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How to Painlessly Plan Your Next Business Project

Why don’t entrepreneurs just get started on the projects they talk about all the time?

We hear from aspiring and current business owners all the time who have dreams of taking on projects big and small, often times hearing from them multiple times about the same project.

The answer is simple: fear. It’s fun to talk about a project and see the reaction on people’s faces when they acknowledge how brave you are to take on such an awesome project.

But then, when we sit down at our computers or in our workshop or behind the microphone, that evil voice of self-doubt reminds us to get back in our place.

“You’re a nobody!”

“No one will ever buy this from you!”

“You’ll face terrible rejection, it will ruin your career, you’ll lose all your money, get evicted and then die of starvation!”

The first step to conquering your project – whether it’s a book, song, product, article, podcast, new venture, etc. – is defining the project effectively.

The project planning process I’m sharing with you below will help you immediately define boundaries and get working as fast as possible… so grab a sheet of paper, decide on your next project and let’s stop talking and start doing.

(NB: If you need help discovering which project to take on, look here: Small Business End of Year Review and Planning Process.)


1. Give it a name

Every project needs a name. It doesn’t have to be the final name, but there needs to be something at the top of the page.

Write the name down so you have something to call it while you work on it.

Note Well: names matter. What you call this thing can make it more clear or less clear. So, ask yourself, is the name you chose specific enough or should you make it more clear?

I’ll give you an example: right now Chase is working on a new Fizzle course about creating shareable images. We’ve used a lot of terms to describe it. When he sees “the images course” on a list, his brain will respond far differently than it would if he saw “the social images course” or “the shareable images for social media and blog posts course.”

Think this is nit-picky? Think again. Ambiguity has kept you from completing this project for long enough. Give yourself and every chance you can. A clear and concrete project name is the first step.


What’s the outcome?

Why are you doing this to begin with? What’s the goal? What do you hope will happen as a result of completing this project?

Put this under the project name.

Close your eyes and think about this. How will you know when this project is done?

Can you answer that question? Can you visualize it for a minute? What will it look like when it’s done? What will you be able to do with it? What will a person feel when they see it? What will they be able to do there?

More clarity… that’s all this is creating for you, because when it comes to crossing things off lists and shipping projects into the world, clarity is an unfair advantage.


““When it comes to shipping projects into the world, clarity is an unfair advantage.””


What’s the relevance to your business or life?

You could take on 1,000 projects right now. What makes this project the right one to take on right now? How does this relate to your business or life goals for this year?

Keeping your current project aligned with your overall vision for your business or life gives it much more meaning. If the project you have in mind doesn’t align with your overall vision, then perhaps you should work on another project… Or at a minimum make the conscious decision to start this project just for the fun of it.


Who is this for?

This is perhaps the most important question for helping you achieve your desired outcome. Who are you creating this project for?

Is it for you – for fun, learning, or enjoyment? Or are you building it for a particular audience? If it’s for a particular audience, write that down, but then write the name of one particular person who will benefit from this project. (This is a trick from the Target Market Guide, which is free and excellent.)

You should know them, and you should keep them in mind as you make the project come to life.


What’s the ship date?

When will you make the project public to the world? Pick a date. Write it down. (Keep in mind your current time, money, and energy constraints. Be realistic, but push yourself.)

There are an infinite number of excuses for not shipping on time. None of them are valid if you plan and execute effectively.

The ship date doesn’t move, you do. Remember that when you start thinking you should move the ship date. (This is easier said than done.)


Who’s responsible?

If you’re a solopreneuer, I’ve got news: you’re responsible. If you work with a team, you’ve still got to decide who owns this project. One person and only one person is responsible for shipping this thing on time.

Project management by committee never works. Someone has to step up and own the ship date. Write their name down.


Your big hairy audacious vision

When you imagine the perfect version of this project, what does it look like?

Be specific. Write down a detailed description of everything this project does when it’s complete. Don’t hold back. This is your chance to dream.


Dial it back to version one

That dream you just sketched and outlined is actually version 3 of this project. You needed to get it all out and down, but you can’t hold yourself to that vision for 2 reasons:

  1. You need feedback on version 1 to make the following version even better than you could have made it on your own, and
  2. You can’t finish that dream project in your timeline (or maybe ever… that’s why it’s called a “dream” project).

A few weeks ago we wrote about how to deconstruct projects into truly minimum viable products. If you haven’t read that, do it now and strip down your big hairy audacious vision into a lean and mean version 1.

This is the version of the project to ship first. V.2 will be great and V.3 might just last you the rest of your life, but only because you scaled back V.1, actually shipped it and received priceless feedback from your audience.


Every task, on the page

Now write down every single task, from beginning to end, to complete version one of the project. Don’t skip this part. It would be easy to say, “I’ll come back to this.”

Don’t do that. You’ll start the project without knowing what it will take to finish and then you’ll get distracted doing research on what to do next.

Instead, do research now. Find out the steps it’ll take to launch this project. If you don’t know, find someone who has done something similar and buy them coffee.

You’ll inevitably miss some steps. That’s ok. That’s why we cut our timeline in half for the version one vision. Just put everything you know, and everything you know you don’t know, in order, on paper.

Then, give each task a due date and an owner. Only one person per task. These might include team members or anyone you plan to pay to help you get the work done.

The Reverse Engineer

If you’re having trouble moving from beginning to end, try it the other way around. You already visualized the desired outcome of the project. What needs to happen before that? And before that?

For example, you might be selling an ebook. The desired outcome is a sales page with a picture of the cover and copy about the book and a big button to buy. What needs to happen before that?

  • Book cover designed
  • Sales copy written
  • Signed up for Gumroad or whatever you want to use (we made a Gumroad Quickstart Guide if you haven’t seen it).
  • PDF/mobi/epub uploaded to Gumroad
  • Table of contents should probably be in sales copy, so that needs to be written
  • Maybe a quote or two from a reader (social proof drives sales), so I’ll want to have samples of early versions out to friends and colleagues for review (hmmm, didn’t think of this one before)
  • etc.

Thinking backwards from the desired outcome sometimes makes the necessary steps much more clear.


Every reason why this might not work

Now that you have a clear picture of what this project actually looks like when version one is complete, this is about the time when self doubt starts to kick in.

This is natural. It happens to everyone. But we have to do something about it so we can move forward. So, write down every single reason why this project might not work. Literally every one. Don’t skip this.

Done? Good. Now here’s what you get to say, every time self-doubt starts to creep back into the project: “Hi self-doubt! It’s great to see you. I already thought of that. See, it’s on my list. Now go find someone else and leave me the #$%^ alone.”


““If you hear a voice say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and it will be silenced.” ~ Van Gogh”


Every excuse you’re likely to make

There’s self-doubt, and then there’s simple whining and procrastination. Whining and procrastination are also things we all do, even if we don’t want to admit it.

I want you to imagine you’re 75% of the way through the tasks for this project. It’s been a long day at work and you have two hours to work on this thing. Your kids took forever to go to bed and they frazzled you. You forgot to eat dinner.

Write down every excuse you’re likely to make in that moment (and any other moment when it seems impossible to move forward on your project).

Great, now you have a list of all the things you know are excuses. When you make one of these in the middle of the project, you know you should get back to work.

And you also know not to skip dinner. Identifying your demons is another unfair advantage, giving you a leg up on resistance and inertia.


What will you need to learn?

In order to ship this project, what will you need to learn? Which of your tasks do you not currently have the skills or knowledge to complete?

Great, now go back to your task list and add a learning task just before each of the tasks you’re unsure about. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, add a link to a Fizzle course or an article online that will help you learn that thing.

Just another way of preventing excuses. Ain’t that nifty?


Who will you need to hire

Maybe you don’t want to learn a thing yourself, or you simply have the budget to hire for certain tasks. Great!

Go do some research on who you’ll want to hire for each of those tasks. Find out how far ahead of time you’ll need to hire them in order to meet the due date for the task.

Write down the name of the person, and add tasks to your task list for when to hire said person.


What will it feel like?

One last thing, and it’s important: what will it feel like when it’s done?

Remember this every time you want to give up.

Now get going. We can’t wait to see what you make! (Tweet it to us when you’re done).

Oh, and if you want a guided course to ship a project in the next 30 days, the Just Ship it Challenge is free and it will keep you on track. You can start over here.

N.B. This post is an adaptation of the Ship It Journal from Seth Godin. His work and leadership have impacted everything I do, and I’ve adapted his method specifically for business builders. Be sure to print a copy and write all over it if you like it.



The Top 10 Mistakes in Online Business

Every week we talk with entrepreneurs. We talk about what’s working and what isn’t. We talk about successes and failures. We spend time with complete newbies, seasoned veterans, and everything in between.

One topic that comes up over and over again with both groups is mistakes made in starting businesses. Newbies love to learn about mistakes so they can avoid them. Veterans love to talk about what they wish they had known when starting out.

These conversations have been fascinating, so we compiled a list of the 10 mistakes we hear most often into a nifty lil' guide.

Download the guide

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