The other day, a friend was plugging away at her work--it was a good day, pretty ordinary- when an important B2B opportunity popped up.

Her phone rang and it was one of her clients. He stepped her through a new need he had that would result in a significant increase in work and a chance double her very small business. Doing the quick math in her head, the revenue would total $1 million in 3 years. She wasn't quite sure what to say in the moment, her head was spinning. Thoughts swirled because she hadn't been sure this moment would ever come, of if she'd want it to. The status quo was pretty good, but she'd been curious about what more was out there. If she applied herself and focused her attention in growing beyond her own capacity, what would that look like?

Here it was: the possibility, the opportunity- and it was freaky.

Some opportunities seem to come out of nowhere. And when a big opportunity appears, the next steps aren't always so obvious. In the moment, this friend was simultaneously afraid of moving forward and stepping back. She described a tug between her ambitious dreams and risk and hard work she knew would be needed to bring those dreams to reality. She struggled to see how it might work out and, now that the opportunity was "out there," she was also afraid of it not working out.

The key to riding the roller coaster of opportunity is to use your bigger, broader professional goals as guardrails. They're there to keep you on the right road but you need to act fast. In a 2011 study reported in Harvard Business Review, the average B2B response time was 42 hours. Yikes! Whether that's because of your lack of certainty about next steps or a capacity problem, 42 hours seems too long to keep a client waiting to hear back.

After quickly confirming that an out-of-the-blue opportunity is in line with your goals, you can make something overwhelming more manageable by focusing only on the steps right in front of you. Consider striving for an 80/20 split of mental energy and time. 80% on what specifically needs to be done today or right away that moves you one step closer. The other 20% is looking up and around to make sure that opportunity continues to look like something you want and that you're taking the right steps to get there.

So, how do you get started?

  1. Tell someone else. Reach out to a close confidant and positive support to say something like, "Hey- This big opportunity just came my way. Here's what happened... To take the first steps, I'm planning to do X, Y, and Z. I'd like to chat about it in the couple of weeks and get your thoughts." Bringing someone else in on the news helps build accountability (you're more likely to follow through on what you say you'll do) and some validation of your near-term plan by a trusted advisor.
  2. Write down every question you have. It's a good general practicebutoneoftenassumedto be done or put off. We're focused on having the right answer for a client without thinking through the right questions.Questionscan betremendouslypowerfulwaystodemonstrate your capabilities--by thinking through the different angles that they haven't yet shared or thought about themselves. This approach is attractive (meaning people will likely come back to me) because it draws them and their teams out of themselves. Sample questions just to get started might include:
    1. How do you see this supporting your mission (or strategic plan)?
    2. What kind of pressures are you getting from your leadership? Performance, risk mitigation, bridge building, etc.
    3. What pushback are you anticipating in pursuing this goal? Why?
    4. How is this different from what you've tried before?
    5. What happens next if you reach this goal? What if you need to change course?
  3. Write down no more than 5 action items--all things that can be done within a week. Back at your desk, develop no more than 5 "to do" list items that need to be done this week. Ideally, save any in-depth research needed for a following week. Research right out of the gate can be a place to hide because it's almost never done. The idea here is to knock out a couple of things to build some energy and momentum. You can keep those ideas about longer-term stuff in the back of your mind for the moment. There will be plenty of time to write down, research, and examine all of that.
  4. Quick goal check. After completing those first 5 "to do" items, give yourself a little bit of time to glance up at the long-term goal. Has it changed at all as a result of your initial activity? Do you still want it? Have you found other people in the last couple of days to help or avoid?
  5. Write down your next 5 actions. After doing a quick check-in, you'll have the information you need to take the next 5 steps. As you complete and close these out, plan a mini-celebration for yourself that mentally takes you away from the work for a short while. You'll need these little mental breaks throughout the process to stay focused and in tune with yourself.

Just like in our personal lives, professional goals change and evolve over time. The flow of opportunities helps you evaluate where you are and where you're going. If you're stuck, read Minda Zetlin's article with 8 questions you can ask yourself to determine if it's the right opportunity for you.

To make the most of those you decide to pursue, the key is making the next steps manageable to avoid getting overwhelmed. When you very clearly see the task in front of you, you can pursue it with all of the energy and resourcefulness that you have. You can then look up briefly and identify the next step. Repeat, repeat, repeat.