_We all have ideas. The kind of epiphanies that seem to spawn in our minds just before we fall asleep for the night and then keep us wide awake for hours imagining how we will execute them and change both our lives and the world forever. The self-cleaning toilet, a non-profit for saving endangered Turtles, a guide book about escaping credit card debt. There are no limitations on space for our collective idea inventory. Yet, for some reason only a tiny percentage of these ideas ever come to fruition.

Typically, we open our eyes the next day to discover that the idea already exists or we may have just been delirious the night prior and talk ourselves out of it. Just as often, we continue to see the idea as great, shelf it regardless and proceed with our routines. As 2012 inches closer I want to encourage those true entrepreneurs out there to finally make the visions you just aren’t able to shake into reality. You may tell yourself every New Years that this is the year you’re going to change your life by quitting your job and doing what you are passionate about. It might be opening a specialty store, going back to school, creating a website or even launching a company or product. Some of you, like many C2Bseen clients, have taken this step and are well on your way to realizing that dream. Others are still stirring with the ‘what ifs’ of abandoning comfort zones while remaining fearful of taking risks.

Here are a few key steps to helping you transition from an idea person to an entrepreneur in 2012:

Eliminate ‘Can’t’
Write down all of the reasons why you shouldn’t pursue your entrepreneurial vision and why you can’t. Now come up with counter points for why you should pursue the vision and cross off everything you wrote under the ‘can’t’ category. You can do anything.

Anticipate Change
Realistically outline the changes you’ll have to make in your life to focus on your project. Include solutions for how you will overcome the barriers that these changes will present. For example, if you have children you may be unsure of how to balance their activity schedule with your new endeavor. There are plenty of options if you eliminate ‘can’t’ from the equation: you may consider asking a relative or friend to help you, assess how you can re-balance their needs by asking for extra involvement from your spouse or find ways to break up the day into specific blocks of time that you are completely committed to your work without interruption while the kids are occupied. Again, this is about finding ways to make things ‘go’ rather than stopping yourself before you start.

Conduct Research
Do some research- check to be sure your idea has demand from an audience that you can reach and familiarize yourself with the competitive landscape. Do not let the fact that competitors exist keep you from pushing forward. If others hold your idea it means that there is likely a need for it. Market share is always open for the taking if you can deliver a better version of the product or service. See what competitors are doing right and what they might be missing. Speak to the end consumer before conducting steps of branding or execution. Adapting other entrepreneur’s concepts is an entire industry in itself. Just be aware of copyright and trademark infringement before playing with anyone's ideas. If no one else is doing what you are, be sure you understand why. There might not be a market for you or you might need to create the market yourself. These can be daunting challenges, but often see the biggest payoffs when carefully approached.

Engage a Professional
There are many consulting companies, including C2Bseen, available to help you navigate the questions that arise from launching a new brand. You might be someone that prefers not to go it alone or you may wish to receive expert advice to reassure you are taking the steps that will result in the highest probability of success. It is often worth the investment to get a professional opinion, as it will save you from having to backtrack and resolve preventable problems later on. You will also need to collaborate with other contractors to fulfill the needs you personally cannot, such as graphic design and accounting services. Write each of these needs down. Then, be patient in finding the best value available to you by speaking with other entrepreneurs, reading review sites and getting quotes from a variety of vendors before settling on one for each task. Consultants often have these networks built into their service offerings. Ultimately, do not do anything until you have a clear business plan. Even if it is just a series of notes on scrap paper...have a plan.

Do Not Quit Your Job
Anticipate your financial needs and continue to work until you are stable enough to concentrate on entrepreneurship full-time. There are many hours prior to a normal work day or after, as well as weekends and vacation days that will allow you to ease into this new world of risk. Entrepreneurs have always been associated with risk-taking. From someone that has been down this path and watched countless others do the same, it is important to emphasize that you should be taking calculated risks. Too many idea people rush the process and go broke before they achieve their goals. Patience is just as important as passion in this case. You will know when it is time to quit your job when the dollars make sense.

Generate a list of goals and a schedule that will realistically allow you to bring your vision to market on a timeline that suits you. Know that any worthwhile pursuit will take an incredible amount of energy, hard work and time. Do not falter on the days that you feel overwhelmed. Simply take a break to find your balance and return to the next task when ready. Becoming an entrepreneur takes one main thing: discipline. Without self-control you will not succeed. Be conscious of this every day and stick to the plan. Eventually, your persistence will pay off.

Have Fun
The main reason to be your own boss is that it allows you the freedom to shape your life as you see fit. Remember that you are taking these risks for the rewards and the rewards can be plentiful if you are willing to put in the work to receive them. Take vacations after you have reached a major milestone, pause at lunch for a walk or a workout, sleep in on a Wednesday once in a while (but make up for it by working a Saturday). Simply put: never forget why you chose this incredible path into entrepreneurship.

I wish each of you success in whatever your 2012 goals might be and invite anyone interested to contact me directly to discuss your lingering questions related to entrepreneurship. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year. -Jeff

__VH1 frequently airs their well-produced and introspective looks at Saturday Night Live during the 90’s and 2000’s.  After several hours of couch fixated engagement with the addictive specials I was left with a final conclusion: SNL is as close as we come to  institution engrained in pop culture; powerful enough to influence public opinion, consumerism and politics, while equally capable of making you pee your pants. How did a sketch comedy program become a globally influential force? To answer this question I decided to examine the Saturday Night Live Formula for Brand Longevity and provide tips for applying their success to your own brands…

1. The Structure

SNL has held 36 seasons of live performances from 30 Rockefeller Center. From this controlled environment we can all predict how each week will run. The show follows a set routine:  Introduction by a guest host. Skits. Musical performance. More skits. Second musical performance. Closing skit. Goodnight. (On occasion pre-taped clips such as TV Funnyhouse, Digital Shorts or mock advertisements are also incorporated). The audience knows what to expect and SNL sticks to what works. Surprises come throughout each episode, but at their core each is the same.

C2bseen Tip: Maintain a predictable, comfortable and recognizable structure to your business model. Interject subtle adaptations across your products without straying too far from what your customers have grown to trust.

2. The Talent

Each member of the SNL team contributes with their own style. Some are well-versed stand-up acts (head writer Seth Meyers), others incredible impressionists (hilarious newbie Jay Pharoah) or trend-shapers (viral video wizard Andy Samberg). Strategically, no two employees are the same. Guest hosts also bring a fresh set of talents to the table.

C2bseen Tip: Group think is detrimental to creativity. Diversifying your team with each new hire serves as a weapon of defense against dull collectivism. Asking for perspective from outside your organization also promotes dynamism across your processes.

3. The Leadership

Every brilliant brand has a maestro at the helm. For SNL it is Lorne Michaels- a puppet master of sorts who orchestrates each performance using lessons learned from the week before, newsworthy plot lines and the input of his versatile cast and writers. By empowering talented individuals to provide their opinions he allows for the cream to rise to the top. He’s also legendary for adapting to personnel turnover.

C2bseen Tip: One man can lead the band, but the instruments need musicians to play. Encourage an open discourse amongst your employees and avoid stifling opinions based on titles or experience levels. The intern might have the best idea in the room. If someone is playing out of tune or walks off with their tuba be ready to find the right piece to replace them.

4. The Timeliness

Skits on SNL reflect nearly up-to-the-minute current events. Fans know that SNL is paying attention to the world and ready to offer up their best jabs. No subject is off limits and shock and awe are always in-play.

C2bseen Tip: Remain relevant by paying attention to what is happening around you. Is your marketing approach outdated? Did your rival launch an innovative new product? Where else does your audience gather? Through daily observation you can adjust your strategies accordingly.

5. The Audience

The final judge for deciding what makes it to air is the SNL audience. A dress rehearsal prior to the live show allows for final tweaks and cuts to skits. Are the fans still bursting their lungs laughing to ‘What’s Up with That’? Does Kristen Wiig seem off tonight? In-studio guests let the SNL production group know before they expose a bad decision to the worldwide viewing community.

C2bseen Tip: The SNL audience is a glorified focus group. Only the consumer can tell you if they enjoy your product. Don’t be afraid to ask them. Putting yourself face-to-face with your customers in the places where they use your product is vital to analyzing what is working and what isn’t. Social communication tools and applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or Amazon message boards are all locations where you can directly speak with your customers and request feedback as well. Still, nothing is better than seeing them interact with your product first hand. Consumers are discussing your product with or without you. Wouldn’t you rather be in on the conversation?

Saturday Night Live has taught us that the blending of observation, timeliness and mixed perspective can power an incredible product. Mix-in an open communication policy with your target audience and establish a resilient set of core values and your brand just might become the next great American institution; hopefully without anyone having to change their pants.

Do you have additional ideas for applying lessons learned from Saturday Night Live to your business? Please respond to this post with your thoughts or contact me via email: jeff@c2bseen.com.

I am currently working with a visionary client to launch a project focused on teenagers and the issues they face. While conducting extensive research I fell into a time portal and found myself reliving scenes from my own adolescence. A particular event stuck out.

In 7th grade my social stock plummeted when my group of friends decided to play football and I focused on soccer. Going to a small private middle school meant that once you were outside looking in you were more or less alone. Popularity had suddenly started to matter the year before when the guys started paying more attention to the girls. One-upping, sarcasm and bullying were commonplace. We luckily didn’t have to deal with technology perpetuating things further when we arrived home. Instead, our biggest fear was the 45 minutes spent on the playground each day.

The playground can teach us a lot about evaluating how we represent ourselves and our brand. Here are 10 ways you can apply the rules of the playground to your personal lives and businesses:

1.       You’ll need allies, but don’t be afraid to go it alone if group mentality requires you to go against your core values.

2.       Be different. Going against the grain breeds jealousy and envy from those unwilling to break-away from what is trendy and cool. Nerds have achieved incredible things in this world. So have weirdos and freaks.

3.       Pulling the fire alarm or tattling won’t help you when you’re face to face with problems. Neither will running away. Address issues head on and don’t back down from challenges.

4.       You have to be in the game to play. Watching from the sidelines means everyone else is getting better, learning and forming bonds. Stay involved.

5.       Never shy away from a leadership opportunity. Even if no one else follows.

6.       Be clever and resilient. Showing weakness gets us nowhere.

7.       Work harder, don’t try harder. Trying to impress anyone is a waste of time. Being impressive takes hard work. Focus on the latter and you won’t need to try.

8.       Keep things in perspective. Stay above childish antics and avoid embarrassing emotional reactions when things aren’t going your way. You’ll earn respect if you don’t see retaliation as the answer.

9.       Laugh. Even in the worst of times laughter will get you further than anguish.

10.   Prevail. Time heals most wounds in life and business. You made plenty of mistakes in the school yard and you’ll make them again in your professional life. Don’t let them stunt your willingness to progress.

As a kid, having popularity and losing it forced me to evaluate who and what mattered in my young social life. Eventually I learned to hold tight to those that don’t care about popularity to begin with. I’ve also learned a lot about myself, grown into my own skin and vowed never to abandon my personal values to fit someone else’s vision. I write this as the founder of my own company lucky to be playing on the professional playground by my rules. Some of my middle school bullies are now my best supporters.