There are lots of different ways to start a business, and lots of different types of people who start them.
Some people, for example, are planners. They like to start with a carefully considered business plan. They’ll spend weeks or months “perfecting” their idea on paper before launching it.
Doers, on the other hand, tend to skip or skim over the planning phase and move straight into action. They may make money sooner, but eventually run into trouble because their actions aren’t linked to an overall sense of direction.
What planners and doers both eventually realize is that to start a successful business, you have to both plan and do, in turn, probably more than once.
Plans you develop in isolation, without real market feedback, are very unlikely to unfold as you expect.
Similarly, actions taken without a sense of purpose don’t tend to get you very far.
The best approach is one that recognizes that planning, research, and taking action are all key components of building a successful, sustainable business. And that the process of starting a business isn’t necessarily a linear one.
You may plan a little, do some research, take action, and then return to planning and research before making your next move.
This process reflects the reality that a business idea is essentially a hypothesis and that starting a business is, in a very real sense, an experiment.
If your business is built on a relatively radical idea, then the whole concept is a hypothesis. That was the case for Zappos, the online shoe retailer. When Zappos started in 1999, it wasn’t at all clear that people would buy shoes online without trying them on. So Zappos started their business in “test mode” and validated their concept before investing millions.
Even if your idea isn’t radical, you’ll have to hypothesize about how to package and promote your products or services, what to charge, and how to keep customers satisfied. As you go to market, you’ll see how customers react, make adjustments, and retest.
Understanding your new business and its various elements as experiments should help you get over any anxiety you may have about getting things “right” as you go to market. A failed experiment is not the end; it’s an information point.
More importantly, experimentation provides a manageable way of starting your business, allowing you to focus in on some of its key elements. It’s the kind of deep research we should all be doing as part of our business planning, but rarely do.
You can test and validate your idea before, during, or after you write a business plan. Doing it at all matters much more than when.