Welcome to the 3 part of this blogging series on Permaculture consulting (Check out Part 1 & 2 Here). In this latest post, I’m going to offer the advice I wished I had when I was starting out. If you’re reading this, you may be either in the early stages of your business or thinking about starting one. This post looks at the one thing you can do right from the outset to avoid the mistakes I made so you can get to the real work sooner. Let’s get started!
Basically, there are two ways to build a business:
1. Come up with an idea, execute it, and hope the market takes to it.
2. Go to the market and collect opportunities and then decide which opportunities to chase.
Both can work, but #2 obviously has a much higher probability of success, so we’ll be focusing on this.
The longer you own a business, the more opportunities you will uncover along the way. By opportunity, I mean products or services that are not available in the market that feel like real needs. The problem with starting a business from the ground up is that these opportunities are generally opaque to you. You are not aware of them when you start out. So, how can you uncover them without spending the better part of a decade in business?
The Answer: Interviews!
The interview is a free (not including your time) way to go gold mining for opportunity. These opportunities are generally held by entrepreneurs, decision makers, and industry veterans – all you have to do is ask questions. The interview can happen on the phone, over lunch or coffee, or at their place of work – you get to choose what’s most appropriate. The goal of the interview is to ask really good, open-ended questions that tease out the gems of wisdom from the people in the know. Luckily for you, most people enjoy talking about what they do and showcasing their knowledge base. The goal of these interviews is similar to drawing a Venn diagram. In one bubble, your skillset – let’s call this your GENIUS; in another bubble, your PASSIONS. Your job is to interview as many people as you can whom you think hold problems and opportunities that you have the GENIUS and PASSION to solve.
Here’s how to do interviews well:
Figure out what your genius and passions are. If you don’t know, check out Your Genius At Work, or one of Javan’s Life Design Programs.
Write down two or three industries that interest you that you think you possess the genius to work in. These could be things like stormwater management, landscaping, renewable energy, watershed repair, and so on.
Do a Google or Youtube search in that industry and find the experts. Make a list of their names and their email addresses. These can include government officials, thought leaders, business owners, university professors, and anyone who holds a high office or position within your industry of interest.
Send a polite and personalized letter to each person on your list asking them for an interview. How you write this letter is very important as it will determine if you get traction or not. There are a few important statements that will increase your chances of “getting your foot in the door”; these are crucial as they send a signal to the expert you want to talk to that you value their time and hold them in high regard. When we ask busy people to offer their time, a lot of them will put up their guard. Our job is to make sure our emails or calls don’t do this. Here’s an example email you can use to get started:
Dear Mr/Mrs Expert,
My name is Jane Doe and I am very interested in your line of work because I am looking at entering the industry. I am contacting you because you are a thought leader in this space and I would love to speak with you for 20 minutes about what you do to understand the opportunities and liabilities that exist in your industry to inform what business I might start. I promise I will be diligent with your time and that I have nothing to sell.
If you are open to have a short conversation with me I can call you at the following times.
Date and Time 1
Date and Time 2
Date and Time 3
If none of these times work please let me know 2 times that you could make work.
Thanks in advance!
Side Box: If you want to look really professional, get an app called calendly. It is $7/month and integrates with your google calendar.
The main statements should include:
– recognizing them as a thought leader
– suggesting a 20 minute meeting (even busy people generally have 20 minutes to spare)
– promising that you have nothing to sell (stay true to this and don’t sell them anything!)
– providing 3 times and dates so they don’t have to propose times and dates. (The brain hates planning this stuff so don’t make them have to think about it.)
You can change how the statements read as long as the essence remains the same.
Get on with it! After you’ve interviewed 20-50 people in various industries, you’ll have a much better idea as to what your business should be. Every so often someone may give you a priceless idea, so it’s important to catalogue everything and hold true to the process. Don’t short circuit it, because you never know where or when those gems of wisdom will come from.
Prepare your interview questions ahead of time. Don’t wing it. Inevitably you will think of other questions once you get into the interview, but start with at least five solid questions. I like questions like these:
– What are the problems or opportunities you see that no one is dealing with?
– What is this liability/problem worth in $?
– Who would buy this product or service?
– If you were to start a business in this space what would have the highest chance of success?
– Why is no one going after this opportunity?
– What are the biggest challenges the industry is facing right now?
Finally, always always ask at the end of your interview if there are any other thought leaders you should interview in this space. Connections always lead to more connections.
If you’ve just started a business or are looking to start one in the regenerative space (permaculture, regenerative agriculture, regenerative design, ecological design, etc.) and need some guidance get started or moving the dial of your business, we’ve set up a program to help people just like you.
It’s called Regenerative Mentorship and it is what we would have wanted to take when we first started. If this post and its ideas resonated with you, please check out the program HERE.
Hi, Rob. This is encouraging advice, and it answers a question that’s been gnawing at me for a while: how do I take the first step? How do I possibly start researching whether my ideas have any business viability?
I have to be honest; I had an idea banging around in the back of my head that one could do these sorts of interviews, but I dismissed it because why would all those thought leaders be interested in giving me all this advice? I guess I’m nervous about asking questions like “What are the problems or opportunities you see that no one is dealing with?” — I’m desperate to ask them, because often I just don’t know where to start, but I’m worried that the expert will think I’m asking them to come up with a business model for me.
So in your experience, do people take readily to being asked these questions? Or do they often push back?
Yes. Go for it. The hardest part is getting the courage to start!