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How to Become an Entrepreneur (Prioritization Skills)

Top 10 Entrepreneurship Skills, Part 2: Prioritization skill

Have you ever wondered what entrepreneurship skills do successful startup CEOs have to achieve their goals? Meeting after meeting, closing deals, running projects, and many stakeholder and people to manage!

In This article, I will literally walk you through the steps and strategies that a successful CEOs put in place everyday to prioritize their tasks. Following their foot step helps you achieve your dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur.

I suggest you to download this worksheet before you dive deeper to the topic and complete the activities when you see the elephant icon. I call this moment “Let’s feed the elephant“, it means its practice time.

Essential Entrepreneurship skills

Prioritize your goals like an experienced CEO
When you ask successful entrepreneurs to describe the main entrepreneurship skills that differentiate them from other entrepreneurs, they are all of the opinion that having the following entrepreneurship skills is essential.

Flexibility and Adaptability
Having a Sociable character
Prioritization skills
Coaching skill
Persuasion Skills
Presentation Skills
Passion to take Initiatives
Sense of Accountability

Inevitably, to become a successful entrepreneur you need more than the above mentioned entrepreneurship skills. Obviously, you should have the common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs such as leadership, forward looking, absolute determination, self confidence, creativity, passion for learning, being goal oriented and organized, etc.

All of the above mentioned entrepreneurship skills are characteristics that entrepreneurs develop in interaction with people surrounding them. While these entrepreneurship skills are essential to the success of entrepreneur there is one more entrepreneurship skills that should be taken very seriously: Time management & Prioritization skill.

Before I show you the step by step approach to prioritize your goals, tasks, and ideas like an experienced CEO,let’s take a few moments and go through the main reason why entrepreneurs fail.

Have you seen those people who spend lots of time looking at a painting or even paint a masterpiece but rather than being amazed by it’s details, a painstaking labor of devotion and love, and the harmony of colors, they choose to spot the small shade of color at the corner of picture?

Well, entrepreneurs with this attitude and characteristic are doomed to fail.
Because they have a dangerous attitude that can lead successful entrepreneurs to definite failure: That’s “Perfectionism”

In case, you think being a perfectionism can help you develop a higher quality product or provide better service to your customers, you should read this article about how to define your startup’s quality.

It’s a psychological trap because in reality you won’t be able to satisfy your self and you want to keep perfecting your product.
What am I talking about?

In spite of your sense of perfection, you subconsciously won’t use a consistent and proper measurement and monitoring mechanism to gauge your progress simply because every time the result is out or your product is developed your mind will not be satisfied with the result and want to keep it better. This is a common issue among Idea generators and product evangelist entrepreneurs.

Many startups (Including one of my own in 2011) have failed because the entrepreneur is satisfied withnothing but an absolutely perfect solution.

To succeed as an entrepreneur, you should accept the truth that “There is no perfect product or solution”.
There is, literally, no measurement mechanism that can tell you whether your product is perfect or not. Perfection is an illusion that burns you.

What entrepreneurship skill can save you from this trap?
Once you are done with this article you can move to Lean startup and Business Model Canvas. you’ll find your answers there, but for now You need to learn how to prioritize your goals like an experienced CEO.

Here is the step by step approach:

Step #1 Use your window of Einstein

Although, successful entrepreneurs might have dozens of ideas, they pay attention to get things done on at a time and of course ON-TIME.

Windows of Einstein is a concept by Dr. Dewett and simply refers to the best time of the day that You have your best mental and physical performance well. To figure out your widows of Einstein you can ask yourself: am I a morning person or evening person?

once you find out what time of the day is your windows of Einstein, you should allocate minimum 3 hours during that time and focus on your alpha bucket tasks.

What’s an Alpha bucket task?
Experienced executives and successful startup CEOs spend their time and money only on important things that add value to their business, and indeed they tend to keep things simple, and organized. here is the step by step approach on how to successfully prioritize your startup goals.

Step #1: Divide all of your business ideas, goals and tasks into 3 main bucket:

Other priorities

Step #2: break the tasks into achievable and measurable sub tasks. 
Step #3: Pay attention to them during your windows of Einstein and clear them off your list ASAP.

Here is the details of each steps:

In Step one, you should break down your tasks into smaller, but achievable and measurable tasks, Using SMART technique is a very good way to do that. I’m not going to the details of SMART goal achievement technique as University of Virginia has a good resource about it .

Alpha bucket should contain the tasks that helps you get closer to your ultimate goal.

Example #1: If you want to launch a product on specific date, the product development, testing, prototype, etc. should be in your alpha bucket.

Example #2: If you are about to close the deal, then preparation for meeting, background search about client, preparing your killer elevator pitch, demo of your product/service and such activities would be in the Alpha bucket.

Remember, less than 40% of all daily tasks can be in Alpha bucket.
Urgent tasks require attention, immediately.

Example #3: It could be a client that is waiting for proposal and you will lose him if you don’t send the proposal before lunch. Or maybe an investor who has decided to meet you in a short notice.

As a successful entrepreneur you should keep an open eye on these two buckets otherwise, you would have to take care of alpha and urgent tasks together. That can lead to chaos in a course of time.

“The Heat-map Technique” Productive Planning skills for Successful Entrepreneurs.
The Heat-map technique is a set techniques and free tools that helps entrepreneurs understand the impact of your tasks on your startup goals.

It also allows you to easily differentiate your important, urgent, and other priorities and prevent task slipping.

Use the worksheet you have downloaded (if you haven’t downloaded it, you can get it from here) and follow the steps below to complete the Heat map practice.

Step#1 regardless of priority of your tasks, list down all of them from any category.

Step#2 Give your tasks a proper weight from 1 to 4, where weight score of 1 carries the lowest possible impact on your goals and weight of 4 being the highest impact.

Step#3 Use the worksheet below and sort them from low to high and list them under the column“Tasks, Goals, Milestones”

Step #4 Now you need to rank your milestones, goals or tasks based on their priority by categorizing them into 4 categories:

A) Insignificant 
B) Low 
C) Medium 
D) High
“A” would have the lowest priority and “D” has the utmost priority.

Ideation Process

Ideation process can take several forms because it is all about innovation and using creative approaches to design a business model. I suggest you to use the Silly Cow to break the ice and take your team out of their day to day job routine.

The Silly Cow exercise might sound silly. But it’s been tested globally & has been proven to be a great practice to get everyone ready to produce innovative ideas
Here is how silly cow exercise should be done:

Begin by asking your team to talk about the characteristics of a Cow! It could be a good breaking exercise for opening a session
Then, ask everyone to sketch 3 different business models using a picture of a cow.
The goal of this exercise is to use the characteristics of the cow and churn out an innovative business model.
It should not take long, so make sure the exercise does not exceed 3 minutes.
Once you’re done with your silly cow exercise, you can begin working on the 5 steps of the actual ideation process

Here is the breakdown of all 5 steps of ideation process:

Step #1: Gather the Troops
The first thing you should do is team composition. At this stage just be honest with yourself and answer this key question: Is our team sufficiently diverse to come up with innovative business model ideas?
Don’t be selective and form a team with diversity in terms of seniority, age, experience level, business unit represented, customer knowledge, and professional expertise. You can use these techniques when assembling a diverse team

Try to get everyone involved, not only the “creative ones” as they are human and have their blind spots too.
Don’t forget to invite those who are involved and impacted by all nine blocks of the canvas, whether Distribution Channels, Revenue Streams, or Key Resources to join the brainstorming session.

Make sure everyone knows what’s active listening. If they don’t, teach them.
Embrace Ideation as a team exercise, ask for participation and let a neutral party facilitate the process.
People, often stick to cost reduction strategy or promoting a revenue booster product. These methods have nothing to do with innovation.

Encourage your team to suggest ideas from all 9 building blocks.
Do not outsource or delegate the ideation process to your R&D unit. You can invite them to participate but it should never be in one unit’s hand!
Make your team as diverse as possible. The diversity will help you generate, discuss, and select new ideas.

Step #2: Immersion
Once you’ve got everyone on-board, you should focus on research and data gathering, and a little bit of analysis.
The key question at this point of time should be around research areas. It’s essential to know which elements you should study before begin generating business model ideas?

Your team and you must ideally go through an immersion phase in which you’d study certain areas of your business. For instance, depending on your business objectives, you might have to look into customer behaviors or how to engage with prospects. You may also consider exploring the impacts of shifting to new technologies, and the limitation of your existing business models, etc.

There is actually no time limit you could force to finish the immersion phase as it might take as long as a few months or could be concluded in a couple of exercises such as Empathy Map.

Step #3: Expanding
The next step is to identify your starting points and learn how to expand from there.
During expansion phase you must concentrate on your starting points to generate business ideas. You must make sure that you’ve overseen all 9 building blocks of your business model canvas.

The key question should be about what business innovations can we imagine for each building block? How innovative can we be in our revenue stream, or customer relationships, etc.!
At this stage, you shouldn’t worry too much about the quality of your business model ideas because what matters now is quantity, not quality. The more business ideas you have the better, so don’t criticize the ideas too early, instead, focus on brainstorming and record all ideas.

Brainstorming is a process where people share their ideas on how to achieve certain goals and objectives. It is imperative that a brainstorming session is well facilitated, otherwise it could be a complete disaster and waste of time.

Here are some great tips to conduct a brainstorming session:

Start with Problem statement and make it very clear to everyone. The objective of your brainstorming session is to find ideas that can result in addressing the problem statement. In this case where we are looking for ideas for business model innovation, your problem statement should be about addressing customer’s needs and desires.

Stay Focused! Keep the brainstorming session towards the right direction.
If the discussion is dragged or strays from its intended direction, you should pause, step back, and bring the team member’s attention to your problem statement.
Make sure you clarify and enforce the brainstorming rules beforehand. 

Here are a few general rules you can implement:
Defer Judgment
One conventional at a time
Quantity matters
Be as visual as possible
Encourage out of the box ideas
Always use sticky notes (also known as post-it™ notes) and write or sketch on them. This way you can easily move ideas around or even take the off the canvas, if necessary.


Step #4: Criteria selection
Now that your brainstorming session is over, you should have lots of ideas to refer too. Having lots of ideas might be confusing, that’s why the next step is to prioritize them using critical criteria.

Your primary concern should be about figuring out the most important criteria for prioritizing your business model ideas?
The rule of thumb is defining criteria is to select a few manageable ideas that are related to the context of your business.
Then depending on your objective, you can now consider choosing factors such as execution and delivery time, ROI, and competitive advantages, etc.

It’s absolutely necessary to include factors that might enthuse your customers not to accept your new business model easily?

Step #5: Prototyping
Now that you have shortlisted a few ideas, it’s time to get to the bottom of it.

Since you have defined your criteria in the previous stage, and you have compared the shortlisted business models you can reduce the number of business model ideas to minimum 3 and maximum 5 potential business models.

Prepare the business model for each shortlisted idea and start compering them. You must at least know how do these business models look like. This is where you can choose which business model innovation you should be focusing on…

Author avatar
Ehsan Jahandarpour is a startup coach and growth hacker. He helps companies like Microsoft, PETRONAS, and BBDO grow their business.