Member Sign In

How to Push Jelly Uphill – Guest Post

Written by Steve Penfold, Angel Investor and FuseBox Mentor.

Photo Credit: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 by Sony Pictures Animation.

In September, I was lucky enough to act as a mentor as part of the Fusebox Amp project.

I got asked some great questions during the session (and I managed to cobble together some half-sensible answers!), so we thought there was a great opportunity to share with the rest of the wonderful Wired Sussex community.

So here's the first question:

Question: I run a consultancy/agency business and have a great idea for a brand new product/service - how do I prioritise between spending time and money on this business (that already generates income) and developing my new product/service (which isn't making any cash yet)

Luckily I'm pretty well qualified to answer this question as my last business was a Digital Agency and our 'side project' went on to become a business in its own right and make us £2M per year in recurring revenues. So I know it can be done.

So - what advice can I give you?

Well, to start off, let's name our project: 'Project X'. It's a project that you have been thinking about for while which could potentially take over the World and make you lots of $$$.

I've found that many great startup ideas come from Digital Agencies or Consultancies - you are in a unique position to see common problems across a number of different clients which then validates your idea even before you start working on it.

However, what often happens is that client work takes priority and the 'Project X' falls by the wayside.

Then…... one morning when you're eating your Cornflakes and reading the newspaper you see a company has sold to Google or Facebook with the exact same idea you had a couple of years ago.

"If only we could have got it up and running then!"

So there is the massive challenge - how do you balance the demands of client work with getting 'Project X' up and running.

Sometimes it feels like pushing jelly uphill - not matter how hard you try, you can't get 'Project X' to where you want it.

So what do you do?

Well - let's look at the biggest risks to 'Project X' first, then we can look at how to mitigate against them.

The biggest risks probably are;

1. The existing service business eating into time allocated to 'Project X'

2. Losing momentum for the project due to other immediate distractions

Let's take each one in turn.

1. The existing service business eating into time allocated to 'Project X'

First of all, make sure that your business can afford to invest the time in a new product. Your business may not be ready for it right now. Can you still hit your sales and invoicing targets (you do have those, don't you? :) ) whilst taking a little time out of business.

If not, then here's a tip. Get recurring revenues in place first. This will give you the breathing space you need.

Next, work out the maximum amount of time you can allocate to 'Project X' with the existing business falling over - 1/2 day per week, 1 day per week?

Depending on the work that needs to be done - this doesn't have to be your time. It could be another member of your team. (This is how we did it - see below)

Let's say you can afford to spend 1 day per week on 'Project X' 20% of your time. Block out the same day every week in your diary for the next 6 months. Let's say Wednesday.

Make sure you have no clashes with other meetings - if so, then move things around to ensure there are no clashes. The same goes for any other member of the staff working on the 'Project X'.

Let everyone else in the studio/office know what you are doing every Wednesday and that you are not available until Thursday.

From now on, make sure that all internal meetings, client meetings and sales meetings happen on days other than Wednesday.

Then when Wednesday comes, ensure that you stick on your email 'Out of office' message saying that you are back in the office on Thursday. and DON'T get distracted by social media. :)

If you have all of the above in place, you should be clear to focus on 'Project X' every Wednesday.

2. Losing momentum for the project due to other immediate distractions

If you have no other co-founders then consider working with a friend or a mentor that you can meet to report on progress. This will give you a level of accountability to ensure that you keep up momentum on the project.

Set up regular monthly meetings with your friend/mentor. Get the dates in the diary for next 6 months as well. If you are short of time (you probably are!), then do it over lunch or meet up after work to save eating into precious working hours.

What you'll find by having these regular meetings is that it will make sure that 'Project X' is progressing - you will look silly in the monthly meeting if it isn't! And that is a great motivator.

If you work in an office or studio - try working in a different place like from home or from a coffee shop. The change in environment will give you a different perspective on things and stop you from getting distracted by your "day job".

How we did it

At our agency PH-media, our 'Project X' was a Software as a Service product. Initially it started as a small idea that we wanted to explore. Even though we were over-run with client work, we managed to protect a day per week for Ian, one of our developers to work on the project.

As the product starting taking shape, the chances of success started getting higher so we were able to risk investing more of his time until he became full time on the project.

Eventually, the product evolved into PROJECTminder which became a marketing leading product for Architects, helping us to build the business much more quickly than we could have done as an Agency alone.

I hope that this post has helped you. If it has, you might find my free e-book for Digital Agencies and Startups - How To Find Great Clients just as useful.

About the author