⭐️ You need a game plan

At the top of my daily todo list I have one big reminder that says “Do things for a reason!”.

It’s the one big thing I want to get better at and hence always keep top of mind when I plan my day. But it feels kind of awkward to admit this.

I mean, what exactly does this say about me?

Well, usually, I’m doing things for no good reason.

That’s a tough realization. My default mode is to just do what feels right without thinking too hard about it.

And to some extent, I’m still convinced that trusting your gut and not overthinking is important. But everything in moderation.

It’s very unlikely that you’ll reach your goal by always going with your gut.

My “awakening” happened after reading the following paragraph in Ray Dalio’s Principles:

Don’t act before thinking. Take the time to come up with a game plan. Take at least a few hours to think through your plan. Those hours will be virtually nothing in relation to the amount of time that will be spent doing, and they will make the doing radically more effective

It hit me like a brick. The idea is simple, the logic flawless. Why have I never done this?

No one ever taught me the importance of coming up with a game plan. And I certainly never learned how to actually do this.

So let me briefly summarize what I learned since I made it a priority to come up with game plans before rushing into action.

The specifics of course depend heavily on the kind of goals you’re pursuing. But after dozens of experiments, I found that it always boils down to my simple mantra: Do things for a reason.

That’s the magic at the heart of the whole exercise. You start with a clear goal and then write down how you’ll try to achieve it.

Every element of the game plan serves a specific purpose. It’s there for a reason.

Hence, taking the time to come up with a game plan helps you avoid wasting time on tasks that ultimately do not move the needle.

Let’s talk about a specific example.

One of my projects is Under the Radar. It’s a fairly simple trendspotting service and my goal is to get it to $10k MRR.

I’ve previously struggled to reach this goal because like in any project, there are infinitely many things I could do.

I spent weeks working on new features simply because my gut feeling told me that this might be what users want.

I created a tool users can use to create pretty trend charts. I added a feature that allowed users to request custom trend reports. I added all kinds of trend categories from niche communities to SaaS tools to crypto trends.

I spent even more time trying to automate every single aspect of the service. First I outsourced it and then later replaced the freelancer with machine learning models that automatically classify and select trends.

Did any of these things move the needle? Of course not.

This is obvious if you spent just a few minutes thinking things through.

But I didn’t. And the price I paid was months of wasted time with little to no progress towards my goal.

What could I have done differently?

Here’s how I’m approaching the project now with a proper game plan.

I started by dissecting the project into its elementary building blocks and added all the feature ideas I had on my list.

Then I removed everything that didn’t serve a specific purpose.

Game Plan

Good elementary building blocks either bring in traffic (green) or generate revenue (blue).

And of course it’s not enough to just have a vague feeling that something might help to bring in traffic or generate more revenue. There has to be a plausible story for every single block.

For example, the daily updated trend feed is freely accessible and is something people (hopefully) start talking about organically after some initial launch push. If that happens, it’ll also help attract backlinks and hence boost the sites search rankings. The same is true for various simple trend research tools and special collections like “the 100 fastest-growing YC companies by search interest”.

Once this worked, I can start publishing free trend reports focused on keywords people commonly search for. I will then also be able to post summaries of these posts on sites like Reddit to generate more traffic.

Another key element is the free newsletter. This will help keep the project top of mind and opens up new channels like referral marketing, or cross-promotions with other newsletters.

Once I’ve generated flow using these elements, I can start adding more friction.

Most importantly, I can use the newsletter to ask subscribers what kind of premium offer they would be most interested in and then focus on that. There are quite a few options:

  • I can monetize the trend feed by giving only pro subscribers access to the full database and the newest trends.
  • I can make certain features of the tools (e.g. exact stats) only available to pro subscribers.
  • And I can publish premium deep dive trend reports or offer custom trend reports.

Taken together I have no doubt that some combination of these premium elements will yield convincing offer once I have the necessary flow.

Interestingly I’m planning to use many of the elements I previously built (special collections, research tools) that didn’t move the needle again. However, difference is that now I’m using them in a way so that they serve a clear purpose.

None of this is rocket since. And of course I could and probably am very wrong with some of my assumptions.

That’s why I will revisit my game plan every Sunday to pick the highest leverage tasks for the next week and adjust it based on the real world data I gathered.

But in any case, I have no doubts that the mere act of thinking things through will help me avoid the dumbest mistakes and stay on track.

Entrepreneurship is a game of chance no matter what you do. But there are things you can do to stack the odds in your favor. And taking the time to come up with a game plan is definitely one of them.

Written on March 8, 2022

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