It happens. It happens to all of us at some point. We get stuck at a point in our business where we can’t move forward. Why? Because we can’t make a decision.
Most of us only get stuck from time to time. Some of us, however, agonize over every decision we have to make.
Have you seen The Good Place? I love that show because it’s really smart and funny. It also has the perfect example of what I’m talking about.
On The Good Place, one of the characters is a philosophy professor who has a terrible time making decisions. It’s excruciating for him! The result is that he literally dies because he can’t decide whether to go to his friend’s wedding or stay home. While he’s standing on the sidewalk trying to make a decision, an air conditioner falls from his own window and kills him.
What a fabulous metaphor for our businesses! You won’t get crushed by an air conditioner (hopefully) but you will kill your business if you can’t make decisions in a reasonable amount of time.
Decisions help you move your business forward. Your decisions need to be profitable and efficient, but most of all, they just need to get done.
Done is better than wrong
One of the reasons we have a hard time making decisions is because we’re afraid to make the wrong decision. The irony is that you won’t know it’s the wrong decision until you move on it.
What a valuable lesson! Once you make the wrong decision and head down the wrong path, you learn never to go that way again. You back up and go a different direction.
Voila! You solved your problem. Yes, you made the wrong decision but you made it. You don’t know what’s going to work until you try something.
Most successful entrepreneurs talk about failing — a lot — in their own businesses. Pat Flynn, especially, wanders into the weeds to figure out the best way of tackling an online business problem. The only way he finds out what works is by going the wrong way sometimes. And that’s okay!
It’s not written in stone
The beauty of an online business is that it is ever-evolving, ever-changing.
Do you ever worry that if you switch gears or even say, “whoops, messed that up,” that someone’s going to call you out or stop following you? Guess what? They’ll go with you no matter where you go.
In online business, people are buying your story more than your product or anything else you’re selling. They’re there for you. Think about it. They could go anywhere to get what you’re giving them, but they come to you because they like the way you write or talk or make graphics or because you failed and showed them you’re vulnerable too.
If you change tactics, no one is going to call the internet police on you. The internet moves so quickly, that they’ll be on to something else before they even remember what you did “wrong.”
You have to lose a little to gain a lot
Maybe you’re worried about losing too much capital. That’s a valid worry! However, you can still make a decision, even a wrong one, without bankrupting your company. You just have to be smart about it.
Too many times people get so excited or so pumped up about trying something new, that they go all out, investing a ton of time and money before they realize what they’re doing isn’t working.
Instead of going the whole way with a new project or strategy, just take the first step. If you want to offer an online course, don’t record and build the whole enchilada before proving it’s what your audience wants. Record a very, very small chunk of what that course would entail. Then, put it out there and see if there’s interest. Depending on your feedback, you know whether you should keep going or try something else.
Same thing with advertising. Don’t spend your entire advertising budget on one form of online ads before you’ve got proof it’s the right decision. Spend a small portion and see what your ROI (return on investment) is. Even better, spend a little on several different platforms — Google ads, Facebook Ads, Twitter ads, promoted pins on Pinterest, affiliate ad space — and see which ones perform the best. When you have the data from all those outlets in front of you, it’s easier choose the right course of action. But if you don’t decide to get out there and try it, you’ll never know what will work.
Easy as 1, 2, 3
I’ve created my own system for making decisions. (Full disclosure: I’ve always been a rapid decision maker. I’m kind of a scorched earth decision maker. My philosophy is decide now, fix later. My dear husband, who agonizes over every decision, because he doesn’t want to waste our savings or end up sorry with the decision he made, is baffled by my cavalier attitude. That’s what makes us a great couple. We even each other out.)
Here’s how I discovered my decision-making process. When my son (who also has trouble making decisions) was five-years-old, he couldn’t decide what his birthday party theme should be. The poor guy was practically in tears because he didn’t want to choose one and then later realize he wanted something else instead.
On the fly, I came up with a way for him to make a decision that he could feel good about. I showed him that he, himself, had proven his results. That way he felt better about his choice. He felt like he was in control again. And he was so happy and relieved to finally make a decision! I adopted the same practice for just about every tough decision I’ve ever needed to make — from which couch to buy to what my mission statement should be.
Here’s the gist of it. You know those brackets people make for sports tournaments? Like March Madness? There are brackets on each side that narrow down to just two opponents, and then the winner is chosen from those two. I modified those brackets to work for decision making.
I’ll use my son’s birthday party as the example. First, I list all the possibilities (no matter how many there are) on the left.
This is my brainstorming session. Anything goes. There’s no judgement or disapproval at this point. You write everything you can think. In fact, for this exercise, the more items you have listed on the left, the better you’ll feel at the end of the exercise, because you will have proven your concept by eliminating a lot of options. If you have an odd number of choices, come up with a last ditch idea just to make the numbers even. I know you’ve got one more in you!
Now, pair them up, like this.
You can see I’m literally just drawing this out on paper, which means you can do it anywhere, any time.
Now, for each pair, choose a winner. Look at ONE PAIR ONLY and choose a winner. Don’t look at the whole page. Don’t move your eyes down the list. Just focus on the top pair and choose one. Whew! Good job.
Now, do it for the next pair. And the next pair, until you get to the bottom. Remember, this won’t work if you don’t FOCUS ON ONE PAIR at a time.
You can already see where this is going. Why is this effective? Because it takes the overwhelm out of decision making. It takes the chaos out of your process. It’s too overwhelming and confusing to look at all of the options at one time. There’s no system. No procedure. No FOCUS.
Okay, now you’re through your first round of Mental Madness. (Just a little play on words.) Go back to the top of the paper and pair up your second round of contenders.
Again, start at the top and only look at the first pair, then pick a winner. Keep going down the page until each pair has a winner.
Keep doing this until you get down to just one choice.
There! You did it! You took aaaaaaallllllll those ideas, filtered them and a winner emerged. Doesn’t it feel good?
And you can feel confident about your decision. Look at all the “losers” you left behind.
Now you can move forward with this winner, whatever your next step may be. Lay out your process and get moving.
However, if you move forward with your decision and realize you made a mistake, guess what? You have a bunch of runners-up to fall back on. Look at the other idea in your last bracket, the “finals.” Run with that idea and see if it works. Yes? Keep going! No? Go back a bracket.
Just knowing you can go backward from the “winner” and choose another contender, using a systematic process, should give you the confidence to move forward with your winning idea. It’s like working with a net underneath you, right?
Now you’ve got a system and a tool for making decisions more quickly and more effectively. Go forth and conquer!