11 Rules to Transform Your Business Idea into a Smooth-running Machine

That’s Jason Statham in The Transporter.

Statham’s character, Frank Martin, controls his high-octane world with grit and a personal code of “rules”:

Rule #1: The deal is the deal.
Rule #2: No names.
Rule #3: Never open the package.

Frank provides the criminal underbelly with a specialized service — let’s just call it “transportation” — no questions asked. Frank is a professional driver and martial arts expert. He lives on the edge and never looks back.

Above all else, Frank adheres to his rules to stay alive and come out on top. That is, until he opens the package!

Frank got me thinking about rules as a form of mental jiu-jitsu we can use to quickly eliminate crappy business ideas and to refine current businesses into smooth-running machines. Here are my rules. How does your idea stack up?


You opened the package!

1. Repeat and Refine

Services that customize products to meet individual customer needs are unscalable and often disheartening. They generate too many unknowns, unique modifications, and naive demands.

The antidote to customization is a standard process.

A standardized process allows endless opportunity for repetition and refinement. The Japanese call this approach kaizen — “continuous improvement.” Everyone benefits.

2. Productize Your Service

To implement a standard process, market your service as a product.

Forget about custom proposals and even negotiations. Carefully target your market and create products that exactly meets its needs.

For individuals and small teams, your “product” is likely to be niche knowledge:

  • Consulting
  • Training
  • Coaching
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • App Development
  • Representation
  • Information

3. Find a Good Fit

It’s so tempting to get involved with projects that are too far beyond experience and skills. “Wow, look at this opportunity!” But no matter how promising something *should* be, it will be far more difficult and stressful if you haven’t done it a hundred times before. Fiascos and heavy opportunity costs are a real risk.

Your project should be a natural fit for you and your team, ideally informed by previous experience that included opportunities to repeat and refine (Rule #1)

4. Create a Discrete Package

When is a project involving art, design, writing, composition, developing, coding, or optimizing truly finished? It’s largely a matter of opinion isn’t it? The answer may be “never”.

The ideal service-as-a-product has a clear beginning and end. Sell it as a discrete package that provides a specific deliverable for known compensation. Packages lend themselves to repetition and refinement (Rule #1).

5. Distill Your Message

For marketing purposes, your project must be explainable in a simple way. Customers want a concise, clear explanation of how your product benefits them. At the end of the day, it’s all about how the customer benefits. It’s never about you, OK?

My vote for best marketing message in history goes to Apple’s original iPod —  “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Wow. I am in awe of that gem. It is revolutionary and says it all in 25 characters.

The goal is to distill your project to its essence, without industry jargon. Tune in to the core emotional factors that move people. If you can’t explain your project in a concise, emotive way that compels your audience, work on differentiation (Rule #9).

6. Deliver Fast

Push for short delivery times. That means performing the service, shipping the product, or providing customers with the resources to do it themselves right away, today.

Fast delivery opens myriad opportunities to earn money, and if necessary, recover from mistakes. Conversely, slow delivery kills innovation and leads to huge opportunity costs if anything goes sideways.

Can you provide a quote, pitch your product, sign a contract, or deliver faster than anyone else? That’s a huge strategic advantage.

7. Automate

Marketing automation is the best way to extend reach, connect with ideal customers at scale, and speed things up (rule #6).

Set up systems to automatically educate, qualify, pre-sell, make offers, get paid, collaborate, and follow-up . . . so you can focus on the aspects you enjoy.

Computer and communications technology is ubiquitous and cheap. Perhaps it can take on a role beyond marketing. Is there a way automate aspects of production, delivery, or support?

8. Get Paid Up Front

The cure for cash flow problems is to get paid in advance or on-delivery. Can you design your product such that you get paid on a recurring basis? Even better.

The worst high-risk scenario is to invoice a few customers (or only one!) for large amounts. If a major customer can’t or won’t pay, it’s game over.

The best low-risk scenario is for many customers to pay smaller amounts for a standardized product (rule #1), on a recurring basis, in advance. Use computer technology to make it happen (rule #7).

9. Differentiate or Die

Market “positioning” is how customers perceive your brand compared to competitors.

To stand out in the market and to help keep your marketing message concise (Rule #5), your service / product should be tightly focused on a niche, and obviously different from competitors. That simple action powerfully concentrates marketing effectiveness and limits competition.

Sometimes there is an opportunity to erect a competitive barrier via an “economic moat” — a patent, methodology, technology, contract, or license that you have, but others do not.

Solve a specific problem in a differentiated way.

10. Build a System, Not a Job

The last thing you want is to create a job for yourself that’s more time-consuming and stressful than a “real” job. So the project cannot be about you personally performing the bulk of the work. That’s the road to frustration and burnout.

Instead, your mission is to deploy a system that delivers value to customers using a standard process (rule #2) that’s a good fit (rule #3), and also minimizes the need for you to touch that process. If you want, add a team and automation (rule #7) to scale-up, but keep it lean to minimize cost and complexity.

11. Design Your Project

All of this gets down to a core rule: tailor your business project to achieve your expected outcome. Distill the things you do best, then apply the rules to filter and design a business project that will deliver the outcome you want.