Reach your goals faster: Are you a Starter or a Finisher?

Reach your goals faster, by knowing if you're a Starter or a Finisher.
Written by: Karl Sakas

A new coaching client said he’d been stuck for the past year. He and his team had big goals for the agency… but they’d failed to launch any new initiatives. Instead of “reach your goals faster,” it was “try to reach any goals at all.” It was another year of treading water.

During the onboarding process, I dug into the root cause. The primary issue: they had good ideas… but no follow-through.

He and his co-founder inspired their team… but no one wanted to take the lead on making it all happen. His operations director was overloaded, new fires had popped up, and the new goals and initiatives kept slipping through the cracks.

As I dug deeper, I found a bigger problem—one that he needed to fix, or else he’d be stuck for another year, too. His agency had lots of Starters… but no Finishers.

Your agency might be facing a similar problem today. Fortunately, you can fix it—and then prevent it in the future.

Work Styler: Are you primarily a Starter or a Finisher?

Both of these work styles have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to getting things done. However, it’s important to know which category you fall into because it will help you get more done with less effort by tapping into your natural workflow. Let’s take a look at both styles, what they excel at, and what they might need help with.

Are you a “Starter”?

If you’re a Starter, you’re great at kicking things off. For instance, you might love sales and recruiting, or coming up with great ideas. You thrive in those beginning stages: brainstorming, outlining, and maybe even the first few steps. You love the thrill of starting something new—of a fresh idea to sink your teeth into.

A Starter is like a screenwriter for a movie. They set things into motion—by writing the script, creating characters, settings, and actions to drive the plot. But screenwriters are just the beginning of the movie-making process. In order to create and release a feature film, you need more than just words on a page. A director needs to come in and actually film the movie with actors and set designers and stunt coordinators. A script might be the “instructions” for a film, but it takes more than that to bring those pages to life.

Once the shine of a new project starts to dim, Starters may find themselves needing help continuing or finishing. The motivation to keep going dies out and they’re left feeling at best uninspired or at worst burned out. That’s why they need a Finisher.

Are you a “Finisher”?

If you’re a Finisher, you love turning concepts into reality. Your operations mindset turns the Starter’s big ideas into something tangible. You’re one to take the baton and run across the finish line rather than starting the race yourself. You likely enjoy finding and fixing problems that may have gone overlooked. The Starter might have come up with the idea, but you’re the one who brings the whole thing home.

A Finisher is like a director. Once the script is written, they (and a bunch of other people) decide how the film will be shot. They may also have a hand in which actors are cast in the leading roles and what the set looks like. The director is useless, however, without a script. The screenwriter (Starter) and the director (Finisher) need each other to make a movie!

There’s nothing wrong with being a Finisher. In fact, every Starter needs someone like you. Without you, the Starter is left with countless bright ideas but no finished products. Together, you bring a project through its entire life cycle in a way neither of you could manage alone.

Sidebar: How does “Starter vs. Finisher” compare to “Visionary vs. Integrator”?

There’s some overlap here with the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) concepts of “Visionaries” and “Integrators.” But those are more about high-level, big-picture strategy and implementation. In contrast, the “Starter” and “Finisher” concept is more about action.

Real-World Examples: Starter vs. Finisher

Let’s look at some examples of Starters and Finishers, including how they work an agency setting.

Example #1: Starter offloads their “Finisher” work

The owner of an agency in the Midwest was a great strategist, but he’d go to meetings and end up with an endless to-do list. It was difficult for him to have such a long, unorganized list of action items. He found it difficult to sort out which items he needed to do personally and what could be delegated.

Sensing that he was a Starter, I challenged him to leave a majority of his meetings without any personal to-do’s. Instead, he had another team member in the meeting to either handle actionables themselves, or to create a structure for the ones he did need to personally complete. This way, he could focus on the things he actually needed to get done in order to bring the project to completion instead of staring at a menacing to-do list all day.

The result? He could focus on what he did best… and his team could support him on the rest.

Example #2: Recruiting a Finisher for the Finisher

Here’s another example: I once worked with two agency leaders on the East Coast; one who led sales and one who led operations. The operations head had a second-in-command, a Director of Operations. Things went well at first, but as the agency grew, the Director needed support.

I identified that even though he was a Finisher for his Starter, he needed to have his own #2 to be his Finisher. Sometimes at the leadership level, even Finishers benefits from having a Finisher to support them.

Of course, not everyone falls so neatly into these two categories. Most people are some degree of both Starter and Finisher. For instance, if you’re a CEO you’re probably 90% Starter, 10% Finisher; If you’re a COO, you’re probably 50% Starter, 50% Finisher; and if you’re an Operations Manager, you might be 20% Starter, 80% Finisher.

Example #3: Shifting from Finisher to Starter

Can you shift from Finisher to Starter, or from Starter to Finisher? Yes! The key is to recognize where you are today, and to get help filling in the gaps.

Historically, I’ve been more of a Finisher. For instance, as an agency Project Manager, I would implement what the sales team sold. And I still like follow-through—especially when it comes to supporting my clients. More than one agency owner has called me the “most organized person [they’ve] ever met.”

Yet a decade into running my business, I’m increasingly drawn to Starter activities within my own business. For instance, I might identify a potential partnership, and then get my team’s help finalizing the fulfillment details. Or I might identify the need for a new role… and then get my team’s help defining and hiring the right person.

What Roles Do You and Your Team Play?

Take a moment to reflect on which category you primarily fall into: Starter or Finisher? (You might fit both, but you likely lean more toward one than the other.)

Based on that answer, you’ll want to partner with people in the opposite category as you grow your agency.

  • If you already have a business partner, it’ll be helpful to know how they operate.
  • It will also give you structure on how to work with them effectively—and where to recruit further help if (for instance) you’re both Starters or both Finishers.

If you don’t have a business partner, this exercise will help you know who you should be looking to hire.

  • If you’re a Starter, you don’t want another one coming in to add more unfinished projects to the pile.
  • Likewise, if you’re a Finisher, having two of you around isn’t going to amount to much either. You need both so if you’re still looking for a second in command to bring onto the team, make sure to dig-into the topic with potential candidates how they identify.

From here, you can create the right roles for your agency, using the “Starter vs. Finisher” model. For more ideas on how to reach your goals faster, check out my book: Work Less, Earn More: How to Escape the Daily Grind of Agency Ownership.

Question: Do you lean toward being a Starter or a Finisher?

Feeling stuck?

Wish you had an expert, confidential sounding board? Has your romantic partner told you to STOP complaining about your agency? Help is here! 

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