Eric Ries offers an intriguing. . .or maybe obvious. . .approach to operating a startup I believe translates well into growing ANY business in today’s economy called The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.  (See his talk at Microsoft Research.)  His book is worth the read.

The easy take-away, the important take-away, for me, is his concept of Build-Measure-Learn.  As a veteran of many startups he points to a reality all startups face, and something I believe is a good lesson for you and me as we push to grow sales today.  He says:

Startups begin with an idea of who their customer is and why they’ll buy the product or service they’re building.

And, more often than not, they’re wrong.  Wrong about who their customer is and/or why they’ll buy.

Better, then, to focus less on planning and more on a learning process (Build-Measure-Learn) designed to discover what your target market will buy, or, discover what group of people will buy what you’re selling.

So, the focus is not on doing what you believe is right, but on implementing a process that reveals the way forward, based on customer response.

Based on what I’m seeing today, this is a worthy strategy for us all:

We “know” who our customers are and why they buy from us.  After all, that’s what got us where we are.  And today doesn’t look THAT much different than last year.

But, that is changing (both the who our customers are and why they buy).

Better, then, to focus less on doing a better job of what we’ve been doing and more on a process designed to discover what it will take to grow in this economy.

Which is where his Build-Measure-Learn concept comes in.  Said another way: lots of small tests.  At the risk of using a buzzword, which I loath doing, call it Fast-Cycle Testing.

Whatever you call it (Just Do It. . .maybe?), don’t worry if you don’t have a completely fleshed out plan.  Start.  Test.  Pay attention.  Refine.  And start again.