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The 3 questions to ask yourself to know how to actually finish your project

(ENTREPRENEUR) Whether your project is an app or an art installation, there are innumerable speed bumps you can either hit or avoid – let’s discuss.

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creative project start with special

Creative in a candy shop.

The world is filled with awesome tools. If you’re a creative person, like I am – these tools and technologies always catch our gaze. They twinkle brightly, sweet candies for us to snatch as we’re walking down the infinite aisles of the internet. Because of this, we’re always embarking on new projects – seeking that lighter-than-air feeling when our vision takes life.

This article was originally intended to help people finish software projects, but I realized it could be extended to all sorts of things. Startup businesses, content generation, design, music, art – you name it.

Early on in my career, I was struggling with finishing any of my personal projects (professional work didn’t seem to suffer the same effects, but that’s another discussion). I have a folder on my machine with what I consider to be a graveyard of applications, the result of a partial effort with a vast array of technologies.

After a while, I came to a realization. Creative effort that is partially complete might as well not exist altogether. Our unfinished projects gather dust, never to be seen by the masses. The reason we make things is to share them with others, and the possibilities are endless when we do.

You might make someone’s day. You might impact someone’s life.

You might just change the world.

None of this can happen if they’re incomplete. It’ll just be a fragment. A morsel of a dream not yet realized.

Don’t let this happen to you.

I started becoming aware of productivity traps that would hamper my efforts and cause a project to get discarded. So here are a few things that I’ve found will help anyone stay on track and make amazing things.

Start with what makes your project special.

There are many moving pieces to every project out there. For instance, if you’re building an application by yourself, you’ll need to think about your choice of technologies, how you’ll deploy it, its design and user experience, marketing so that people can see it, and its monetization strategy. That’s a lot of stuff, isn’t it? It’s very easy to get caught up in some of these topics and spin your wheels on the ‘what ifs.’

Attempting all these things at once is a heroic effort, but one made in vain. This mindset was a tremendous damper on the projects I would try to build. I would get stuck on designing sexy user interfaces and neat interactions. I would write out copy for the landing pages and design logos. The problem is that these things take a lot of time and effort. I would exhaust my energy on the details and never get to the meat of the project. This is a huge problem – our projects and work should always be prioritized by their core function.

The process of figuring out which things make our project special is relatively simple, there are only three questions you must ask yourself.

1. What parts of the project must be done in order for this project to be special?

You might know these as the components of the key value proposition. It can be easy to lose sight of that when we work alone. I’ve found that when focusing on these first, I’m able to breathe life into the project.

For instance, when developing a mobile application for a fortune teller based off human movements, I knew that it needed to have a movement detection algorithm based on accelerometer data.

When creating a day planner web app, I knew I wanted it to have an easy & intuitive interaction design allowing the user to drag items and resize them.

This concept is the same for non-tech ideas. Research and validation should be performed first on the components which make the idea unique.

If you’re starting a food stand in a busy part of the city, start with making delicious food – not with the marketing, the monetization, or the supply chain. Invest in making the end result valuable to the world, and then validate that it actually is.

If you’re starting a blog, don’t spin your wheels on how you’re going to distribute your content or create your logo – start with what makes your blog special from the millions of others and plan your content!

2. Can it be done?

The question you’re trying to answer when you tackle these key value propositions head-on is: Can it be done?

This is so incredibly important. Why force an idea if it’s impossible?

Maybe the technology isn’t there yet to produce your amazing food consistently. Maybe the pallet of the local farmer’s market isn’t refined enough. Either way, you must figure this out early, and the sooner the better. You want to minimize the opportunity cost of not working on other things (or simply living your life).

There is no worse feeling than investing tremendous time & effort, only to find out that the original premise for your idea was flawed.

There’s a second psychological element of starting with what’s special. If you end up completing the special components of your project, you receive a huge boost in morale in motivation. You’ve shown that the most crucial part of your project can be executed and that you did it alone. I’ve found that this carries you forward into the later stages of the project, building off of successive successes (try saying that 3 times fast).

3. Is it worth trying?

Lastly, now that you have the most important pieces out of the way, you can begin sharing with others. You can’t necessarily do that if you started with something less important to the idea, for instance, having a website for your food stand doesn’t really mean it’ll be successful, BUT – if people try some of the food you made and they love it, you know you’re on the path to success!

Early validation is a great thing in personal projects – not only can you form an opinion on the work so far, but others can help further shape your idea to become more attractive.

And if you find that the idea didn’t work, then you’re free to move on to another. That’s the beauty of it. You take the most important parts of an idea and give it your best effort. You will find out SOONER, not later, what the idea is worth!

That’s the beauty of it, you spent a relatively short amount of time on the important things, learned from them, and can now move on to new ideas.

Do it every day.

Building something by yourself is hard. I can’t help but bring software development into this, but taking an idea from start to finish requires a tremendous amount of legwork. When you’re developing an application you have to plan, design, and build the front and back end architecture, as well as deploy it, market it, and monetize it. Each of these has their own intricacies.

Both software development and personal projects have these aspects, and there is a ton you will need to do to get your project to a finished stage. This requires building a routine where you put aside time each day and make progress towards a goal.

When I was developing an idea I had for a new mobile app, I spent several hours a day writing code. The time I spent writing the application per day actually wasn’t all that important, it was the fact that I did something every day – keeping my mind focused on finishing the project.

For smaller projects, I recommend spending more time per day (3 – 5 hours), that way you have an uninterrupted block of time in which you’re learning & building, and at the end of 30 days you’re more or less done. For larger projects, I recommend a marathon approach, ensure you’re doing something every day, even if only for an hour or two.

How can you build a habit?

Set a time for yourself, and ensure you’re free every day to execute that habit. Set a reminder on your phone, and reject invitations to things. Make sure your mind is clear to work on the task at hand. It will get much easier over time.

Once you’ve built a habit, you have the choice to put more time and effort into it, as well as employing some flexibility. If you begin to become infatuated with the project, you realize that at an idle moment, you have the choice to work on it, and more often than not, you want to!

Design before execution.

Every idea is born from a vision. The natural mechanism of the brain is to imagine what the final outcome looks like before we can put our idea into words. This visual thinking is a real and present thing and is studied by Harvard Medical School. They found that we can have trouble controlling our overactive imaginations as they bleed into linear thought. I believe that the real power comes from channeling our imagination into design.

Just like artists, architects, and engineers plan their creations with a design document. We should be planning our creative projects in this way. Since we start with special, we first design & plan the defining characteristics of our idea.

Naturally, you might include the following:

  • Description of the feature
  • Sketch or picture of what it’ll look like
  • How it contributes to the final vision
  • The problem it solves
  • How people interact with it
  • How you might implement it
  • What risks you might face while implementing it
  • What risks you might face when it’s in use
  • Possible workarounds or mitigation for these risks

You don’t necessarily need a formal document or 10-page report – getting your thoughts down on paper on how the idea might work and a sketch is sufficient most of the time. In terms of the human creative process, sketching is the best point of origination. When you have that idea come into your head, make sure to capture it on paper, even if you have a hard time drawing.

You can and should sketch anything. Not just art, or user interfaces – you can draw marketing automation & sales pipelines, the hierarchy of our team, the product/customer interaction.

I have had sketchbooks filled with ideas for the things I wanted to build (unfortunately, I may have only pursued about 25 percent), but it assisted me greatly throughout the process. There was no need to go back and rethink what the original vision for the project was. I have found that when you embark on something without a plan, it’s easy to get mired in the details of the moment.

When you’re planning, focus on planning; when you’re executing, focus on execution.

Avoid the engineering & design rabbit hole.

This is the most common trap I suffered in my inexperienced days. I would develop a single page of an application and continuously make it look better until I forced myself to move on to the next thing. Looking at the workflow for professional engineers, I see that it’s always better to start with the core functionality before dressing it up.

Even a skeleton of your project is fine, just do a simple layout of all the components in your project. Build your key features, and if the idea is worth pursuing, you can decide what to improve incrementally.

The second part of this is focusing on functionality but never being satisfied with the implementation. You would call this a perfectionist mindset, obsessing with the best ways to do things. It’s a gray area, but if you’re dealing with the issue of not finishing your projects, or you’re simply a beginner, getting your project to a point where it works is completely fine. Build off of it, and if it prevents any of the other special components in your exploration process, then go back and re-architect it.

Don’t get distracted by new stuff.

If you tried to utilize every latest technology, I’m sure you would go insane (I speak from experience). The number of releases and updates aren’t just hard to keep up with. They’re also new and shiny, and distract you from what you’re working on.

Creatives and engineers are very likely to fall into this trap. They see their peers using new tools and immediately feel like they’re missing out on something.

However, once you work with enough tools or mediums, you begin to realize that the end result is all that matters – each tool has its benefits or quirks, and it’s up to you to know how to use it correctly.

Don’t get caught up in your tools, unless they are needed for what makes your project special. For everything else, take the easiest and quickest path to completion.

Drive it to completion – you’re not done till you’re done.

So you’ve built out 80% of your project? Congratulations!

You still have a ways to go to share it with others.

There are two challenges you need to solve

  • How to get it out to as many people as possible (specifically the people who would respond to your project)
  • How to build a system of feedback so you can continue to improve your creation

In future articles, I will show you the process in which we find and contact these people on a massive scale, similar to how I curated a list of 2,000 recruiters in my article on SXSW.

In the software world, this means working with cloud platforms to deploy your projects in a scalable manner and then setting up content management systems to have continuous contact. In the art world, it might mean making connections with a gallery and then promoting the hell out of your art. But once you’ve created something, you need to make it work for you. It needs to be on your portfolio. Share it with everyone you meet.

It’s a piece of you, and you finished it.

Sharing your project is sharing yourself. Show the world who you are.

Conclusion

Pursuing your own projects takes reserved courage. You don’t have the backing of a team, a boss, or a company that’s got “everything figured out.” Instead, you figure it out for yourself. It’s a journey full of unknowns. From one stranger to another, despite not knowing you personally, know that I believe in you – and the only person who really needs to believe in you is yourself.

Sarim Q, known as the tech.romantic, is a professional & creative coach for the tech, art, and entrepreneurial spaces. He shares personal strategy with ambitious readers, giving advice on productivity, networking, marketing/branding, technology, and startup strategy. After working with global consulting firms, startups, and running his own digital agency, he now offers his professional approach to personal pursuits. He is the Co-Founder of Socio, an experimental new social education platform, where you learn secrets of self, how to gracefully navigate social groups, and the process of building a legacy of your own.

Business Entrepreneur

Before starting that startup, consider these factors

(ENTREPRENEUR) Building your own startup and being your own boss sounds tempting, but be sure you make these considerations before starting out.

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Man at a whiteboard outlining his startup plan.

A lot of people, myself included, are looking for different options for new careers. Maybe it’s time to place some faith in those back-burner dreams that no one ever really thought would come to fruition. But there are some things about creating a new startup business that we should all really keep in mind.

While you can find any number of lists to help you to get things going, here’s a short list that makes beginning a new business venture a monumental effort:

  • You need to have a unique idea with an impeccable execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen. But even the goods ones need the right business-minded person behind it to get things going for them.
  • Time, time, and more time. To get a startup to a point where it is sustainable and giving you back something that is worthwhile, takes years. Each of those years will take many decisions that you can only hope will pan out. There is no quick cash except for a lottery and you have to be extra lucky for those to get you anything. This whole idea will take years of your life away and it may end in failure no matter what you do.
  • You have to have the stamina. Most data will show you that startups fail 90% of the time. The majority of those are because people gave up on the idea. You have to push and keep pushing or you’ll never get there yourself. Losing determination is the death of any business venture.
  • Risk is a lifestyle. To get anywhere in life you have to risk something. Starting a business is all about risking your time and maybe your money to get a new life set up. If you can’t take risks for the future then you can’t move up in the business world.
  • Bad timing and/or a bad market. If you don’t have a sense for the market around you, which takes time and experience (or a lot of luck), you won’t make it. A keen business sense is absolutely necessary for you to succeed in a startup. Take some time and truly analyze yourself and your idea before trying something.
  • Adaptability is also a necessity. The business world can be changed at the drop of a hat, with absolutely no warning. Rolling with the punches is something you have to do or every little change is going to emotionally take a toll on you.
  • Lastly, not all of this depends upon your actions. If you start something that relies on investors, you’re likely going to get told “no” so many times that you’ll feel like it’s on repeat. Not everything is dependent upon your beliefs and whims. You need to be able to adjust to this and get people to see things from your point of view as well. But ultimately, it’s not all about you, it’s also about them.

These are just a few ways that starting a startup could stress you out. So, while the future could be bright, stay cautious and think twice before making any life changing decisions.

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Business Entrepreneur

LA-based, Armenian-born Style Coach discusses female entrepreneurship

(ENTREPRENEURSHIP) Style Coach discusses starting her own business, becoming an international female entrepreneur, and lessons learned from Armenian culture.

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Two women shopping, with one being a style coach.

About the author: Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture, and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, and self-sufficiency, and stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. 

Varduhi Movsisyan–an LA-based, Armenian-born, London-educated certified Style Coach–is on a mission; to help folks everywhere gain the confidence they need to achieve their greatest goals. And to look good while doing it.

So, what exactly is a Style Coach?

“A Style Coach is a lifestyle professional that combines personal styling with life coaching.” Says Vard–known professionally as VARD/MOV.

“A Style Coach helps people to select and style clothes and accessories that work for their body, coloration and personality AND helps individuals gain the confidence and skill set to dream big and achieve their goals.

Her multifaceted approach encompasses everything from color analysis, body shape styling, and closet audits to deep, intimate conversations that uncover a client’s true self-image and motivations. Sometimes, Vard says, her work is more counseling than it is styling.

But the two are more connected than you might think.

Vard, who decided to move to London and change careers a few years ago, started her professional journey as a teacher in the capital city of her homeland of Armenia. Soon, she opened her own teaching center–and got her first taste of the entrepreneurship thrill.

“All the time I spent listening to and empathizing with my students, focusing on building productive habits and a sustainable wellbeing, has actually worked to my benefit as a Style Coach. It gives me a leg up on my stylist counterparts, who can tend to think they know what’s best for a client before truly getting to know them.”

While the school teacher to personal stylist entrepreneur pipeline isn’t particularly common, Vard says switching careers to fashion without losing the aspects of teaching that made her feel fulfilled has given her the motivation as an entrepreneur to hit the ground running.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that you could spend 24 hours a day building your own business and you still wouldn’t have enough time in the day. That’s why it’s so important to find a career path that you are not only good at or you care about, but one that provides deep fulfillment–you need that deep connection to your craft because it will undoubtedly also become your personal life. “

While Vard operates virtually out of Los Angeles, she also doesn’t mind meeting clients in-person in Los Angeles, London, and Armenia–to name a few. In addition to her cosmopolitan travel habits, she also incorporates this mindset into the philosophy of her work.

Instead of shedding her home culture to blend in with the rest of the LA fashion circuit, Vard leverages aspects of her heritage that she sees as “transferable strengths” to inform her work as a Style Coach.

When asked about what Vard sees as “transferable strengths”, she has a lot to say:

“From the Genocide, to Soviet rule to modern wars, Armenians have been through a lot–and as a people, they are beautifully resilient. Throughout my travels, I still maintain that Armenians are some of the most generous, hospitable, welcoming people you will ever meet–and more importantly, they know how to enjoy life’s happy moments to the fullest. An Armenian will bring a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolate to every outing, even if it’s just to their friend’s house down the road.”

As an Armenian myself, it made me happy to hear that the traditions of my culture were being leveraged by Vard to help folks from a variety of backgrounds.

“As a Style Coach, I love bringing this philosophy to my work–teaching clients how to make a sweet event out of every moment you can. We can all learn a lot from the Armenian mentality, like seeing the beauty in everything and not sweating the small things. You can be tough and resilient without losing the softness and charm that make you YOU.”

A hardworking, self-made, and philosophically-unique entrepreneur, VARD/MOV truly blends style with innovation–and shows that you don’t have to have a background in business or management to follow your passion and launch an exciting new business.

The official launch of VARD/MOV–her 2.0 rebranded business–launches on June 1st.

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Business Entrepreneur

3 types of clients to fire as a freelancer (without feeling guilty)

(ENTREPRENEUR) Being a freelancer, it can feel like a luxury to fire a client, but there’s a few clear signs they’re not worth your time.

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Freelancer woman with her head down on the laptop in front of her.

Freelancers often bend over backward to accommodate clients, many times to the detriment to the freelancer. Bad clients are toxic. It’s never easy to say “you’re fired” to anyone, but as a freelancer, sometimes, you need to weigh the cash value of a client against your time, mental health, and sleepless nights. Here are some reasons you can fire a client without feeling guilty.

Clients who aren’t paying on time

Clients who don’t pay or avoid you when there’s a problem need to go. You waste a lot of mental energy chasing down payments and juggling your bills. I know it can look like a bird in the hand kind of situation, but if your client isn’t paying your bill, the bird isn’t really in your hand. My best clients have been with me for over five years. Both consistently meet the payment schedule. Not to say there haven’t been glitches, but they’ve always taken the initiative to explain and got it fixed right away.

Clients who become more demanding without offering more payment

There are always jobs that need to be done right away or need more work. A client who puts demands on your time without compensation is hurting you. When you say yes to one thing, a short deadline, you’re putting other work off. You may be able to deliver to other clients within their deadline, but if you’re tired and grumpy, will it be your best work? High maintenance clients who want to micro-manage are another type of client you may want to kick to the curb. At the very least, raise your rates to account for the extra time it takes to mentally deal with them.

Clients who don’t act professionally

You need to set good boundaries with clients who may be your friends. It’s hard to find that line, but if you don’t set up good professional rules at the onset, you’re going to find yourself doing more for a client out of “friendship.” You’ll become resentful because you’re doing favors and not getting anything in return. Clients who violate contracts aren’t any better, regardless of any outside relationship.

It isn’t easy to fire a client. It’s your paycheck on the line. If you’ve got a bad client, think about the hours you waste worrying about them. Believe me, they are not spending the same energy. Use your energy to find better clients who appreciate you and your work.

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