When faced with an interesting problem, some consultants may start by offering advice — usually well seasoned advice.  That’s not my style.  I prefer to ask questions that define an agenda, that help the participants find their own insight and clarity.

So, when preparing to take part in a meeting of entrepreneurs who might be growing their solo business into a firm with two or more employees (perhaps many more than two!), I prepared the following twelve questions:

Note that I do offer some comments after each question, but these do not attempt to suggest what the answer should be.

1. What’s the core product or service, and how will it get refined / expanded /replaced as the company grows?

[If the plan is for you to do that yourself, think more about delegating.]

2. What are your key strengths, and, most important, your key weaknesses.

[The later should define your hiring priorities.]

3. What the company “brand“?

[And, if there isn’t one, how will it get established?  (Note that the brand is not just the product or service you offer, or a statement of its advantages.]

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I was in junior high school, and it was time for our first “dance”. I put dance in quotes, because it wasn’t about dancing at all, but about sitting on the far side of the room, not getting to courage to ask a girl (young woman) to dance. Any real dancing happened in the mandatory dance class that our gym teacher taught. And that’s where I heard it:

If you take little steps, you’ll make little mistakes.

Yes, it’s true, the tiny step might not take me too far in the wrong direction.  And small steps in dancing might be more graceful.

But as advice for life . . . totally wrong! Look around, think ahead, plot your course, and take a real step.  Don’t be afraid of mistakes.

Mistakes?  The original  core values and beliefs ftext from Earthlink.com (an Internet Service Provider) included the statement that they encourage employees to make mistakes.  They’ve left out that part, but still include the following helpful clarification:

We see a huge difference between “good mistakes” (best effort, bad result) and “bad mistakes” (sloppiness or lack of effort).

With this distinction, it should be clear that the best response to not knowing how to dance isn’t taking small steps — it’s learning more about dancing, making a real effort.  The steps taken should be deliberate — not tentative — steps.

A dose of realism: It may be fine to take measured steps.  Introduce a new product, a new dish on the menu, a new service — but don’t bet the company, the restaurant, the consulting firm on this innovation.  Measure the resources you’re spending, and be aware that it might not work as planned.  Be prepared to lose sometimes, win often.  But don’t hide from your mistakes — embrace them!