With the NFL kicking off its new season tonight, it's an opportune time to reflect on a few ways in which I launched my business 21 years ago this week (and the strategies I would have enacted if I'd only known they existed).

I was flying by the seat of my pants when I entered the big league of small business. So, I zeroed in on the few things I knew would work:

  • Made sure everyone in the marketing universe knew about Peppercomm.
  • Established a clear point of differentiation from the thousands of other PR firms. Since I was expert in strategic positioning, I devised a positioning line for my firm ("What separates our clients from their competitors is what separates Peppercomm from ours"). That spoke volumes to companies looking for more than just another media relations shop.
  • Asked any large, established organization in my field, with which I had an existing personal relationship, to pass along referrals, introductions and advice.

My multiple shots in the dark paid off handsomely, and my firm grew rapidly over the first year or two. But I was fortunate because I had no game plan.

A Super Bowl-level game plan designed by a designer but applicable to any start-up

I would have killed to have had access to Ari Joseph's wisdom, creativity, and rigor when I attempted to drive my embryonic business down the field.

Joseph is the Community Designer at A/D/O, a 23,000-square foot design center opening this year in Brooklyn, which aims to surface great design and be a prolific source of new ideas for the future . As Community Designer, Joseph manages A/D/O's in-house studio and design community with resources to help them advance their work, and elevate their profile.

Here are his three fundamental tips to create a game plan that will force you to think through every hard decision any entrepreneur needs to make as soon as the referee blows his whistle and the game is underway:

1. Think beyond your business; it isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.

No matter what type of business you've just launched, if you're not growing it, you're falling behind. It's easy to get lost in the weeds of running your own business or fulfilling your day-to-day obligations. So it's essential to give yourself space to think about expanding your skillset or your mindset.

Joseph helps organize entrepreneurial retreats for small business owners to kick-start their startup, re-energize their stagnant business, or just step out of their comfort zones and try their hand at managing a completely alien business model - even whiskey distilling or food hacking. It may sound unconventional, if not time consuming, but sometimes just stepping away from your own work to appreciate someone else's will inspire you to think in new, and potentially profitable, ways.

2. Treat your business challenge like a project brief - and then be your toughest client.

As a business owner, you know holding yourself accountable isn't easy.

Joseph suggests you challenge yourself to write a brief that highlights all of the mission-critical steps that you must achieve as well as where you want your business to be in six months, 12 months, etc. Note: This is NOT to be confused with a business plan.

So, take a look at this attachment, tailor it to your business, jot down your assets and resources, create a set of guidelines, and make sure it all aligns with your brand. Piece of cake, right?

Once you're done, take the brief and treat it like you would a key assignment from your first large client. Your brief, like your business, should be treated like your baby. Cherish it, nurture it, feed it and, by all means, keep it up-to-the-minute with breaking developments.

Remember, creating the brief doesn't matter, but how you use it to hold yourself accountable is gold. Use it and Joseph says that it will help you focus on the here and now.

3. Remember, school is always open


As an entrepreneur and business owner, you have to keep your ear to the ground and possess a dynamic understanding of how to keep current and adjust to the ever-changing world round you.

So, as your business evolves and your role changes, you must understand and learn every new software, platform, trend or opportunity that comes along. But, even that isn't enough. Joseph says it just as important to remember that you need to understand how "new" fits into your business.

He suggests joining like-minded community groups such as the one offered by his alma mater, ITP.

Who knows how much larger, or more profitable, my business might be today if I had had Coach Joseph on the sidelines all along

But you now have the second-best thing; Coach Joseph's super smart tips than can help you score many more touchdowns.