As an entrepreneur, it's practically your duty to dream big. But big dreams go nowhere fast without a little skepticism and careful planning.
I love the TV show "Shark Tank." It's fun to see the entrepreneurs' creative ideas, the issues they encounter, and how the sharks put those ideas to the test. It's also interesting to witness the fatal mistakes these new entrepreneurs make--even though it's mostly the same mistakes over and over again.
On a recent episode, for instance, one contestant made the classic mistake a lot of new product companies make: assuming the money is in the bank. This business owner had been up and running for four years and had not yet hit the $100,000 revenue mark. Yet she was certainly optimistic about her next year's projection of $1.9 million. Who could blame her? I'd be excited too!
But every shark balked at the pie-in-the-sky projections, as did I. Her defense? She had "a number of orders from major retailers on the table." Unsigned, unconfirmed, and highly unlikely orders. Even so, let's stretch the imagination and say that these orders did come through, how could this solopreneur possibly keep up with demand? Again, not likely. The most tragic part is that, based on her aggressive and inaccurate projections, this woman was ready to give away a large share of her company. A perfect example of how mistakes compound themselves leading to the demise of far too many nascent businesses.
This entrepreneur's overly optimistic and somewhat naive disposition kept her from striking a deal that may have been critical to the growth of her company. She misinterpreted the facts and lost a chance to fund her dream.
So how do you keep it real in a world filled with opportunity? You can begin by using these strategies to find the balance between hope and reality.
Look at the odds.
Occasionally you'll see stories about "overnight successes." The reason that they are newsworthy is because they are rare. And overnight often is more like three or four years. Can yours be the exception? Maybe, but it would mean that some extremely rare circumstances have presented themselves and things like promises of large orders or hopes of signing a huge client are not rare. And even if they happen, the impact is usually far from what the entrepreneur hopes for.
Distance yourself from a new set of circumstances and view these opportunities with a disengaged and critical eye. Be honest in determining if the stars have to magically align in your favor or if the probability of success is realistically strong. What tangible proof do you have that supports a favorable outcome? Taking a bird's-eye view is not intended to dampen hope, but to design your next steps wisely. Too many entrepreneurs become preoccupied--sometimes for years--with unlikely opportunities, causing them to neglect their business and miss other more likely and beneficial scenarios.
Keep things moving.
When a game-changing prospect, investor, or similar opportunity arises, don't turn a blind eye on your business. Entrepreneurs tend to drop everything to entertain new possibilities, neglecting current business needs and plans. This only leaves you with another mess to clean up if your game-changing plan doesn't pan out. Do your best to maintain the status quo and temporarily add extra hours or enlist extra help to do the research and prepare the information required by your pending opportunity.
Play "what if."
Two of my favorite questions are "What if [the worse thing you can imagine] happens?" And, in response to your answer, "Is that really, really true?" Most, if not all, of the time your imagination gets the best of you and you base your decision making on fear-based thoughts. Drill down to the truth by asking yourself these two questions over and over again. If you are honest with yourself you will find that even your worst fears are highly unlikely to occur in the way your imagination would have you believe. Get to a place of reality-based thinking and create your strategy from there.
Remember, you are an entrepreneur and a part of your job is to dream big--so don't stop. But find balance between your dreams and your reality. Always keep your mind open to infinite possibilities while maintaining what is working in the present. Yes, the world is your oyster but you have to cast the net widely and wisely.
MARLA TABAKA is a small-business adviser who helps entrepreneurs around the globe grow their businesses well into the millions. She speaks widely on combining strategic and creative thinking for optimum success and happiness. @MarlaTabaka