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Dan Sullivan's Approach To Tool Creation For Strategic Coach


People often ask me, “Dan, how do you come up with your worksheets?”

The truth is, they’ve developed over a long period of time. I had 15 years of coaching experience before I created Strategic Coach with my wife and partner, Babs, and I’ve personally coached over 6,000 entrepreneurs since I started coaching in 1974. Drawing on all that experience has helped me to understand what entrepreneurs struggle with and inspired me to develop worksheets around those topics and situations.

My experience as a copywriter and layout designer also helped, allowing me to convey the right information within a small space. I did a lot of agency work during my younger years, so I’m used to creating professional-looking materials, and I’ve developed a good eye for it.

But really, it goes beyond my personal skill sets. Anyone who’s been involved with Strategic Coach for any length of time will tell you that all of our worksheets share a similar format—and it all started with The Strategy Circle.

The Strategy Circle.

The Strategy Circle was the first worksheet I ever created, back in 1982. This one worksheet was central to the creation of Strategic Coach and it is still ever-present in the company today. Every Strategic Coach client fills out The Strategy Circle, and nearly every worksheet I’ve created follows a similar format.

I developed The Strategy Circle after realizing that there are four components to nearly everything you do in life:

  1. There’s the vision of what you want to see in the future.
  2. There are the present obstacles that get in the way of achieving your vision.
  3. There is a decision you need to transform each of those obstacles.
  4. There are the actions that come out of those decisions.

These are the four primary components of The Strategy Circle. This is an exercise that can be incredibly valuable for anyone—entrepreneur or not—at any stage in their lives or businesses. It’s the simplest way to analyze where you’ve been, where you’re at now, where you want to be, and how to get there.

As with many of our Strategic Coach worksheets, I initially created The Strategy Circle for myself, but I soon found that it could be useful to others. That worksheet went on to catapult the launch of Strategic Coach and then influence nearly everything we do and all of the worksheets I’ve created since.

So, why do nearly all of our worksheets share a similar format to The Strategy Circle? And what, ultimately, makes for a great worksheet?

Let’s take a look.

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Past, present, and future experiences.

When I look at all of the worksheets I’ve created, the vast majority of them incorporate past, present, and future experiences of the person filling them out.

I did this intentionally because I’ve realized that nobody wants to start from zero. If you’re presented with a worksheet or a project where you don’t know anything and don’t have a clue where to start, it can be demoralizing and difficult to figure out how to proceed.

That’s why all of our Strategic Coach worksheets start with past experiences.

Most people don’t realize that they have a vast collection of past experiences to draw on to guide them through the present and into the future. Rarely, if ever, does anyone really “start from zero.” Embedding ourselves in our past experiences instills confidence and makes us feel comfortable. There is a lot of learning that comes from analyzing past experiences, and that allows us to start thinking about the present and future in a much more meaningful, productive way. Instead of guessing or getting discouraged, we can look to our past experiences—good or bad—and the lessons learned to guide us on the path forward.

The other benefit to focusing on past experiences is that it keeps everyone engaged. People don’t like doing things they find boring—especially entrepreneurs—and one thing that is guaranteed to hold someone’s attention is their own experience. A worksheet is only valuable if the person working on it is engaged and invested in the process.

The questions are for you, not me.

Another commonality you’ll notice is that nearly every Strategic Coach worksheet starts with a question. In the case of The Strategy Circle, this question was simple: “What is your vision?”

Someone who is new to Strategic Coach might think these questions are for us to understand more about your business and guide you in the right direction. But, really, these questions are for you.

I’m not asking the question to get your answer. I’m asking the question so you get your answer.

The point of these worksheets is for you to start thinking about your thinking. They are a doorway to having a conversation with yourself, and that’s why I intentionally structure each worksheet to ask you only about your own experiences.

No one knows more about you than you. Every Strategic Coach worksheet is based on your own emotions, insights, and experiences. When people fill out our worksheets for the first time, they realize they’d never been able to think this way before because no one had asked them these questions.

They’re designed to simplify.

All of our Strategic Coach worksheets are designed to simplify and clarify your take on a particular entrepreneurial situation. And that doesn’t mean it’s strictly business-related—these tools can be applied to any aspect of business or personal life.

When you simplify and clarify your past experiences, there are generally two outcomes. There’s one part that you really liked and one part that you didn’t like. The goal then becomes to repeat or enhance the good things while eliminating the bad things. It’s really quite simple when you break it down like this.

I also intentionally design my worksheets with limited space for answers. Part of this is a reflex from my time working as an ad copywriter—where space was often limited to a six-inch column—but there are other benefits. Having limited space forces you to think only about what’s most important.

When we use these worksheets in our workshops, I typically give everyone a few minutes to fill them out for themselves. Then, we break into groups to share our findings and insights. But before we separate, I like to simplify it even further. I ask them to choose just three to four items from their worksheet to share with their group. These, of course, end up being the most impactful and insightful findings from the worksheet.

This is also one of the most popular parts of our workshops. Everyone likes finding insights about their own experiences, but they love hearing insights from the entrepreneurs around them. Everyone absorbs advice, direction, and confidence from the people in their group.

The point of these worksheets is not to write a novel. When you have limited space to write—and conversely, think—you’re able to simplify everything.

I use every worksheet myself.

If you’ve used any of our Strategic Coach worksheets, you know that I use them all myself. You know that because every worksheet comes with a blank version that you can fill in, plus a version that I’ve filled in myself. This is not just filler copy—I actually write this out myself using my own experiences. I never release a tool for entrepreneurs to fill in until they can see how I’ve applied it to my own experience.

That’s primarily because I develop most of these tools for myself. I use them to solve my own problems and overcome my own challenges—and they happen to be very useful to many other entrepreneurs.

About the Author

Dan Sullivan is the world’s foremost expert on entrepreneurship in action. He is the founder of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of The Strategic Coach® Program. Visionary, creative, wise, playful, and generous, he is a true champion of entrepreneurs worldwide.

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