Every stage of running a company has its own highs and lows. At the very beginning you’re bootstrapping as you test your assumptions and building a minimum viable product. After getting a product out there and gauging feedback, you need to learn how and when to pivot. Once you pass the pilot phase and you start hiring people, you learn about the challenges associated with attracting, retaining and rewarding talented individuals. In all of these areas, there are well-documented practices on how to avoid immediate failure. But what happens when your business is moving smoothly, the vision for the future is crystal clear, and you hit a wall?
A wall in this case isn’t a funding gap or crisis; rather, think of it as a moment in time where you have a few options for next steps that all seem relatively attractive, but you can’t support any of them with any logical reason. The reasoning needs to not only be rationale but it has to make sense for your company.
We recently had one of those moments at Practice Makes Perfect, a nonprofit that partners with schools and operates their summer school program in inner-city neighborhoods, supporting students from elementary school to college matriculation. Our goal of building a national summer school model was crystal clear, but the next step towards expansion in our growth phase was not. Did we need to replicate our model in every major city? Did we need to fully concentrate in a single state or city? There have been successful organizations that have done both. And after weeks of conversations held internally and externally, we had broke through the wall and put together a game plan that made our next steps as clear as our end goal.
Here’s how you can breakthrough the wall and feel confident:
1. Define the roadblock.
What is your exact challenge? What are the obvious options? The most important thing we did was reflecting and clearly articulating what we were up against. We then spent time talking and mapping the potential routes we could take. This makes it a lot easier to find a solution and to gather feedback.
2. Identify the experts in your market or space.
This is where your board, investors and extended network are most important. The easiest way for them to add value is by opening doors. Who are the thought leaders are in your space? Once you’ve identified them, put in some extra effort identifying how you want to articulate the roadblock. The true experts in your field will have very little time and you will have to be able to get straight to the point. The only caveat here is that you don’t want the list of people you need to speak with to be too long. For us, three to five was a good number.
3. Don’t rush the decision.
Hopefully, you do not face too many roadblocks or walls in the really early days of starting your business. In this case, time needs to be your best friend since this decision impacts your organization’s strategic approach to scale and growth. Don’t impose a deadline on when you need to come to a conclusion. When you have given it enough thought and spoken to enough of the experts, the right next steps for your business will become apparent and obvious.
The one reoccurring piece of advice we received from our most knowledgeable mentors has been that you know your business better than anyone else and you don’t need to follow everyone’s advice. Odds are that you took a tremendous amount of risk to make your idea a reality already. This is another defining moment where you have to make a decision with inadequate information to ensure your company continues to thrive.