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Starting with special – how to actually finish your projects

(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 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? Its very easy to get caught up into 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 of 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 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 creating 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 its 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 then 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 to 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 it, 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 have 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 everyday, 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 on 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 artist, architects & 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 to 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 quantity 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 at 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 who’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.

Thank you to The American Genius team for bringing me on as an editorialist.

I’ll be writing regularly and I’d love to hear about what you need help with, and your thoughts on this piece – send me a mail at ‘mail@techromantic.io’ if you’re looking for a conversation around your latest project.

And remember, Start With Special.

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

Google makes it easier to identify veteran-owned businesses

(BUSINESS) Finding veteran-owned businesses just got easier thanks to a new feature from Google (one that veteran business owners can easily take advantage of).

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Google My Business (GMB) is the main database for search engines. It’s a powerful tool used by consumers and businesses. To help customers and business-owners, GMB added a very important category last fall. Businesses can now be identified as veteran owned.

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that there are 2.5 million businesses majority-owned by veterans in the United States. In one report, these veteran-owned businesses employ over 5 million people and have an annual payroll of $195 billion. Texas ranks #2 in having the most veteran-owned businesses, following California.

The support that Americans give vets is inspiring. The cool thing about this feature from GMB is that it helps consumers find businesses to support. The men and women who gave service to our country deserve support once they’re civilians. Look for veteran-led businesses when you use Google.

Customers aren’t the only ones who will take advantage of knowing whether a business is owned by a former service member not. Fellow vets often go out of their way to support each other. Who better to provide information about resources and opportunities than someone whose been there?

If you’re a business using GMB, it’s easy to add this attribute to your listing. It’s under the About category. The instructions for mobile and desktop can be found here. The only other attributes currently available are family-led and woman-owned.

It’s unknown how many people actually seek this information out or will actually use it. It’s estimated that about 10 percent of small businesses in the U.S. are veteran-led. These businesses aren’t just providing an economic impact on communities. Veteran-owned businesses hire fellow vets in higher volume than non-veteran-owned companies. USA Today reported that vets thrive in the small business world, attributing success to their core values, such as discipline and organization that make vets able to commit to a business and serve customers.

We applaud Google for adding this attribute to their database of information.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to know when it’s time to go freelance full time

(ENTREPRENEUR) There may come a point when traditional work becomes burdensome. Know how to spot when it is time to go full freelance.

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freelance productivity

Freelancing is often thought of as a mythical concept, something that is almost too good to be true. While it isn’t all about hanging out at home in your pajamas all day, being a freelance is something that is completely possible to be successful – assuming you do your homework.

Recently, a friend of mine who is a licensed esthetician was no longer happy with her position at the salon and spa she worked for. The set hours were becoming a burden, as was having to divvy up appointments between another esthetician within the salon.

She noticed an increasing number of people asking her if she could perform services (eyebrow and lip waxing) from her home, as they preferred not to go into the hectic salon. My friend also found an increase in requests for her to travel to bridal parties for their makeup, rather than the parties coming into the salon.

It was around this time that my friend began to seriously consider becoming a freelance esthetician, rather than a salon employee. After about six months of research and consideration, she decided that this was the best route for her.

Below are the reasons she felt ready to pursue this option, and if they resonate with you, you may be ready for a full time freelance career.

1. She had a number of built-in clients and a list of people she could contact to announce her at-home services. Doing this at the start of one’s career would be very difficult without a contact list and word-of-mouth references, so it’s important to have…

2. …experience! My friend had worked for a number of salons over the years, and had the experience of working with all different types of clients. She also learned what she liked and didn’t like about each salon, which were pieces that factored into her own work-from-home space.

3. Since she had years of experience and had done all of the necessary aforementioned research, she knew what was expected of her and knew that getting a freelance career off the ground wouldn’t be a walk in the park. Operating a freelance career is completely on you, so you have to be 100 percent dedicated to making it work – it won’t just happen for you.

4. Once she began thinking about this idea nonstop and became more excited, she knew it was time to move forward. At first, the “what ifs” were daunting, but became more positive as time went on. If the idea of being a freelancer elicits more smiles than frowns, definitely take the time to consider this option.

5. In addition to the clients she already had, she also had an amazing support system who helped her develop her freelance brand and get her at-home business up and running. Having a solid group of people in your life that will help you is crucial, and any offer for help should be appreciated.

Other things to consider are: do you have enough money saved in case the freelance venture takes longer than planned to take off? If not, maybe stick with the day job until you feel more financially secure.

Jumping into something too quickly can cause you to become overwhelmed and drown in the stress. Make sure you’ve covered every single base before making this leap. Good luck, freelancers!

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Business Entrepreneur

Teach kids music and they’ll learn entrepreneurship

(ENTREPRENEUR) Sowing the seed of music education and appreciation in your child when they’re young is a great way to produce the fruit of entrepreneurship when they’re older.

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entrepreneurship

With all the focus sports gets as the petri dish for producing driven adults, I’d like to offer up a different extracurricular activity for your consideration: music. Supporting your child as they learn how to harmonize with others will help set them up for success later in life, as music cultivates many of the characteristics that entrepreneurs rely on every day.

Iteration

Anybody who’s played an instrument or been a part of a choir can tell you that the number one thing you’ll learn in a musical group is that you won’t make it unless you practice, practice, practice. Although in the moment it’s not that great to hear little Timmy or Ginny run through their C-scale a hundred times, a few years down the line when all those hours of iterating result in the lilt of Beethoven through your household, you can be sure that your kid has learned that repeating the little steps helps them achieve large goals.

Showmanship

A large part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing your markets, or your audience, and able to keep their attention so that they come back to you when they need your business. Being a part of an ensemble not only teaches children to be comfortable in the spotlight but to crave putting on a show.

Teamwork

When young musicians come together to play in a band or raise their voices in a choir, they’re learning a lot about how to collaborate with others in order to achieve a goal. When a young alto sings alone, her notes may sound strange without the soprano tones filling out the melody. The duet that comes from them learning to work together and complement each other builds a strong foundation for any team venture your child will encounter later in their careers.

Competiveness

Although music provides a solid foundation in harmony, it also contains just as much grit and competition as the football field. Music groups compete in regional and national championships just as athletes do, and solos offer opportunities to self-select and advocate. Hell hath no fire like a second seat musician who dreams of being first chair.

Self Confidence

Unlike sports, music is accessible to those who might struggle with finding confidence. There are no “best” requirements to play—regardless of height, weight, and other characteristics that nobody has any control over—nearly anyone can pick up an instrument or find their voice. This perhaps may be the greatest gift that you can give your child, the confidence that no matter what they look like they can excel.

As your child begins to consider the different activities that will help them build toward their future, don’t discourage them from pursuing a musical path. When they have to stand in front of an audience of their peers and deliver a presentation with an unwavering voice, they’ll thank you for the years they spent getting comfortable in the spotlight. Especially if they pursue entrepreneurship!

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