One of the most common mistakes people make in business is thinking they don’t need to write things down.

At Map & Fire, we posted a short survey on our website to learn how people think about and improve their business. Two of the questions are:

  1. Is the overall vision and strategy of your business documented in a shareable format?
  2. Do you have a clear way to systematically improve your business over time?

The survey hasn’t been up long, but the early results show about 60% of the people need help with documenting, and 80% need help with ways to improve their business over time.

The thing is, those two items are closely related. Without documenting your business direction clearly, it’s nearly impossible to make real improvements over time. How will you know what to change? How will you know what’s been working and what hasn’t?

Unfortunately, your head is a terrible place to keep this information.

There’s plenty of research to show how flawed and irrational our thinking can be. We’re affected by countless biases that trip us up, skew our perception, and lead us in the wrong direction.

So, if you’re relying on your memory to make sense of your entire business and track progress, you’re bound to repeat mistakes and maybe even go in circles.

To fix this, you need to get those ideas out of your head and into some kind of document that you can share and actively improve. This could take several forms, such as a business model canvas, pitch deck, business plan, or something even simpler. But whatever it is, it has to be written down somehow.

Once your thoughts on your direction are structured in writing, you can move to something even more important: make meaningful improvements to them.

And the best way we know of to make these improvements is to run experiments on your business.

Treating your business like a laboratory

If you’re not familiar with the whole build-measure-learn cycle from The Lean Startup, the idea of running “experiments” on your business may sound a little strange. But running experiments on your business is actually pretty easy — and it can even be kind of fun.

The process is just like the experiments you used to do in science class (minus those sweet Bunsen burners). It goes like this:

  1. First, you state a hypothesis around a key assumption of your business.
  2. Then you test it out and collect data to determine if your hypothesis was correct or not.
  3. Based on what you learn, you either continue the experiment, change something about it and start again, or move on to something else.

For example: one recent experiment we conducted at Map & Fire was to test the effectiveness of Facebook ads for pushing people to download a free worksheet on our website. We had some success, but didn’t quite hit our goal. Because of that we’ll need to run the experiment again with some changes to our messaging in the hopes of hitting our goal next time.

That’s what’s really cool about experiments:

Whether you’re right or wrong, you’ll learn something important from the results.

And the documentation you create builds a knowledge base to help inform the right path to follow (and which paths to avoid).

And now, the experiment template:

NOTE: We have this same template as a free google doc template here.


The value of running experiments

Here’s a quick recap of the benefits of running experiments on your business:

  • Focus and alignment: Shared documents of your experiments gets everyone focused on the same goals using the same language. When things need to change, you’ll be able to discuss new solutions straight away instead of first rehashing how you got here.
  • A record of decisions: Planting stakes around your decisions is critical for learning. When you create a record of what works and what doesn’t, you gain confidence by building up a proven knowledge base. Iterating on those validated learnings is a key part of real improvement over time.
  • Free space, reduce stress: Whether you realize it or not, storing all that business information in your head is stressful. When you get your thoughts written down and organized it frees up mental bandwidth for new challenges and opportunities.
  • Recruiting help: When your thinking is documented and shareable it can be used to inspire others to join your team. When you share your thoughts this way it shows you’re committed and thoughtful about your growth.
  • Discover new paths: When ideas are only in your head, it’s easy to gloss over details. When you write things down in a structured way you have to articulate the finer points and question assumptions. This process can help trigger new perspectives on old problems.

Some Free Help to Get Started

If you’re in those 60% and 80% groups that need help with defining and improving your business, you’re obviously not alone. Now’s the time to jump over to the other side and get a clear advantage on the competition.

If you want some more help documenting your business direction, you can also download our free Purpose worksheet. It has some easy exercises for defining your Purpose, Vision, Values, and Big Goals. Spend a little time structuring your ideas and you’ll create a clear path for yourself and everyone else on your team.

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