How to Finish the Projects You Start
The lifeblood of your side-hustle depends on your ability to ship your best work. Ideas are cheap. Ideas aren’t worth anything until you ship.
As a creative person it’s easy to start new projects. The ideas come from everywhere. The more we create great ideas the more ideas we get. This is the curse of being a producer.
But the ideas aren’t the problem.
Finishing is the problem. Shipping is the problem. If we’ve got nothing to buy, our customers can’t support our work. You can have the best ideas in the world, but until you ship a product your business doesn’t exist.
This is how you finish the projects you start
Ask Your Tribe The Right Way
We start with the people you serve. No business exists in a vacuum. The fastest way to run your business to the ground is to assume what your customers want, build the product first, then hope people will buy it once you’re done.
We start by asking our tribe what they don’t want. Most people can’t really tell us what they do want. If you ask, you get a misleading answer.
We buy with emotion and justify the purchase with logic. When you ask people what they’d buy they’ll give you a logical answer.
We want the primal answer instead.
So, we start by surveying our audience and ask them what they don’t want, with regards to our niche. This method was made popular by Ryan Lavesque.
Warning: You won’t get a direct answer from your audience. This is the reason you’re the entrepreneur, not them. It’s your job to find the product in your tribe’s response.
You’ll uncover their deepest problems, their fears, and their insecurities. We want to uncover the emotional core of the people we serve.
We solve big problems, not little, weenie problems. Your customers won’t pay to solve the little problems.
By asking your tribe what they don’t want, you’ll uncover what they do want. What does finishing have to do with surveying our audience?
If we start the right project, we’re more-likely to finish it. We have motivation to help others with our best work.
The hook is your big idea. Much has been written about hooks, so I won’t spend a lot of time about it here. However, your hook is the core of your product.
“We do X, so you can get Y, without having to do Z.”
The hook can take many forms, but at the core it’s your big idea—the underlying current throughout your product. You don’t have to state the hook to your customer. If you present your product correctly, she’ll see the hook for herself.
We start with the hook so we know where we’re going.
If you don’t know the end-result you want to achieve for your customer—the transformation you want to provide—it’s unlikely you’ll finish what you start.
The hook keeps us motivated. We now have a North Star.
The story I mention here is not the origin story of your product, or the reason you’re in business. While those are important, this is a different story.
This is the story of your customer.
You need to know her starting point—the ordinary world—before you can create the transformation.
- What world does she want to escape from?
- What problems keep her awake at night?
- What kind of life does she have right now?
- What are her daily struggles?
- What big problem stands in the way of achieving the life she wants?
This is the big problem you must solve. You’ve got to transform the reader from her current story to a different, transformed narrative. Couple your expertise, with your niche, and your reader’s feedback.
This exercise will help you craft the customer’s story.
Once we know the story we can brainstorm the minimum viable product.
The minimum viable product is not some cheap, slap-shod thing you put on the shelf. The MVP is the solution to your customer’s big problem, without any extra baggage. One. Straightforward. Solution.
- What’s the core transformation you want to provide your customer?
- What big problem will you solve?
- What the most-straightforward solution to that problem?
Remove the extra glitter. You don’t need a can opener, a corkscrew, a screwdriver, and a magnifying glass, if all you want to do is cut-open an Amazon package.
- Uncover the problem
- Find the hook
- Develop your MVP
Once we have the MVP concept we can start unpacking the steps required to ship our best work.
The MVP is the idea behind your core product.
While we haven’t created it yet, the MVP is the product we’ll ship once we’re done.
If you lay the groundwork in the right order, it’s much easier to finish what you start. The problem most of us have with finishing, is not having the right foundation.
Once we have the building blocks it’s time to make the checklist.
The Locked Checklist
I want you to spend a lot of time on the production checklist. This is a mistake I’ve made many times—starting the work too soon and revising the checklist as I went, to crate a bigger and bigger project, to find I never finished, only added more work.
To combat this ever-growing, feature-creep, we build and edit the checklist. We don’t start the work until the checklist is final and locked.
Spend a week on your checklist.
Spend a month.
Take as much time as you need to determine your ideal MVP and the exact steps you need to get from idea to shipped product.
Once you have the checklist finalized, lock it. Don’t allow yourself the opportunity to tinker with your checklist once you start.
You’ve got the map of your MVP.
You hold the path to your customer’s transformation, step-by-step. But she can’t buy your product if you don’t finish it. By locking your checklist you give yourself boundaries to work within.
This prevents you from adding non-essential features.
We don’t want more content. We don’t want more time to implement the solution. We don’t want a five hour course for something we can learn in ten minutes. We want our problem solved.
You can only solve the problem if you finish what you start. There will always be room for version 2.0 later.
The Daily Work Practice
Take one item from the locked checklist and finish it before starting the next item.
Maybe your checklist doesn’t work in sequential order. No worries.
Dedicate a certain amount of working time per day.
The more time you have, the faster you’ll ship. Maybe you have 30 minutes—cool. Don’t miss a single day.
Give your project 30 minutes a day until you have a finished MVP. Check one item at a time. The list won’t get longer. You can watch your progress unfold in real-time.
This is the power of cumulative effort.
Instead of worrying about the finished project, focus your attention on the day’s work. What do I need to do today to accomplish my work time for the day? How can I get one step closer (or ten steps) to shipping?
The Beta Test
Give your MVP to a select group of honest customers. Maybe this is a group of people close to you.
Ask beta testers for honest feedback.
It’s much easier to adjust a finished product than it is to have nothing to show them.
You don’t have to implement everything your testers suggest. You’re in charge. Not them. Everyone has an opinion, but not every opinion is a good one.
Focus on the feedback the adds or subtracts from the final transformation.
- How does the feedback affect your hook?
- Is there something you can change to make the product better?
- How will this change affect your promise to the customer?
Don’t spend too much time with beta testers.
They aren’t paying customers either. While they are the next best thing, all changes are ultimately your call.
When you ask people for their opinions they want to help.
This makes beta testers feel compelled to find something wrong with your beta product, even if the solution works.
Accept every suggestion. Don’t give a hint of you’ll implement them or not. Thank your testers for their time. But give careful consideration to the suggestions you implement.
The Launch (AKA Shipping Day)
Now’s the time to ship. The work is no longer in your hands. The final vote—the one that matters, will come from your customers.
If you did your job correctly, you solved their problem.
If they can envision the transformation, with your product in their lives, you have a sale.
Not every product wins, but the only way to get near the goal line is to finish and ship your work.
Once you ship your work begins.
You’re in the problem-solving business, not the product business.
Once you ship it’s time to start working on a better solution to the same problem. Or an ancillary solution.
When you focus on the problem, not the tool, you’ll stay ahead of your competition.
August Birch is an author, email expert, and entrepreneur from Michigan, USA. As a self-appointed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indies how to make more work that sells and sell that work once it’s made. When he’s not writing or teaching, August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor