What Do I Do If My Idea Isn’t Working?

Stop, drop and roll—a three-step plan for fighting fires in your business.

It’s scary to watch your idea fail. Sometimes, seemingly brilliant business ideas are just doomed to die because they never catch the imagination of the consumer.

But more often than you think, perfectly viable ideas turn to ash because their founders can’t read or don’t respond quickly enough to the smoke that signals the pending burnout.

When your idea isn’t working, it’s tempting to hope the problems will just fix themselves or, worse yet, blame the market, churn your team, throw more money at it or just run screaming. But fires don’t put themselves out. Before you take impulsive actions, take the time and the steps to snuff the flames before they burn your idea—and your business—to the ground.

When your idea isn’t working, take the time to stop, drop and roll.

Stop . . . and Identify the Problem

Where there’s smoke, there’s real chance of failure. When you sniff even the first hint of fire, stop and identify the problem—or risk fanning the flames and hampering any realistic attempts to salvage your idea.

Instead of focusing on the smoke, however, find the real cause of the fire. Don’t make assumptions.

Not being able to pay your bills, for example, could mean you’re not bringing in enough revenue, or it could mean you’re mismanaging your cash flow. Lackadaisical customers could mean you need to refocus on marketing or customer service or see if you miscalculated your market opportunity. If you can’t find (or retain) talent to get the work done, don’t fault a generational work ethic right out of the gate. Evaluate your communication, your management style or your own passion and conviction.

Drop . . . and Get Perspective

No one is ever going to love your idea more than you do, but if you can’t stir up enthusiasm among customers, employees, investors or even yourself, it may be time to snuff the idea altogether. Every business idea needs customers to fall in love with its product or service, and every business deserves a passionate champion who is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

But, should those boxes be checked, that doesn’t mean hanging on to an idea until its inevitable death. Recognize the difference between a failing and flailing idea.

Unfortunately, that honesty can be hard to come by. You aren’t the best person to judge the beauty of your baby, and those closest to you often won’t, or can’t, give you an honest assessment.

So drop out of the heat of your own passions and the day-to-day struggles of forcing your idea to work, and get perspective from trusted advisers. Reach out to a business counselor through SCORE or one of Kansas City’s regional Small Business Development Centers. Take a class that will help you hone particular skills, from finance to management to marketing. Sign up for a full curriculum that will help test the feasibility of your idea, like the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program or FastTrac. Or join a business roundtable to learn and share experiences with your peers.

The point: Avoid the temptation to spray and pay. Determine the source of the fire and make a plan to put it out.

Roll … and Move Forward

This may be your first fire. It won’t be your last. Just because your idea may have survived this round, that doesn’t make it—or you—fireproof.

Keep moving forward with a process that helps you evaluate where your idea or your business is growing. Every year, stop and assess what you’re doing, drop in outside perspective and roll out refined strategies to help your idea, startup or business grow. Having that annual routine—your stop, drop and roll—will help you make strategic business decisions rather than reactive, panicky and regrettable choices.

And if the idea doesn’t work out—that’s fine, too. Not all of them will. Failure is not an option, it’s an opportunity. It lets you see new markets, develop fresh strategies, and stoke imaginations. And it’s a constant, consistent and important part of this thing we call entrepreneurship. Fail well, fail fast and embrace it as part of your journey. Just don’t get burned.