979, he moved to Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a rock star. Today, at 49, he laughs about it: "When my red spandex pants didn't fit anymore, I took a job working for a guy who rented [out] guitars."

Starting at $9 an hour, he worked his way up to manager and began building a guitar collection of his own. Eventually, he had so much gear that, he says, "it made sense to start a business doing the same thing [as my boss]." Lon Cohen Studio Rentals was born.

2. State Your End Goal. You have to know where you're going in order to get there. Stating your end goal--the ultimate result you're looking to achieve--gives meaning to what you're doing and why. Writing it down so it sounds as if it were happening now not only keeps your intention right there in front of you, but it also makes your success real in the present moment. This is a great motivational tool, especially on the days when life gets in the way.

Cohen's end goal: being able to say, "I have a well-respected, profitable guitar rental company, which gives me freedom to do more of what I want."

3. Identify the Milestones That Make Up Your End Goal. Milestones are the markers that measure advancement on the road to your final destination. As you imagine yourself having already reached your end goal, you'll see the mileposts along the journey. Make a list of these incremental achievements. Don't limit yourself to what you think is possible at this point, and don't worry about how you're going to accomplish everything. These milestones become the basis for youraction plan.

Cohen's list included milestones such as:

  • Having a beautiful showroom and storage facility in a prime location
  • Hiring honest, reliable and experienced employees
  • Being able to offer rental, storage, cartage and tech services
  • Having a fleet of new vehicles and trucks
  • Having clients (including world-renowned musicians) come to him through word-of-mouth

4. Choose One Milestone From Your List. You've got to start somewhere. Choose one milestone as the place to begin, and focus on it. This can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed and reduces the chance of you scattering your energy in too many directions.

Cohen's one milestone: having a beautiful showroom and storage facility in a prime location.

5. Identify the Tasks Required to Achieve Your Milestone. Each milestone is made up of a series of individual tasks--small and simple activities plus big and somewhat daunting objectives. Make a list of all the obvious, practical and seemingly impossible tasks you need to accomplish to reach your milestone. Don't worry about how you're going to make them happen.

Cohen's list of tasks included:

  • Get a facility.
  • Remodel the layout to fit his needs.
  • Design and furnish the interior.
  • Purchase the necessary repair, tech and soundproofing equipment to accommodate the expansion.
  • Set up customized computer systems to manage every aspect of the business.

Steps 6 to 9

6. Choose One Task From Your List. Simplify again by choosing one task from your list. Focusing on one task at a time continues to channel your energy in a single direction. Cohen's one task: Get a facility.

7. Break Your Task Into 10-Minute Actions. By breaking down your task into a series of 10-minute actions, you're essentially creating steps so simple, there's no room for procrastination. You may not have time to write your entire brochure at once, but you can sit down and identify three ways consumers will benefit from your product.

Why 10 minutes? Because it is feasible--and you are more inclined to do something when it's likely you'll succeed.

By asking himself the following questions, Cohen was able to break down his task into 10-minute actions.

Q: Can I get a facility in 10 minutes?
A: No.

Q: What do I need to do before I can do that?
A: I need to look at some available buildings and see my options.

Q: Can I do that in 10 minutes?
A: No.

Q: What do I need to do before I can do that?
A: I need to find a commercial real estate agent.

Q: Can I do that in 10 minutes?
A: No, because I don't know any.

Q: What do I need to do before I can do that?
A: I need to look in the Yellow Pages or get a reference.

Q: Can I do that in 10 minutes?
A: Yes. I can call Jim who just re- located his business and ask for his agent's number.

8. Schedule Your 10-Minute Action. Schedule your 10-minute action for a concrete date and time, as you would any other appointment. It's easy to forget yet another to-do on your already long list, so write it down in your day planner, Palm Pilot or BlackBerry.

9. Take Action Without Fail. When your 10-minute action appointment rolls around, keep it! Keeping your agreement with yourself is as important as keeping one with your biggest client. It reinforces your integrity and commitment to your business. If there's a conflict you can't work around, reschedule for a date and time you can keep. Remember, you'll never have "enough" time, and you'll always have 100 things that need to be done yesterday.

Your Final Step

10. Commit to 30 Days of Action. It takes 30 days of consistent action to see measurable progress. You may think 300 minutes could hardly make an impact. But remember your physics lesson? Being in motion for 30 days straight generates momentum and creates a domino effect. One action produces a result thatleads to another and another. Before you know it, you've jumped three steps, or five or six, ahead of where you thought you'd be.

And uncanny things start to happen--people present themselves, opportunities show up, resources find you. Action triggers the unpredictable and unexpected. Don't be surprised when one small action propels you into a quantum leap.

Cohen used this 10-step system to reach his milestone. He secured a funky, beautifully decorated facility, fully equipped for rental, cartage, storage and tech services, and it's located in a prime spot. So he began to focus on his next milestone: having clients (including world-renowned musicians) come to him through word-of-mouth.

"My approach was 'if you build it, they will come.' I had the facility, trucks, computers, and equipment. I started calling anyone and everyone I could think of and invited them down to see it," Cohen says. "Those people started telling people, and the next thing I knew, I got a call from a competitor who was going out of business. He sent all his clients to me."

The power of the small step is that it can take you from getting started to running a full-fledged business.

Twelve years ago, Cohen began his guitar rental business as a solo operation from home. His annual sales were $50,000. Today, he has a 6,000-square-foot facility in North Hollywood, eight employees and projected 2006 sales of $750,000. His clients include some of the top names in music, including Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart.

Lon Cohen Studio Rentals was built one step at a time, with steady increases and milestone victories. And as with most businesses, the journey wasn't always easy. "There were countless times I wanted to quit," Cohen says. "I'd get overwhelmed by the chaos and frustrated by all the problems. I felt afraid as I stared at the figures and thought about the financial risk, stressed about how it was going to turn out. But I committed, took small steps and learned as I went along. I was determined to get through."

This is a case in point for how to get started. Know your end goal, take action, and keep going, no matter how bumpy the ride gets. It's also a testament to the spirit of every entrepreneur--commitment, perseverance and the courage to go after one's dream. "As I think back on it, I'm pretty amazed," says Cohen. "I was a guy who played guitar in a band and knew nothing about starting a business. But I did have a clear picture of what I wanted the business to look like, and I kept focusing on the freedom it would give me." Today, that strategy has paid off tenfold.

What to Do When You Want to Give Up
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you that starting a business isn't always a smooth ride. Doors close. People object. Stuff happens. Here are some 10-minute actions you can take when you feel like throwing in the towel and walking away from your dream.

  • Calm Yourself Down. Breathe. Count to 10. Go for a walk. Do something that will take you out of your emotional reaction and give you perspective on your situation.
  • Read Your End Goal Statement. Remind yourself of what you're creating and why. This tends to jump-start your motivation because you've written it in the present tense, as if it were happening now.
  • Change Your Focus. Make a list of the positives. This could include what you have achieved, the contacts you have made or how much you have grown through the process thus far.
  • Look for the Opportunity. Ask yourself, "What is this situation trying to teach me?" Challenges can be the most valuable form of feedback. Any setback, glitch or crisis can be used as an opportunity to help you move forward.
  • Get Support. Hire a coach. Find a mentor. Consult an expert. Talk to an objective person (someone who believes in you) who can help evaluate the situation, answer your questions or guide you in finding the right solution.

Creative Ways to Find 10 Minutes
Your day is already scheduled with everything you should do and need to do. Making time for something you want without compromising other tasks can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Here are some creative ways to find 10 minutes to start building the business you've always dreamed about.

  • Try to wake up 10 minutes early, and use the time as soon as you wake up.
  • If you take public transportation, use the time during your commute to work. If you drive, take 10 minutes in the parking lot before you head into the office.
  • Make time for your task while your computer is booting up.
  • Take 10 minutes during your lunch hour or afternoon coffee break.
  • Use any time you're on hold on the phone.
  • Use the time during the commercials of your favorite TV show.
  • When your kids are napping or after they go to bed, spend 10 minutes on a task.
  • Use the time while dinner is cooking.
  • Take 10-minute breaks from watching your kids in the evening--alternate child-care shifts with your spouse.

Cornelia M. Flannery is a personal coach, business consultant and author of Take 10! How to Achieve Your "Someday" Dreams in 10 Minutes a Day.

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