These are difficult and crazy times.  We’re all wondering when things will go back to normal and what it will mean to each of us and our families.

Reflecting on the situation, I was reminded of something I learned a long time ago.  My biggest successes have all come from things I started in the depths of situations like this.  For example, I wrote and launched G-Wizard right in the teeth of the Great Recession, a little over 10 years ago.

The thing is, tough times can also be good times to launch a new business if you do it right.  Doing it “right” means not taking undue risk or quitting your Day Job.  It means getting focused when most everyone else around you is unproductive because of fear and panic.  Warren Buffet and many others have also noticed that tough times are the times to move ahead.  If you can stay calm and make progress when everyone else can’t, you have a huge advantage.  These are the kinds of times when you can steal a march on competition.

I have a framework I use for times like this that I call the LEAP framework.  “LEAP” is just a helpful way to remember the steps:

  • (L)earn
  • (E)xplore
  • (A)nticipate
  • (P)roduce

Those 4 steps can help you to get organized and focused on your own opportunity.  Let’s talk about how LEAP works.

Step 1:  (L)earn

I like to start with learning some new skill.  This serves several purposes.

First, I will choose a skill that is helpful to what I think my opportunity might be, realizing that I’m nowhere close to deciding on a particular opportunity.

Second, Learning clears and focuses my mind on something new, which helps me to quit worrying about my other troubles.  For me, it is a refreshing change of pace.  It’s essential to begin to create that distance in your mind so you can be productive in pursuing whatever your new opportunity may be.

Third, learning a new skill always adds value, whether or not it creates any particular opportunity.

If you’re following Social Isolation and spending time at home, now more than ever, you have time to learn something new.  There are loads of online courses out there to help.  We have a bunch of free courses right here on CNCCookbook if you fancy sharpening your CNC skills.  Pick something meaty.  Something that can make a difference.  And something you will enjoy.

Step 2:  (E)xplore

Compass and magnifying glass on old map

It’s time to start exploring potential Opportunities.  You need to decide what you will pursue.  Your opportunity could be getting ahead of your peers at work, moving your business ahead of the competition, or starting a new business.

Make lists of potential opportunities and start exploring them.  Do what online research you can to learn about the opportunities and refine their potential.  Wondering what to explore?  Here are some ideas:

I want Career Advancement

Figure out what skills are valuable but scarce at your firm.  Are there new skills that you could bring to the firm that don’t exist at all?  What skills does your firm require for you to take a step up the ladder?

We have an article on CNC Skills and their relative scarcity that might give you some ideas.

Thought: this is a great time to learn things at home.  Many CNC Skills require you to be at the machines to make progress, but not all.  Here’s what can you learn from home:

  • CAD: If you aren’t already proficient with CAD software, it’s time to learn.
  • CAM:  Same story.  CAD+CAM are the bedrock digital tooling for CNC.  Every CNC’er should know these reasonably well.
  • G-Code Programming:  Want to be a cut above the average CADCAM programmer?  Pick up G-Code programming.  It’s another great thing to learn from home, and we offer a free course.
  • Advanced Feeds & Speeds:  You probably know the basics, and if not it’s way past time to learn.  Advanced Feeds & Speeds can radically improve productivity and let you contribute directly to the bottom line.  Take our free Master Class in Feeds & Speeds for the advanced stuff that’s hard to come by.
  • Job Quoting and Estimation:  If you’ve never wrapped your head around the numbers, it’s a great time.  Here’s a good intro.  When you’re done with that, grab our free G-Wizard Estimator (free during Beta Test) and try creating some quotes.  Try to figure out what jobs your shop may have an advantage on and what ones to avoid.  Think about how to cut costs on jobs.

I want to beat my Competitors and Grow My Business

Are you a business owner who wants an advantage over the competition?  Try exploring these areas:

  • Go to school on the competition.  How are they marketing?  Who are their customers?  How did they get them?  What are their claimed advantages?  Get inside their game and look to borrow ideas and even better, figure out how to leapfrog any advantages they may have.
  • Find new ways to compete.  Maybe it’s time to start thinking about new products or services that address needs your competition can’t touch.  Maybe there’s some kind of investment you could make that will give you an Evergreen advantage moving forward.  Try not to get crazy investing, it’s tough times, but at the same time, there are probably choice improvements to your operation you could make that would create permanent advantages.
  • Outflank into new markets.  Sometimes you need to forget the competition and enter new markets they don’t even play in.  Outflanking may create the ultimate competitive advantage.  Assuming the new market isn’t too distracting and complements your business, it diversifies your risk and offers new growth opportunities.

Got some extra time? Use it wisely.  For example, extra time could be used to implement Lean Manufacturing or get started with Lights Out Manufacturing.  Both are more time and expertise intensive than capital intensive and both can pay huge dividends.

I will leave this section with one last article:  11 Strategies for Managing the Feast or Famine Job Shop.  Great ideas there for this market!

I want to Start a New Business

Lots to explore when starting a new business.  My biggest recommendation to any new entrepreneur is to find your audience before you worry about what to sell them.

Every business, large or small, constantly struggles to add new customers.  It’s the hardest thing of all, and you have to solve the problem right from the very beginning.  Now is a perfect time to explore how to go about finding that audience.

Start with my Profitable CNC Business Ideas for insights into how to think about a new business in the early days.

Step 2 Goal

The Goal for Step 2 is really just to Explore, Research, and end up with a list of potential opportunities you want to pursue.  Given that list, pick one.  If there’s not enough information to pick one, you’re not done with Step 2–continue to Explore.  If there’s one there that you feel you’ve really done the homework on and are very excited about, you’re ready to move on to Step 3.

Step 3:  (A)nticipate

By Step 3, you have decided which opportunity to pursue.  It’s time to Anticipate and prepare for that opportunity.

In this step, we’ll do every low-cost thing we can to reduce risk in anticipation in actually kicking off the opportunity. Low-cost means money and to a lesser-extent, time.

This is the homework stage.  Yes, I know you did some homework in the Explore Stage, but now it’s time to focus on just one opportunity and double down hard on the homework.

Why Anticipate?  Because there’s a lot to be done and just jumping in prematurely raises risk in what are already risky times.  So why do it?

Because, as I said, it’s all about risk reduction.  Stack the cheap things you can do to reduce risk up front.  For example, learning skills required for your opportunity that you’re currently missing is an ideal Anticipation step.  It’s very high risk to try to learn a new skill when you’ve ramped up your overhead and you’re trying to satisfy and sell real customers on your offering.

Anticipation Ideas

Let’s consider some examples of what to do in Anticipation of Your Opportunity.

Anticipating Career Advancement 

As far as advancing your career, we’ve covered a lot of ideas in the Explore section.  If there’s a difference between the two, it’s just a matter of depth.

Perhaps you learned the basics of CADCAM during Explore, and now you want to become a real Expert.  BTW, you can hire people online to do CADCAM work.  Perhaps Anticipation is the time to get set up to start that process.  What are you missing to be able to move forward?

Fiverr, for example, lets you hire folks to do CAD modelling.  Go check out a bunch of the offerings.  What do you need to do before you’re ready to hang out a shingle on Fiverr?

Actually doing business on Fiverr for CAD could be regarded as Anticipation for a bigger, more professional, CAD Consulting business with its own web site, higher prices, and so on.

Here’s another.  Suppose you’ve decided to ramp up your ability to hold tighter tolerances.  One of the first things you’ll need to do is accurate measurement.  It’s a great time to get some standards with known dimensions and drag out your micrometers, snap gauges, and so forth and practice getting the touch to repeatedly and accurately measure various features.  Might also be a good time to learn Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing.

Whatever the list of skills you need to advance your career, learn as many as you can and perfect them.  Find ways to test yourself to ensure you have it nailed.

Anticipating Growing a Business and Beating Competition

You’ve done the homework during Explore to have some good ideas.  How far can you take those ideas before having to spend real money (which doesn’t happen until Step 4 Produce)?

For example, say you’ve decided you want to use online advertising.  During the Anticipation Stage you can create some ads and test them to see what works or what doesn’t.  I’ve seen a number of examples where folks advertise a product and if you click through, you get a page that tells you its coming and offers to put you on the mailing list for an announcement and special deal when it becomes available.  When you see that you know folks are testing their ads and web pages to make sure they’re as effective as can be.  It takes something on the order of $50 a day to test a Facebook advertising program thoroughly.

Suppose you want to launch a new product.  Anticipation is the time to perfect the design of your product and try to figure out how to change that design to manufacture the product as cheaply as possible.  The latter is a practice called “Design for Manufacturing“, and it’s just another skill worth learning.

Updating your web site or key pages on the site is an ideal task for the Anticipation Stage.  If you’re more direct sales oriented than web oriented, now is the time to make sure that your brochures and whatever else you give your sales force to help sell is in top condition.

Anticipating a New Business

This one has the most things to Anticipate by far!  Here’s a partial list:

  • What’s your business name?  Have you registered the URL so you own it?
  • You’ll want to incorporate pretty early.
  • Do you have all the skills needed to go from zero to products manufactured, sold, and delivered?
  • See the steps above for new products.  Have you prototyped your product and squeezed all the costs out of it that are possible?
  • Are you ready to scale the business if demand hits?  Lots of contingency planning is possible.
  • So you want to be a Job Shop.  What kind of machine will you start with?  How about drumming up one order for a part in small quantity so you can go through the cycle once?  I know a lot of machinists who got their start making money from home by letting their employer know they had the ability to make parts at home.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes.  Especially for one-offs, prototypes, and repairs.
  • So you want to sell products.  How about finding a niche and selling just a few so that again, you’ve experienced the cycle.  This is particularly feasible for collectible products like custom knives and such.
  • Are you going to need financing?  Check out everything that’s needed to get geared up for something like Kickstarter.  What kinds of products work best?  What special tactics have the winners employed?
  • Are you going to have a web site?  Lots to do to start one up.
  • Do you have a marketing plan to reach your audience?  Personally, I also suggest finding your audience and starting to build a mailing list before you ever create your first product.

That list can go on a long time, depending on what kind of business you’d start.

Step 4: (P)roduce

It’s time.  You’ve done a ton of homework.  You possess all the skills needed.  You have a clear plan.  All that’s needed is to jump in and start swimming hard by ramping up your investment of time and money.

Do not jump to this stage until you absolutely have to, but don’t make too many excuses either.  The ideal time to launch is when you see the light at the end of the tunnel for the current crisis.  Until them, keep doing homework and reducing risk.  I literally spent a couple years building up CNCCookbook’s web traffic, mailing list, and audience before I launched G-Wizard.  Probably too long.  But a year of that is by no means crazy, depending on what you’re seeking to do.

Crazy times to be sure.  But, every storm passes.  And you can use these times to build yourself a springboard for New Opportunities.

 

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