June 23, 2017

Thinking on Paper

It’s 6:15 on a Thursday evening.  I’m parked on the soccer field in my battered folding chair.  This is my sixth kid-activity of the week, four more to go.  (A few overlap, mercifully.)  As a busy soccer/flag football/dance mom, I spend several hours per week parked on various fields.  Since I’m also running a business, I grasp whatever pockets of productive time I can, otherwise nothing gets done.  (Except the laundry—all those uniforms.  But laundry won’t grow my business.)

I always bring a notebook and pen to these practices.   (I could bring a laptop, but I’m not that parent.  And yes, I pay attention during games.  Strictly eyes on the field.)  I use this down time to strategize, to brainstorm, and to create.  Writing keeps me on track towards making good on my goals.  It can do the same for you.      

Let’s say you have an idea swirling in your head, keeping you up at night.  It may be something as grand as inventing the next it-product, or more modest in scale, like designing your logo.  So you’ve got this idea, great.  That’s a start. Ideas are the life force of our creativity, after all.  But, unless you actually act on your ideas, you may as well keep them swirling in that head of yours.

So how do you begin to bring some clarity to your vision? How do you wrangle those whispers of ambition, those fragmented goals, and shape them into an action plan? By thinking on paper.

Brainstorming. Brain dumping.  Mind mapping.  These are variations of the same process, basically pouring all of your thoughts on paper, no matter how jumbled.  Doing so will help you a) clarify what you want to accomplish, and b) create a road map to get you there.

 Imagine you want to go into business as a professional dog walker.  You’re excited—you love dogs, and you’re thrilled at the prospect of setting your own hours, and answering only to your four-legged clients.  This is, however, your first entrepreneurial venture.  Where to start?

Grab a piece of paper, and do an interrogative brain dump.  That is, write down every question you can think of that relates to starting a dog walking business.  Write quickly.  It’s ok to be messy.  You may come up with questions like these:

  • Do I need a business license?
  • Where do I get one?
  • Will I need insurance?  What kind?
  • How many professional dog walkers are in my geographic area?
  • What do they charge?
  • Do I need any training or certification?
  • How do I market my services?

And so on.

Once you’ve finished brain dumping, the next step is to group the questions into general categories, such as

  • Business start up requirements
  • Monthly overhead
  • Market research
  • Marketing

 And so on.  Once you have identified the categories, continue the process by brainstorming all the ways you might go about finding answers to your questions.  For example:

Business Start Up Requirements

Do I need a business license?

  1. Call City Hall’s Business Division
  2. Ask local friends who own businesses
  3.  Do an online search

Or,

Marketing

How will I market my business?

  1. Business cards
  2. Flyers at dog parks
  3.  Website
  4. Referrals
  5. Social Media   

Keep going, until you have several possible solutions to all of those questions you came up with.  You have just created an action plan.  This is how your idea–your dream–gets out of your head, and starts to become a reality.       

There’s something incredibly powerful about thinking on paper.  It’s how “I’m thinking about” turns into “I’m going to.”

Go ahead.  Grab a piece of paper and see where it takes you.