The value of focus

As an entrepreneur, you probably have lots of good ideas. Good ideas are what put you in business and what will keep you in business. So, the more good ideas the better right?

I’m not so sure.

When it comes to good ideas, too many of them cause distraction. And for your businesses to thrive and prosper, what you need is focus. An old Russian proverb says the man who chases two rabbits catches neither and this applies in business as well as rabbit catching.

When I launched AlphaTykes, a foreign language program for children which I developed about 9 years ago, I was inundated with great ideas. I had lots of ideas myself, plus my team had amazing ideas, our clients gave us lots of ideas too, and every person I met also contributed lots of great ideas. Everyone was so enthusiastic about the program and could see such amazing potential for the program and they couldn’t help but make suggestions and share the vision for where AlphaTykes could go. The ideas ranged from what languages we should offer, to topics to add to our curriculum, to potential venues for opening centres, to ideas for how to promote the program.

The problem was, I tried to action all of these good ideas. And even some of the not-so-good ideas.

We very quickly expanded to offer 3 languages, 4 age groups, 16 modules of content and a product list of several hundred items. And we were delivering through 3 of our own learning centres, plus child care centres, plus outside school hours care programs, plus vacation care programs, plus schools, plus private teachers. And we did a LOT of promotion, from letter box drops to television advertising to information stands in shopping centres. We must have had 200 rabbits on the run.

Part of a new business is experimenting to see what works, so on one hand exploring lots of ideas is good to see what gets the best results. But, on the other hand, real strategy is being brutal about your decisions and focussing. Time and money are both in short supply, so be frugal about how you spend them.

I eventually developed a decision-making spreadsheet which I called AEIO (AlphaTykes Evaluation of Initiatives and Opportunities) to help assess each idea. This tool helped me to capture all the initiatives and opportunities in one document so that nothing was ever lost or forgotten and it gave me an objective framework for choosing which initiatives to pursue.

Firstly, each initiative had to pass some simple mandatory criteria:

  1. Does the initiative support the company’s core values?
  2. Does the initiative match the program’s pedagogy?

Each criteria was answered with yes, no or no effect. Any initiative that failed to meet either of these criteria was withdrawn from further consideration.

Then, a range of comparative criteria were assessed:

  1. Impact on revenue (high, medium, low, none)
  2. Impact on quality of program (high, medium, low, none)
  3. Impact on cost (high, medium, low)
  4. Time is required to implement (high, medium, low)
  5. Duration of the obligation (high, medium, low)
  6. Current capacity within the team (yes, no)

Based on the answers to these questions, the framework automatically generated a recommendation of ‘reject’, ‘possibly consider’ or ‘strongly consider’.

The final step was to consider if there were any additional concerns or benefits and if the ‘need’ was somehow already catered for.

With this tool, we assessed initiatives and opportunities across the whole spectrum of the business, from product development to program delivery, and from sales and marketing activities to IT and operational developments. And with one simple spreadsheet, life got a lot simpler. And we were a lot more successful in our rabbit catching.

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