Idea. Such a little word, but with so much riding on it. Ideas are the difference between this life or another one, between a business and a hobby, between what we’ve got and what we want. As creatives we tend to have a feast or famine relationship with ideas – too many at once or what seems like lightyears without a single one. Today I want to focus on the feast part of the cycle (and perhaps I’ll come on to the famine another day?).
Very often people will come to start working with me when they are bursting with ideas and just can’t take it anymore. Whether they’ve got a brand new business or are simply taking their existing one up a notch, exciting times and a feeling of momentum seems to trigger a whole load of ideas. Some are short term campaign or marketing ideas, others are long term world domination kinda ideas.
The trouble with ideas is, they intoxicate you. They get you drunk and before you know it you’ve got your credit card out buying fixtures for a shop that was in year 5 of the business plan. Ideas are positive, but boy can they be distracting. So today I’m going to share with you the advice I give my clients when they’re juggling a whole load of ideas.
Use long term goals as motivation, not a distraction
Step one is downing a pint of water and eating some Hula Hoops to sober up from your mammoth idea sesh. It’s about facing the reality that those big ideas might not be for right now, or even ever (I go more in depth on this in The Power of Not Yet). But rather than get despondent and give them up, let’s look at ways to use their positive energy towards something that will help you in the here and now.
You need to flick a switch in your brain to go from actively working on your idea, to putting it on a shelf. Or, actually, perhaps you should put it on a pedestal. This isn’t about getting rid of it or shelving it forever; put it somewhere you can see it, but where you’re not using energy and brainpower on it. So whenever you’re having a bad day or feel disheartened, you can look at your mental shelf and use your idea to motivate you to keep going.
Firm up your purpose
I find that when you have a lot of ideas and don’t know which one to go with, it’s because you have a lack of clarity about your purpose. There are lots of reasons why I bang on about the importance of purpose, and one of those is that it anchors you. When you have a strong sense of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, it’s much easier to filter ideas and opportunities. You can hold an idea up against it and ask yourself ‘are these aligned? Does this idea feed my purpose? Will it take me where I want to go?’. It enables you to make much more efficient yes/no decisions about ideas in an objective way.
How does this provide value?
We’ll often come up with ideas from a standpoint of what we want – I want a shop, I want to make dresses, I want to be big on Instagram. And that’s fine, that’s human nature. But before we start running with them, we need to work out whether they’re valuable to anyone else – because if people don’t need it, they won’t buy it.
Turn your idea upside down and take yourself out of it. How will this serve people? What will people get out of this? What about this idea will people fall in love with? Dig really deep on this – simply saying ‘well everyone needs a dress’ isn’t good enough. What is it about your dresses that will make someone part with their money for one? How will it improve their lives? Of course, the best part of this exercise is that it kills two birds with stone, giving you excellent brand stories and USPs for your marketing.
And what if the ideas you’re toying with are marketing ideas? Maybe you’re thinking of topics for an email newsletter or campaigns for an upcoming season. The same rules apply – how can you give people the most value? How can you serve them so well they’ll keep coming back?
Create stepping stones
This one is kind of linked to step one, but is more pro-active, and best used for your medium term goals and ideas rather than the big ambitions. It’s about breaking down the steps you need to get somewhere, working backwards from it and creating a trail of breadcrumbs to get back there.
Let’s say, for example, you want to start a podcast. What will need to happen for you to get there? Do you need to buy some equipment, do you need to learn some software, can you actually outsource this stuff? What topics are you going to talk about, who are you going to interview? What schedule are you going to work to, what is going to mark your podcast apart? Then break those down into more individual steps if necessary.
So then you’ll have a roadmap, a set of stepping stones to get to your idea. After doing this you may think it’s too much for you, you don’t actually fancy the reality. And that’s not lazy, it’s fine! Onto the next thing. But if it just fires yourself up, set yourself a schedule to cross your stepping stones. Maybe tick one thing off a week, or set a deadline and take a couple steps a day. However works for you to take productive action towards an idea.
What ideas are you toying with at the moment?
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