Getting Started

A note to all of you too paralyzed to get started

Spend enough time around entrepreneurship, and you eventually find yourself thinking about a business you want to start yourself. At least, that’s what happened to me.

After five years of being what I lovingly call “entrepreneur-adjacent,” I finally have it — an actual idea. More than an idea, actually: I have 40+ pages of notes — topics for blog posts, snippets of sales page copy, email funnel ideas, even modules for an eventual online course. I’ve framed out different product tiers. I’ve even experimented with attaching different prices to different tiers, just to see how that feels.

I’m calling my maybe-a-business “Project Ostrich.” It’s supposed to be a reference to the problem I want to help solve — liberal arts students who are so overwhelmed at the prospect of figuring out “what they want to do with their lives” that they wind up doing nothing to plan for a career at all.

But really, it works just as well to describe where I am with this whole “start a business” thing: sticking my head in the sand, telling myself if I can’t see the world, it can’t see me.

Because here’s the thing: do you want to know how much of what’s in that Google doc I’ve actually done? Not a thing.

Instead, I keep adding to the doc. Then I scroll through it and give myself a mental pat on the back for having generated that many pages of ideas.

Google doc

Idea farm where I keep ALL of my ideas about this project. If it’s related to Project Ostrich, it goes in here.

It’s a textbook case of being “busy, not productive.” I tend to my Google doc like a little bonsai tree and tell myself that this is me “working on my business.” But is it really? Am I any closer to having an actual business, or a product that people can actually see and maybe, just maybe, even buy?

No. Otherwise, I’d have customers by now.

The next question is, Why? Why do I spend this time thinking about starting a business, as opposed to jumping in with both feet and doing it?

Well, I have a theory. And I have a suspicion that I’m not alone.

Starting a business is a big deal.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think this is what it comes down to: the sheer bigness of it.

Think about what you’re saying when you say you want to start a business: “I want to build something from the ground up, that changes my life, and gives me total control over my time and my money. And oh yeah, puts something useful and meaningful and valuable into the world.”

That’s a huge, huge undertaking. The stakes feel insanely high. Put that much weight on anything, and it’s going to collapse. That’s just basic physics.

This is why they put blinders on racehorses: because if they see what’s alongside them, they panic, or get distracted. Then they don’t move forward on the road that’s right in front of them.

Entrepreneurs need our own set of psychological blinders. Ones that shut out the thousand-plus steps that are coming eventually, so we can focus on the one, small step that’s right in front of us right now.

Sure, there are a thousand different things that need to happen between where I am now (with an idea and not much else) and where I want to end up (with a profitable online business that helps people). But If I keep obsessing over all thousand of those steps, and how freaking many of them there are, I’ll never take any of them. I’ll just be here with my Google doc, pruning away.

The power of doing just one thing

So what’s the solution? There’s a saying about this, actually: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

“Start a business that changes your life, gives you total control over your time and your money” feels enormous. That’s because it is.

But write a blog post next weekend? I can do that.

Write another blog post the weekend after that? That’s doable, too.

Put a post up at my watering hole with an offer for my target audience and get some immersion interviews? Let’s do it.

Google doc with blog ideas

The doc where I’ve started collecting blog ideas. I could start writing any of these tomorrow.

Each of these actions feels small by itself. Each one feels like it’ll barely make a dent in that huge elephant in front of me. But line enough of these small bites up in a row, and you know what you get? Progress.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking this big, formless thing called “start a business” and breaking it down to the absolute smallest atomic particle I can think of: a single Google calendar event.

I’ve created a calendar event, taken ONE blog idea from that 40-page doc, and dropped it into that event. Next weekend, I’ll write it. When that’s done — and ONLY when that’s done — I’ll think about the step after that.

This is how you eat the elephant — one bite at a time.

Google calendar

BOOM. Scheduled. See you next weekend, Project Ostrich.

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Thanks for this, Katie. This is SO me! Putting on psychological blinders is tough, though. My brain can’t ignore the hovering behemoth that is building a business just because I’m looking at one “bite”. In fact, there next thought that creeps in is: “this bite is so small and seemingly insignificant compared to the big picture…why even bother?” These mental barriers are why I bought ZtL in 2014 and Accelerator a year later and still never started a business.

But, thanks for this article! It’s great to know I’m not alone in the struggle of just getting started. Nobody really speaks to this that much; it gets touched on briefly before saying “just pick an idea and move on to the next step.”

Katie Parrott

One step at a time, Matthew! I’ve talked to plenty of people who are in the same boat — started ZTL four+ years ago and are JUST NOW getting out of immersion and launching a course.

But think of it this way: ten years from now, when you’ve found the idea and launched one product, and another, and another, do you think you’ll be dwelling on how long it took them? Heck no! You’ll be too busy running a company and making it grow to notice! 🙂

Kate…it’s a though you have a drone watching over what’s going on around and inside of me.

This is so helpful. I thank God and my forum friend who told me to focus on Ramit Sethi.

ONE AT A TIME is the small yet subtle thing that makes the long time success.

This is really helpful.

Thanks Kate.

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