The Systematic Entrepreneur Program

SEP

Most of the people with a general interest in starting a business or project don’t even have the chance to experience it in practice - they don’t start.

If you came to this page, however, something tells me that the idea of creating a business that gives you freedom of choosing your schedule, changing location and making money is important to you. It would be something you’d be proud of building.

SEP’s goal is to help you do it by becoming a sharp professional and unique entrepreneur, able to think systematically and with clarity about your goals and priorities.



The Entrepreneurial Dilemma

Nowadays, uncertainty is the only certainty. Technology is shaking the world as we know it in every sense, and that is happening fast. Forget about business plans and “long-term projections” - these are now worthless, no more than wishful-thinking wrapped in imaginary assumptions.

What we can often find are markets and industries that went through a complete transformation in a 6-month time. New products, services and niches popping-up every day. Planning timelines getting shorter and shorter.

At the same time, the internet makes it possible for us to learn whatever we want and connect and collaborate with anyone remotely - the problem is not having access to people and information anymore, but how to choose where to invest our time and energy in.

As an entrepreneur, it could all be translated into one question: How do you focus on a project long enough to make meaningful progress and still be flexible to change course?

It’s a great start to say you want to build a business that offers you more personal freedom, but this is the real world: The way to get to the end goal is dynamic and may change, and you will need to adapt.

Every time we start a new project, there are three main elements that require constant evaluation:

 
 
Entrepreneur Dilemma
 
 
  • Product (Focus): If you want to succeed and become good at something, you need to put up the work. You need time to learn and practice the necessary skills, to understand your market and customers better, and to build a valuable solution for them.

  • Market (Optionality): The products and services that you consume now are different from the ones you did 2 years ago, and those will also be different in 2 years time. The market is constantly shifting as companies innovate, customers needs and desires change, and circumstances alter. You need to know how to adapt.

  • Founder (Self-Awareness): We change our vision and definition of success as we go through life. Your priorities and interests will also be different, and this means you will need to rethink what you do and how you do it - if your work doesn’t excite or inspire you, you will struggle to sustain long-term growth.

These three elements are constantly changing (we’ll call them the “3 moving circles”), and your main objective is to keep all of them aligned. Quite a challenge, isn’t it?

You might decide to go for it with courage: You pick a business idea, choose a market to focus on, and simply ignore the fact that your current interests and priorities will change. What would your risks be?

  • Becoming an expert in a field or activity after years of study, only to find out no one is paying you to do it;

  • Making a big investment on a promising business idea (“the right one”), but discover your guess was wrong and there are just a few customers with no potential to growth;

  • Deciding to “do what you love”, and transform your current passion or hobby into a business. A couple of months later, however, you feel stuck and realize work has actually made you hate your old passion…

Not a nice picture for sure.

“Oh well”, you think, “I can maybe stop trying to guess the future and be as flexible as I can.” That is a valid alternative, but let’s look at the risks here:

  • Spending time and money trying to learn as many skills as you can to “survive in any market”, and find out you can’t charge for them - there are many other specialized professionals that offer better solutions;

  • Keep changing industries always chasing the most popular market to focus on, only to discover you don’t understand what your customer wants and how he thinks, making it impossible to sell;

  • Once again deciding to “do what you love”, but this time you commit to keep your mind open to new interests and ideas. A couple of months later, however, you’ve launched 10 different ideas and made no progress…

That's also far from good.

How do you solve the dilemma then? Is there a way to balance everything, or should we just accept that entrepreneurship is a complex and unpredictable quest?


Getting To The Root Of The Problem

Yes, there is a good solution to make consistent progress as an entrepreneur. And it doesn’t require neither blind courage (the lack of alternatives when things go wrong), nor passive flexibility (the freedom to spin around without making any progress).

It can be helpful to break down the dilemma in two smaller problems:

  • The 3 circles move in different speeds (time matters); and

  • A change in one circle will also affect the others (they are interdependent).

To illustrate these two problems, let’s take an imaginary guy named Bob as an example. Bob says: My goal is to become a best-selling book author, and I not only have no skills or knowledge about the publishing market, but I’m not even sure that is what I’d like to do.

A Matter Of Time

Let’s start with the first one: Time matters. What does that mean?

It is pretty straight forward: In this constantly changing context, some things change faster than others. When looking at each individual circle using our example, we can see that:

  • (Product) Learning to write like a professional might take Bob years of study and practice;

  • (Market) To check if people are willing to pay for a book Bob needs to first publish it. That might take months of intense work;

  • (Founder) If Bob decides to sit and write every day, he can get a hint of how a writer’s routine and life is. Within a couple of weeks, he’d be able to see if he likes it not.

Some things just take longer than others. Not only this is true when we compare the 3 circles between them, but also when we look at each of them individually:

  • (Product) Learning to write like a professional might take Bob years, but getting comfortable writing short stories or coming up with decent blog posts might take only a couple of months;

  • (Market) If he wants to check if his book sells well he needs to put up months of work, but Bob can also get some feedback in weeks by creating a short Ebook with the same theme or releasing only one chapter to friends;

  • (Founder) Bob might have recognized in a matter of weeks that he loves to write, but it was only after months that he realized he absolutely hates to proof-read or write always about the same subject.

That brings us to our first conclusion: We need a process that takes place in different time frames.

Thinking only about an annual plan is too risky for Bob, as he doesn’t know how things will turn out. Making a weekly review in order to have flexibility will make Bob shift from one decision to another, without real progress.

We need to be able to use the information we can get now to correct mistakes quickly and change course when necessary, but also give ourselves time to collect enough information to make big decisions, learn important skills and finish complex projects.

 
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Thinking Systematically

That brings us to the second problem: A change in one circle will also affect the others (they are interdependent).

To understand what that means, let’s again turn to Bob and see how a shift in each of the circles can impact the rest of the system:

  • (+ Product) After months of practice and thousands of lines written, the quality of Bob’s work has clearly improved.

    • (Side-effect on market): If he had already found people that pay for his writing skills, Bob can now try to charge a higher price for it. If he only wrote small articles and texts, he can also test the market writing his first book;

    • (Side-effect on founder) After gaining more experience, Bob feels more confident and optimistic. he now has a hint of which subjects he’d like to write more about, as well as which kind of projects are stressful or not interesting to him.

  • (+ Market) Bob has gathered fans and loyal customers, and is earning twice as much as he did before.

    • (Side-effect on product) Since he could save some money, Bob can now work in a longer, complex and more rewarding project without having to worry about my financial situation;

    • (Side-effect on founder) Bob discovered that he loves to make money, but absolutely hates to expose himself personally to the public. That means he will now try to avoid public appearances and live events to market his work, and just do what he loves - writing high-quality material.

  • (+ Founder) Experimenting with different topics made Bob realize he loves to write about entrepreneurship.

    • (Side-effect on product) He used to struggle to produce content for different audiences. Now Bob can improve the quality of his work, since he knows who his readers are and what they’re after;

    • (Side-effect on market) Narrowing down means that Bob is reducing the number of topics he can write about, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. With more specific content he can get recognized as an expert in the area, and that might boost how much people are willing to pay for his work.

All of these examples are positive, but one circle can also have a negative effect on the others:

  • (- Market) No one wants to pay for Bob’s latest book.

    • (Side-effect on product) Since he doesn’t have much money, Bob can’t afford to spend all of his time and energy in another big project. He can look for temporary gigs as a freelance writer, or maybe search for a part-time job in a different industry while working on his next book;

    • (Side-effect on founder) Bob discovered that we can never guess how good our work is until we try to sell it, and that sometimes things don’t turn out as we’ve imagined. He can see it as a personal failure (“Writing is not for me”) and give up of his initial goal, or he can see it as a growing experience (“What can I learn from it?”) and use that experience to plan his next initiative.

The examples above help us get to our second conclusion: We need a process that looks at all of the circles as a system, instead of independent components.

That might sound obvious now, but many consultants and coaches don’t get quite get it - when things go wrong they are fast to point out who’s the guilty. Some will say you should focus on fewer goals or for a longer time. Others might blame “the market”, asking you to narrow down in a niche or brainstorm different markets. And don’t forget we can always find those that will simply say you should “follow your passion”, and by doing that things will magically align and turn out well.

Hopefully, now you can recognize that it is never a single thing - each of the parts interacts and influences each other, and that is why thinking in systems is essential to be an effective entrepreneur.

 
Systematic Entrepreneurship
 

Back to School

The answer to the dilemma has one single word: Coherence. And to illustrate what it is and how it works, we’ll pick a popular and universal example: The education system.

Although there has been some criticism in the last years regarding the need of schools and universities to adapt to our uncertain and fast-changing world - rethinking and changing the teaching and evaluation methods - one thing is certain: they get their work done.

There is a lot of discussion on what would the main objective of the education system be, but for the sake of simplicity we will put it this way: Students have a list of topics they (or their parents) chose to understand, and schools and universities should make sure they can learn all of these blocks during the period of the course.

There are two main challenges here:

  • A topic has different levels of complexity. If you want to learn Maths, for example, you need to learn how to use both addition and square roots. One is more simple, the other is more complex.

  • A topic might require the understanding of a different one. To understand Physics you should know Algebra, to be good at Chemistry one must have studied basic Biology.

How does the usual school solve it? By adopting a coherent curriculum, both vertically and horizontally:

  • Vertical coherence: What students learn in one lesson or course prepares them for the next one - they start with addition, and continue with subtraction, multiplication, and so on. Teaching is structured in a logical sequence so that students are learning the knowledge and skills that will prepare them for the more complex topics.

  • Horizontal coherence: The teachers of each different topic always know what their colleagues have already explained to the students. This ensures that they only evaluate concepts that the students have already learned, but also that they can now explore more complex ideas combining concepts from different topics.

It is an obvious answer for us now, but remember it took hundreds of years for the education system to adopt it - and that included a lot of trial-and-error. Now, how can we apply these ideas in entrepreneurship? How can coherence solve our famous dilemma of the 3 circles? Let’s look at it now.

Solving the Dilemma

Entrepreneurship, just like our schools and universities, can be seen as a complex system - our skill set, the market, and ourselves are in constant change and influence each other. To deal with all if this mess effectively, we need a good process, a set of tools and practices that will help us make progress among uncertainty.

After discussing the root of the problem, we ended up with two conclusions:

  • We need a process that takes place in different time frames.

  • We need a process that looks at all of the circles as a system, instead of independent components.

Can you see how these are similar to the challenges of the educational system? Although it’s a different context, they are the same! And that is the main advantage of systematic thinking: Once you start to understand how systems work, you can see how problems that seem so different are, at their root, the same.

Applying the same ideas of coherence in our dilemma, this is what we get:

  • Vertical coherence: We will set goals for more than one time frame, putting the complex and uncertain ones as long-term goals, and leaving the simple and basic ones as short-term ones.

  • Horizontal coherence: For every time frame, we will review and evaluate what how we executed our actions (Focus), what were the results we got (Market), and how we felt about it (Self-awareness). We will then use this information to set new goals and plan the next actions.

This process is what every successful entrepreneur does, but no one sees. It is the only way to make progress with optionality, and align short and long-term goals effectively.

Now let’s see what is the exact process we use at SEP, that combines all of these ideas and gives you both focus and flexibility to start and grow your business.

 
Quaterly Planning
 

The Systemic Entrepreneur Program

The complete process has 4 steps, and we will go through each one of them next:

  1. Define or review your vision and long-term goals;

  2. With direction, set a quarterly goal and measurable milestones;

  3. Break it down into smaller goals and explicit tasks that can be accomplished; and

  4. Execute and monitor progress, using the information to review goals and learn as you go.

How would that look in practice? Let’s use a new example, John.

When asked about his plans and expectations, John says: “My goal is to become a professional photographer. I have a website where I publish some photos, but not regularly. I consider myself as a beginner, with only the most basic photography skills. I’ve never made money with it.”

 
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1) Define or review your vision and long-term goals

Here we explore your current situation, your values and aspirations to think as far as possible in the future. This is how John would put his vision into words:

I am a respected and influential photographer 

What:  I have an extensive portfolio, a recognized personal brand and the freedom to choose which projects I want to invest my time in. That means that I have experience with multiple areas of photography but had focused on a niche that best represent me. I can work with different equipment and have expert editing and publishing skills. I recognize that my previous experiences and my networking skills (professional relationships) are crucial elements to my success. 

Why:  I believe that the most beautiful way to leave a legacy is by expressing ourselves through art. I want people to respect and admire me for my commitment to photography. I want to leave a mark on the world and inspire future artists to follow their artistic inclinations. Besides being my passion, the work also pays me in all the 3 currencies: money (consequence of the quality and popularity of my work), time (I can make my own schedule) and mobility (it allows me to work remotely).

Why do we start with long-term goals? There are two main reasons:

  1. So you can align them with your short-term goals to ensure you acquire skills and resources useful in the future, even if you need to change plans;

    Looking at John’s vision, for example, we can get some key insights:

    • He wishes to build a business promoting his personal brand;

    • He is passionate not only about photography, but with art as a whole - he wants to inspire future artists;

    • He mentions the importance of learning editing and publishing skills.

    For every goal choose, some of the skills and resources required will be specific, but many will be transferable - which means, in this case, they are not only useful for a photographer. Understanding the difference is crucial to increase optionality, and having more alternatives in the future.

    In that context, it would be smarter for John to focus the next 3-months on learning digital editing than photography composition. Even if he can’t find enough opportunities as a photographer (or change his mind about it), he could use the same skills to give it a try as a video maker or a designer.

  2. Keep you motivated to go through less-appealing tasks, because you can draw a direct line from what you are doing on a day-to-day basis to your long-term vision and aspirations.

    For every goal you choose to pursue, there will be always some tasks or activities you will find unpleasant or boring. In the case of John, for example, one of these would be to study exposure (light intensity). Creating an explicit long-term goal helps because he can see how one thing leads to the other:

    • “Understanding exposure will improve the quality of my photos”;

    • “High-quality photos will help people recognize me as a professional”;

    • “The more people see me as a professional, the closer I’ll be to my goal of being influential and leave a legacy”.

2) With direction, set a quarterly goal and measurable milestones

The SEP is designed for a period of 3 months, in which we will focus on one specific project or objective.

That doesn’t mean we won’t set shorter goals - we will surely do it. It is important, however, to have a time frame to be set as the standard one. Although 3 months might seem an arbitrary choice, practical experience shows us that:

  • (Product) Adopting a 90 days sprint help us to focus. It is enough time to learn significant skills we might need, but also a short deadline to force us to take action - more time usually means more risk of procrastination.

  • (Market) 90 days is also a good time frame to test the market and learn what works and what doesn’t. After that mark, new information and events may require us to reconsider our goals.

  • (Founder) You need to invest some time to be able to compare your expectations about a project and the reality. In 90 days you will be able to say if you feel like investing another quarter doing it, or not.

Here we will mainly define three things:

  1. Your quarterly goal. We will make an analysis of your last 90 days, clearly define a goal that you can realistically achieve in the next quarter that would bring you closer to your long-term vision.

  2. Your KPIs. We will choose key performance indicators to measure your progress and evaluate results.

  3. Your initiatives. We will brainstorm alternatives and define how you are going to pursue the goal.

Coming back to John, here is how his quarterly goal might look like:

Quarterly goal: Find at least 3 projects as a photographer to gain practical experience, while keeping my regular job and getting paid on the process.

KPIs:  - Number of paying gigs (Goal 1 gig/month)
- Page views of online portfolio (Goal +10%/month)
- Email list subscribers (Goal +5%/week)

Initiatives: - Update the website and social media pages
- Prepare a new brochure to advertise my services
- Add photos every week to professional website
- Negotiate partnerships to expand audience and increase contact list
- Call local businesses
- Contact bloggers and influencers


3) Break it down into smaller goals and explicit tasks that can be accomplished;

Applying the 80/20 principle to our planning means that:

  • Every month within the 90-day cycle, you pick the 1-3 highest-priority initiatives likely to lead to the quarterly goal.

  • Every week you pick the 1-3 highest-priority initiatives to lead to that month’s goal.

  • Every day, the 1-3 highest-priority to accomplish this week.

By breaking the quarterly goal into smaller and shorter activities, you gain clarity about what are the day-to-day activities that you will have execute, what specific skills you might need to acquire during the quarter and which people and tools may help you on your way.


4) Execute and monitor progress, using the information to review goals and learn as you go.

Our weekly and monthly reviews will help you check the completed tasks, reinforce what is working well and correct or eliminate the activities that are not translating into result.

There are some important questions that can help us make decisions and clarify the next steps to be taken, and during the program you will be able to use it and develop your own review systems. Some of them are:

  • Am I complying? Did I executed the initiatives I had planned? By how much?

  • What were my biggest wins of the week/month?

  • What was the biggest mistake I’ve made? How can I correct or avoid it to happen again?

  • What was the one thing I did that worked really well? How can I double down on it?

  • What's the least valuable thing I did last month? What can I outsource, automate or eliminate?

  • What are my top priorities for next week/month?

  • What are the obstacles I can expect to run into as I execute my priorities? Can I eliminate them?

How it works

Some executive coaches can give you insights and more clarity about your challenges, but lack business and practical remote work experience.

On the other hand, there's also a number of online courses and e-learning portals that can provide you content, but don't give you a framework to actually execute the work and change plans when things don't work out like they should.

Our program is unique because it includes both process and content. We work on building the foundation for your long-term development and growth.

 
 
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What You'll Get:

Kick-off session where we will make a first assessment and define a tailor-made plan and agenda;

Weekly 1-hour sessions to discuss your challenges and keep you accountable to hitting your goals;

Weekly follow-up files with insights, action points and self-coaching resources;

Monthly and quarterly reviews and evaluations to assess your progress;

Full email and text message support in between the sessions.

 

Sign up to receive more information about the program.


Frequently asked questions:

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How much does it cost for the SEP?

The minimum time investment for an individual coaching program is 3 months, with 12 weekly 1-hour sessions (online video calls).

The price is 2,200 USD if paid in full. If you wish to pay monthly, then the price would be 3 times 800 USD.

For face-to-face sessions or sessions outside of regular office hours, the fees may be higher. We will offer you a custom package based on your needs and requirements.

Please note that after each session, you will also receive a 1 to 4-page follow-up document outlining the major points and insights of our coaching conversation, as well as resources and exercises for your further professional growth. You can use this material for your individual work throughout the rest of the week.

The program obviously includes a full email and text message support in between the sessions.

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How can I pay?

You will get an online invoice with the option to pay via PayPal.

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How long does the program take?

The minimum time investment is 3 months. However, most high-achieving clients work with us on a long-term, ongoing basis.

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What can I expect after I hire you?

After we agree to start a coaching relationship, you will get a) coaching agreement to be signed by Quest and you so we both know what our rights and obligations are, and b) your first invoice. Once you sign the agreement and settle the invoice, we will schedule our first session(s).

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What do the sessions look like?

During our initial meetings, we will discuss your specific goals and areas you wish to work. Based on that, we will define a process for you to identify points of struggle, execute initiatives and build competencies, and reflect on the effects of these actions and ways to further improve skills and behaviors. Each session should then begin with the review of your progress and finish with a specific plan for the following week.

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What about the confidentiality of our sessions?

Our sessions (including any mutual messages/emails) will be strictly confidential and I will not share any personal ideas, information, thoughts or experiences expressed by you with anyone else without your permission. The confidentiality aspect of our coaching relationship will be addressed in the agreement we sign before we start working together.

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Do you offer face-to-face sessions?

Not always, please contact us to check availability. An extra fee is charged for face-to-face sessions.

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Is there a refund if I don't like the sessions?

If there's anything you wish to change in the coaching process, please don't hesitate to tell us without any delay. We will do our very best to modify the sessions to suit your needs. It's not possible, however, to offer refunds for any cancellations or no-shows, unless there's a serious valid reason (e.g. medical condition).

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Can I reschedule a session if something comes up?

Cancelling and/or rescheduling a coaching session can be done with appropriate notice. Please allow at least 24-hour notice for appointment changes.


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