Advice I’m Giving Right Now: Breaking Down Big Goals Into Baby Steps

by | First Steps, How To

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ­— Lao Tzu

“You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” — Indira Gandhi

Advice I’m Giving Right Now is a series where I share with you the real advice I’m giving clients. Today we’re talking about the cure for big goals that overwhelm or paralyze you. We’re talking about baby steps.

A series of small steps.

The uncertainty of what to do next affects all of us at one time or another, and we all need a bit of guidance every now and again.

Building a business is a process. A journey, if you will. Occasionally you take a few big leaps – major changes that have a huge impact – but for the most part you make headway gradually through a series of baby steps.

Progress DOES NOT happen overnight.

Talk to anyone who is considered an overnight success and you’ll quickly discover it didn’t really happen overnight… you just didn’t see all the steps that came before. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Humans don’t naturally notice tiny changes or improvements that add up over time. That’s why we don’t always see how much our children have grown or how much weight we’ve gained.

Recently I’ve had to remind several clients, in very different industries, that Rome wasn’t built in a day – and their businesses won’t be either. While change that happens in small increments may be hard to notice, though, it is happening.

So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only big leaps make a “real” difference because that’s just not the case. Anyway, there are 100 times more opportunities to make incremental progress than there are to make big leaps.

To illustrate, today I’m sharing the story of one client in particular…

Lila needs a roadmap.

Lila was inspired to create an activity kit for children. While talking about her target age groups, I learned that her idea was inspired, in part, by Sophia – a very creative 5-year-old and the daughter of a friend from her co-working space.

Part of the fun – and also one of the drawbacks – of new ventures is that there’s no one to give us a handy list of steps telling us exactly what to do and when. Since there’s no pre-existing roadmap, we have to draw one up ourselves… or with the help of a supportive colleague or consultant.

Baby steps + action plan.

Lila is excited about the possibilities for her idea, and she’s ready to create a prototype. So I suggested that she run a beta test – a fancy term for a field test or trial run – with Sophia as her guinea pig (i.e., beta tester)

Lila was enthusiastic, but paused to ask, “How do I do that?” To keep things manageable, I broke down Lila’s beta test process into two phases.

Phase 1. Prototype

Lila’s first step is to create a test kit for Sophia. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just a working prototype. For most people in Lila’s situation, this is the fun part where she gets to see her vision start coming to life.

Phase 2. Feedback

Sophia using the kit is great, but without feedback the beta test isn’t of much value. That said, a 5-year-old test subject presents some challenges.

Even though Sophia is the user, her mother is actually the customer – the one paying for the kit. That’s why I suggested that Lila get feedback from both Sophia and her mom in a variety of forms:

a. Written Survey.

I asked Lila to design a survey for Sophia’s mother to complete both with and without her daughter. In other words, the questions should solicit feedback from Sophia directly, as well as observations and suggestions from her mother.

b. Video.

I suggested to Lila that she have Sophia’s mother record a video of Sophia from the time she opens the package to the time she stops using the kit. That way, Lila can see exactly how Sophia interacts with the kit every step of the way.

c. Post-Feedback Interview.

I recommended that Lila interview Sophia and her mother to follow up on the written and video feedback in order to capture any additional insights. People are often less formal and less filtered in interviews, so surprising and spontaneous insights may result.

The benefits.

At the end of this process, Lila will have a working prototype and valuable customer data. How? Baby steps.

And she’ll be able to use this valuable customer data to improve her prototype and expand her testing to include more of her target customers.

Baby steps add up.

No matter where you are on your business journey, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to do everything right now. Especially in a world where huge wins are so celebrated by the media, we often forget that no matter how far you’re going, you can only get there one step at a time.

The incremental change from baby steps may not be as glamorous as gigantic leaps, but in the grand scheme of things they’ll take you a lot further, a lot faster.

The journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step.

“Poco a poco se va lejos. Little by little, you go far.” — Mexican proverb

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