Prioritize Your Opportunities with This Checklist

Ryan McGuire_235H
Ryan Mcguire

How do you evaluate a business opportunity? The world is replete with SWOT mechanisms for evaluating a prospective new product offering, as well as with opportunity assessment templates for evaluating a project against overall business goals, customer impact, strategic potential, and competitive urgency. These instruments play a vital role in acquisitions, new products and features, and even the new divisions of business you’d like to deploy.

But how do you evaluate the myriad smaller opportunities you come across every day? Should you speak at that event? Author a book? Attend a strategy summit?

Some years ago, I learned a fast and effective way to evaluate day-to-day opportunities from Dan Sullivan, the cofounder of Strategic Coach, which I have refined even further for myself. I have taught it to my teams and assistants as well, as a way for them to evaluate in advance whether an opportunity is worth recommending to me.

For leaders and organizations who have more capabilities than opportunities, the challenge is scouting enough of the right opportunities to fill their plate in an optimized way. For them, this instrument becomes an opportunity optimizer to evaluate and select the highest-ranking initiatives to pursue.

But many leaders and teams are blessed with far more opportunities than they can possibly seize. For them, this system becomes an opportunity filter to evaluate the most-optimal uses of your time and resources. Ultimately, as I have become skilled in using this metric, it has become a calculation that I can do in my head.

When you find an opportunity, or as you seek a new one to pursue, ask how it ranks according to five critical factors. Rank each item from -1 to +5 and tally your score. (Note: Starting with -1 highlights that some aspects of a project are actually a net negative — such as speaking to the wrong audience or the wrong industry.) The five critical factors:

1. Ability. Will this opportunity utilize your unique talents and abilities? For a company or team decision, does the opportunity highlight your greatest differentiation to customers? For you personally, does it showcase your greatest and best personal skills? In my case, making complex ideas simple is a skill that I have honed and that I enjoy to such a degree that if the answer is yes, I would rank this a 4 or a 5.

2. Reward. In some cases the impact reward will often carry more weight than the monetary consideration. For example, I have ranked speaking to a small group of teens at a crisis center higher than speaking to a large audience that may drive a six-figure revenue. The impact on these teens, in this case, becomes a benefit that can outweigh the financial compensation.

Consider the ripple effect of the immediate decision as well. In a purely business consideration, speaking to a small group of influencers who are likely to buy may outweigh the impact of speaking to a large audience for a large fee. Of course, it is always appropriate to see if the schedule or timing you are offered can be adjusted to allow you to capture both opportunities when the rewards on both sides are exceptionally high. It’s hard to put a numeric score on an opportunity that would literally result in saving even one life, but this aspect for me would clearly receive the highest possible score I could give it — a 5. In terms of a revenue reward, I have often ranked speaking to an audience of 100 or more of the right prospects a 5, and will often rearrange my schedule to seize such an opportunity.

3. Enhancement. We can’t experience maximum growth without stepping outside our comfort zone, as outside that zone is where the magic happens. Let’s say an interview or speech to 100 doctors or real estate experts would require preparation in an area you’ve never fully studied before. Should you take that opportunity, or should you do the thing that is entirely within your comfort zone? In my case, if an opportunity requires me to grow, I will rank it a 5.

4. Appreciation. In the real estate business, appreciation refers to the increasing worth of an asset, as when your house appreciates in value. Likewise, in a business opportunity, appreciation means an increase in value for the audience or customer base. By assessing the potential increase in engagement, loyalty, and willingness to buy, we can assign this factor an appropriate score. For example, a meeting to educate the general public about planning for retirement may be worth a 3 in my estimation, but if the audience is primarily Baby Boomers who are preparing for retirement, the future potential for a working relationship is high enough that I would probably rank it a 5.

5. Referral. Ideally, I would not want an opportunity to be a dead end or a one-off experience. Far better is an opportunity that yields cross-pollination — such as referrals to new customers or new opportunities to market the business. For example, if I have an opportunity to present to an audience of business leaders and savers who are serious about planning for their retirement, or who are are already in retirement, the value of this referral opportunity could be worth many times the number of people in the room. Depending on the quality of that alignment, I would rank that opportunity a 4 or a 5.

I use the opportunity filter so frequently that it is easy to tally the score in my head. An opportunity that scores a 15 or lower is not worth considering or bringing forward for a discussion unless my schedule is open enough, or there are extenuating circumstances. But for a score of 20 or higher, the decision is clear: We move forward, full steam ahead.

When you first begin to use this opportunity filter, you may want to post the five critical factors in a visible place, as a quick reminder. But eventually this assessment may become second nature. As it does, your profitability and effectiveness, as well as your team’s, will soar.

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