Every entrepreneur feels lost sometimes. Where are you going to find another client? Is your marketing actually working – or not? How are you going to meet payroll? Entrepreneurship is all about trying new things and innovating, rather than simply following a checklist someone else developed. But that means we often hit brick walls, and it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t know what to do or where to turn. Here are three things to do when you have no idea what to do.
In Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote, “In any moment of decision, the best thing to do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Similarly, former Babson College President Len Schlesinger (along with his colleagues Paul Brown and Charlie Kiefer) argue in their book Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future that meticulous planning is often an impediment in uncertain times. You can plan forever and then circumstances change and render your strategy useless. Instead, try something small (and low risk), see how it goes, and adapt accordingly.
Ask your colleagues.
Especially in the world of entrepreneurship, there’s nothing new under the sun. Almost every businessperson has faced trying times with slow sales, obstreperous employees, cash flow crunches or PR crises. Don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues to ask their advice. We may feel this is a sign of weakness, but in fact, it’s the opposite. As psychologist Robert Cialdini showed in his seminal book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, people whom we turn to for advice are likely to think highly of us. After all, we have the good judgment to value their opinion. This is yet another reason to plan in advance by starting or joining a “mastermind group” in which you can share challenges honestly and openly, and receive frank feedback.
If you’re a legitimate entrepreneur (rather than a “wantrepreneur” who incessantly talks about starting something but never does), you’re almost certainly overloaded with responsibilities and demands on your time. That level of chaos can make it hard to be proactive and think clearly about what you need to be doing to move your business forward. Instead, you’re constantly reacting, responding to others’ needs and timelines yet struggling to articulate your own vision.
As productivity expert David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) told me when I interviewed him for my book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, “You don’t need time to have a good idea, you need space, and you can’t think appropriately if you don’t have space in your head.
It takes zero time to have an innovative idea or to make a decision, but if you don’t have psychic space, those things are not necessarily impossible, but they’re suboptimal.”
Create room for clarity but cutting back on something. It may be painful to say no -- and you may have to turn down something you’re legitimately excited about -- but the extra room to think may be exactly what you need. It might seem like a good idea to attend that networking function, but you may gain more from a quiet walk around your neighborhood that evening. You may want to go to Vegas to celebrate your friend’s birthday, but perhaps you should declare a “staycation” in order to feel more in control of your business and your life. And we’ve often trained others to expect a response to emails within a few hours --but in many cases, people can wait a bit longer. If your typical MO is staying up until midnight to reach inbox zero, try going to bed a couple hours earlier and seeing what the extra sleep will do for your perspective the next morning.
The reason entrepreneurship is exciting – the fact that we’re blazing trails and constantly learning new things – is also what makes it terrifying. If you have no idea what to do, try these things and see if they can help you get unstuck.