Pay your idea bank regularly to keep your business thriving

 

We have a goofy tradition in our family in which we write checks for dreams. It started many years ago, when we had just switched banks. We had two boxes of checks to throw out, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could just write these checks for anything we wanted?” So we did.

Every time we had an idea about something we wanted to do or acquire, we’d write a check for it. At first we just stuck the checks back in the check boxes. Then one day we bought a gorgeous little carved wood box, and it became the check shrine. It has been a fun way to indulge in our ideas-du-jour, and we continue the practice today.

This exercise is also an entrepreneurial skill, and as I’ve mentioned in this column previously, all small business owners must be entrepreneurs to compete in today’s market. The typical entrepreneur has lots and lots of ideas. Successful entrepreneurs have lots and lots of ideas that they indulge in, keep track of, and act upon at the right time.

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Indulge New Ideas

New ideas are the lifeblood of a business. They keep your business growing and improving, keep you ahead of your competition, and keep your customers interested and engaged. If you are not constantly coming up with new ideas, your business is stagnating.

Unfortunately, most small business owners are so busy with the day-to-day that they forget to feed their idea engine. What you feed it is up to you. It could be trade magazines, internet articles, customer site visits, secret shopping, trade shows, educational conferences, a night or weekend class, learning a new skill…the list goes on and on. New information is what you feed the idea engine, and if you’re not constantly consuming new information, your idea engine will become very stingy with its output.

Successful entrepreneurs also let their ideas play out a bit. This means you need to set aside time every day or at least every few days just to think and imagine. If you have an idea, only to immediately have to answer a call or start working on a project, that idea will be lost.

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Keep Track of Ideas

It’s not enough to come up with and think about new ideas. You must also have a way to keep track of them. Successful entrepreneurs maintain idea banks. An idea bank can be a file folder, a document, a drawer, or an online tool. My favorite tool for idea banking is the productivity app Evernote. When I read articles online that trigger good ideas, I clip them to my Evernote Ideas folder. I can take a picture of something that triggers an idea, write a note, or make a voice note. Whatever ideas I have and wherever I am when I have them, they go into Evernote.

Keeping track of ideas doesn’t just mean filing them away. It also means taking them back out and reviewing them. Old ideas can also feed your idea engine, and the things you’ve learned and done since the first time you had an idea could completely change the way you think about that same idea later.

You also gain peace of mind by banking ideas. Once you’ve fed the engine, come up with an idea, and thought about it a bit, you’ve made an investment. Recording the idea gives you the confidence to set it aside now to revisit at a better time.

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Acting at the Right Time

This can be the tricky one. Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean it’s time to act on it, and this little detail derails many an entrepreneur. Every business—no matter how large or small—has limited resources. The key to creating a successful business is to deliver on the most important things with discipline, focus, and an agenda. The risk of having lots and lots of ideas is that they tend to disrupt the strategic agenda, dissipate focus, and waste precious resources.

So what’s the solution? I’ve already shared part of it: Half the fun of ideas is dreaming them up, and by giving yourself permission and time to indulge them, you will be satisfying the idea itch. Furthermore, by tucking all your great ideas in an idea bank, you have confidence they won’t be lost to memory and time. The mere creation of an idea bank has saved many an entrepreneur from running off half-baked. The rest is discipline, but that’s a topic for another article.

Many of the good ideas will work their way in anyway, at the right time, and in a way that makes sense for your business. In fact, as I wrote this article I decided to dig through our check box. Over the years there have been a few times when we had some extra cash and used the checks to help us decide how to enjoy it. But as I looked through the checks now, I saw that nearly 70 percent of those virtual checks have been realized in real life. By taking the extra time to write those ideas a check, we made them more tangible than they would have been had we brushed off the ideas as fast as we thought of them.

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So go on. Write yourself some checks in the form of ideas. The payout may be faster than you think.