Build your business backwards (to get there faster)

Do you know what kind of shoe polish is the best for your shoes? It turns out there are three kinds of shoe polish; liquid-based, cream-based and paste- or wax-based. Most aficionados will tell you to throw out the liquid-based polishes. They will also tell you that cream-based will condition the leather of your shoes better than wax-based polishes, but wax-based polishes will give you a higher shine. And that there is a vast difference between the different kinds of polishes on the market. And, as I discovered, that the most common wax-based polishes I use for my shoes are to be pooh-poohed because they're not nearly as good as the elite brands.

When you really get into any subject, there's an amazing amount of detail to be discovered. The shoe polish example above is just one vaguely interesting topic; you can get into excruciating detail in almost any subject.

But how does shoe polish, or any other micro-detailed subject, relate to building a business? The answer lies in the details - or rather, the incredible number of details once you dive into the subject.

Building a business - a plethora of details

Building a business is a scary thing. There are a ton of moving parts, and each moving part (like marketing, or sales, or your brand) has numerous details that you have to deal with.

When we first start out building a business, we just don't know how many details there are. And perhaps that's a good thing, because if we knew how many details we would have to deal with, we would probably never start.

But we do start, and we learn about the details, and we tick off each item on a monster to-do list before we're ready to launch. We want to get everything "right" before we launch, so we obsess over every detail, tuning it, fine-tuning it and doing it over again because we're not sure what's going to work.

If you have any degree of perfectionism, you will be familiar with this pattern. Us perfectionists (and yes, I'm one too) want to get everything absolutely right before we launch the business, or a new product or service.

If we're not careful, we can spend all our time fine-tuning details. But there won't be any revenue until we've launched the business, so the pressure mounts to get out there.

So how can we avoid getting swamped by all the details?

Build it backwards

One way to avoid getting swamped by all the details is to build your business backwards.

To understand how this works, first a bit of background:

If you've familiar with my work, you will know about the Tornado Method. The Tornado Method is a framework for designing, building and running a business. There are 11 elements in three layers—get all 11 right and you will not only have a successful business, you will have a life as well.

The top layer of the Tornado Method is the Revenue Engine - the sequence of marketing, lead nurturing, sales, delivery and follow up that every business needs to generate reliable revenue streams. Here's what it looks like:


When we start out building a business, we're tempted to start with Marketing, the first stage of the Revenue Engine. Once we have that sorted out, we can decide how we're going to nurture our leads and then how (and what) we're going to sell.

But each of these elements have a ton of details in them, and we can easily get lost, overloaded and overwhelmed by everything we have to do.

One way to avoid this overwhelm is to build the business backwards.

Rather than starting with marketing, start with Delivery, the stage where we actually deliver our products or services. Once you've sorted out how you're going to deliver your products or services, you figure out how you're going to sell, then how you're going to nurture your leads, and so on.

The underlying principle

The principle underlying the "build it backwards" methodology is the following:

Design each stage of your Revenue Engine to have the absolute minimum you need to have a viable business.

In the Tornado Method, this is called a Minimum Viable Revenue Engine, or MVRE.

You're probably already familiar with the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP) - the minimum product or service you can successfully sell. Rather than add all the bells and whistles to your product before you sell it, build just the minimum viable product so you can get to market faster and start getting feedback about what people really want.

The concept of the MVRE is similar. Rather than build every detail in your business, build just the minimum you need for each stage of your Revenue Engine so you can launch faster and start getting feedback about what's working.

Figuring out what your "minimum viable" marketing, lead nurturing and sales should be can however be difficult. You can make it a lot easier by designing (and building) your Revenue Engine backwards.

How it works

To build your business backwards, create a checklist under each stage of the Revenue Engine, working backwards from the Delivery stage.

Imagine that you've just landed your ideal client and you're getting ready to start delivering your service (the Delivery stage of your Revenue Engine). Ask yourself the following question:

What is the absolute minimum I have to have in place to DELIVER my product or service?

Remember, you've made the sale, so you only have to focus on delivery. The minimum you will need may include:

  • A deposit from your client safely in your bank account.
  • A checklist for delivering your product or service.
  • A questionnaire to kick off the work.
  • A first meeting set up with the client.

These items belong in the Delivery stage of your Revenue Engine, so you want to add them as a checklist in this box. Here's what it looks like:


With that in place, you can now move backwards one stage to the Sales stage of the Revenue Engine. Again, you're going to ask the key question:

What is the absolute minimum I have to have in place to SELL my product or service?

Your checklist may include some of the following:

  • Your product or service offerings (what you're selling).
  • A defined sales process, perhaps including an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and how to handle objections.
  • A contract template (if you need contracts).
  • Sales collateral, like brochures or detailed product or service web pages.
  • Case studies, references or testimonials from previous clients.
  • A way to accept payments (cheque, bank transfers or other electronic payment methods).

When you're done, you could have something that looks like this:


Now repeat the exercise for the Lead Nurturing stage using the following question:

What is the absolute minimum I have to have in place to NURTURE MY LEADS?

And finally, for the Marketing stage:

What is the absolute minimum I have to have in place to MARKET my products and services?

Your final MVRE may look something like this:


This is your master checklist for the minimum you have to do to launch your product or service - and your business.

How this helps

You now have a checklist of the minimum you have to do to market your products or services, nurture your leads, make the sale and deliver your products or services. This is your Minimum Viable Revenue Engine (MVRE).

Each of the items on your MVRE checklist may still be a lot of work to get done, but your checklist should be a lot smaller than trying to start with a random list of stuff to do.

In the process of building each of these items you may discover more items you will have to add to your list, but before you add it to your list, ask yourself:

Do I absolutely have to have this for my business to work, or is it just a nice to have?

Where you can, put additional items in a "backlog" or "future" list rather than adding it to your MVRE checklist. You still have a lot to do, so you want to avoid adding more items if you don't have to.

Using this methodology will also help you deal with overwhelm. By putting each to-do item in the appropriate box of the Revenue Engine, you're reducing the number of items you have to deal with at any one time, and you know that something is on the list so you don't have to keep worrying about it.

The best shoe polish brushes are made from horse hair

I didn't bother to go and find out why horse hair makes for the best kind of shoe brush; I suspect it is the combination of stiffness, durability and flexibility. But I did find out that (according to the experts) there is not much of a difference between expensive horse hair brushes and cheaper alternatives - as long as they use horse hair.

It was a huge temptation to get lost down an Internet rabbit hole doing this research - for now I think I know enough about caring for my shoes to know which kind of polish to buy, sticking to brushes made from horse hair and leaving the polish on for 5 to 10 minutes before starting to buff.

Building your business, just like polishing your shoes, is an exercise in managing how much detail you need to master. You don't need to be an expert in all of it, but you need to master the minimum - after that you can choose to master more depending on where your interests take you.

Call to Action

The Tornado Method is the world's simplest system for designing, building and running a business. You can download the free Beginner's Guide to the Tornado Method here. And if you have any questions, I would be delighted to see if I can help!

Good luck building your business!

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