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Pardon the language but I can’t express it better than that! My very unscientific conviction is that 70% of any business opportunity is hidden in plain sight and the reason for that is simply that entrepreneurs don’t shut up and listen.


My advice of keeping quiet is often given in conversations with entrepreneurs when the topic circles around:


“This is what I am going to do, Lena! Advise me on how to make it happen!”. That’s when I start poking with questions like “how do you know that is what you are going to do?”.


The answers I get range from “I have discussed it with my friends, my colleagues, my family” via “I have read a report that shows that there is a huge market potential”, to “I asked people in a survey monkey if they would pay for my solution”.


Here is my conclusion whenever I hear riffs like above: the entrepreneur has spent an awful lot of time talking instead of listening. And because of that, in interactions with potential customers, quite often (s)he has not paid attention to what the customers are struggling with. So, the entrepreneur ends up missing important clues to what could make the business even more successful and sustainable than the solution they are currently focusing on.


How to shut up and listen? Well, for sure, this is no rocket science where you need an MBA to succeed. And most definitely, any entrepreneur will benefit from refining her listening skills. You do not need to worry about developing the skillset for being a better talker, there will be plenty of time for developing that.


However, you will not know what to talk about (and whom to talk to) if you haven't listened first and done it enough! And here are some of my suggestions for practicing Shut Up and Listen:


  1. Be seriously interested in what your potential customers, partners, stakeholders, etc. want to share with you. If you have a hard time convincing yourself that they have something interesting to say: a) find someone else to listen to, b) ask yourself if you have a more overarching problem, i.e., you are not that interested at all in listening to people. If that is the case: i) forget about being an entrepreneur, or ii) work on your listening skills.

  2. Paraphrase to make sure that you heard what potential customers and others shared by saying: “What I hear you say is X, Y, Z.”. Ask them to confirm, clarify, or add.

  3. Collect everything that helps you remember what they shared, where they shared it, and how. Take notes in writing (keywords, full sentences, a poem even); use your camera to take photos or videos. Draw or sketch.

  4. Then, make a collage of what you heard. Use lots and lots of Post-Its.

  5. Move the Post-Its around and around. A pattern of keywords, testimonials, examples and stories will emerge. This pattern will help you identify whatever is hidden in plain sight for you and guide you towards the right combination of Pain-Customers-Painkiller with Delight. And it will for sure allow you to chisel out a more unique business opportunity that is faster to execute on, e.g., decide on customer acquisition strategy, define business model, realize who your partners will be.


Sounds hard to do? Not really, just shut up and listen!

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