You have a great business idea, but you don't know how or where to get started.
It happens to many people, and it's usually the first challenge in the long journey of bringing a new business to life.
Defining an idea from scratch is not an easy process – it requires passion, a lot of patience, and the ability to draw a consistent business plan that successfully puts your idea into action.
In this article, we'll go over the first things to consider when building a business – defining your idea, product validation, and defining your motivation. Together, this will form your basis for a successful strategy.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to lay a strong foundation. No matter how tempting it can be to rush into a new project, you'll thank yourself in the long run for taking the time to go over these crucial first steps to bring your idea from conception to reality.
Defining your raw idea
Before diving into putting your idea into words, it's essential to understand not only what you have in mind, but also how it would look in reality. In other words, we need to define the "raw idea" we have in mind to turn it into a more "developed" version to start working with.
So, what's the difference between raw ideas and developed ideas?
Raw idea: an idea for an opportunity you see.
Ex. "I want to make board games for young adults."
- Developed idea: an idea within the framework of a concrete plan.
Ex. "I will create board games and sell them to boutique board game stores and also on my own website."
In other words, the raw idea allows us to start planning the business while the developed one starts building it. However, your business idea doesn't need to be fully defined before you start working on it – it will evolve as time goes on.
Now let's look at the different techniques that can help us define your idea into something practical.
Validate your idea
Idea validation is possibly the single most important step of your business journey. Essentially, it answers the question of “does anyone actually want or need my product”, and “will people actually pay money for my product”.
If the answer is no to either of these questions, then there is no point in continuing with this idea.
That's the way business works – no matter how passionate you may be about your idea, if there isn't a market for it (aka people willing to buy your product), then you won't have the money to continue running your business.
There are different ways you can validate an idea, but all of them involve receiving feedback from potential customers.
Here are three common techniques to collect the feedback you need.
This concept speaks for itself and is likely the first step in your product validation process. Talk and debate the idea with your colleagues, family members, or friends over dinner, during a coffee break in the office, etc.
While many burgeoning entrepreneurs are afraid of sharing their business ideas before they're ready to be launched out of fear that someone could steal their idea. But seasoned entrepreneurs know that this is a major myth, and that sharing your idea is a key to success.
Why is it so important to tell people about your idea?
- Your product might already exist – by telling other people about it, you might find out that the problem you're looking to solve is already solved.
- People may share a perspective that you haven't thought of yet.
- People you talk to might be able to put you in touch with a relevant contact, or point you in the direction of helpful information.
There's a saying that “two heads are better than one”, and that is definitely true for business. The more information you gather, the greater the chances for success. Because each person's experience is so different, you only stand to benefit from talking to others.
Surveys are used to collect information from people, which will be used afterward as feedback to evaluate your idea's effectiveness and practical possibilities. You can quickly set up a survey with tools like Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, or others and send it out to a selected group of people that could be your potential customers.
The idea for the survey would be to understand if there are enough people with the same problem. This will tell you if there's a market for your service.
Things you can ask in a survey:
- Where do you turn to solve problem x? (fill in “x” with the problem you hope to solve)
- How likely are you to buy a product that y? (fill in “y” with a description of what your product does)
- How much would you be willing to pay for a product that does y? (fill in “y” with a description of what your product does)
These are just a few ideas. There are many resources online for building product validation surveys, Google is your friend.
Once you have a survey prepared, you have to distribute it. You can share it online on social media, in Forums related to your potential business niche, Facebook Groups, and more. The sky's the limit, but remember, the more precise the target you send it to, and the more people that fill it out, the more accurate your survey results will be.
A common technique in marketing research, ideation workshops are popular among companies that need to define their brand, business idea, or product. Best known as brainstorming, people meet together to come up and determine new ideas.
While this is the most involved technique on this list, it doesn't have to be complicated. For a beginner entrepreneur, that can simply mean bringing together a group of friends to talk about your idea, and what their ideal product would look like.
What does an ideation workshop look like?
- Bringing together a group of friends that are also part of your target audience (for example, if your product is aimed at new parents, invite new parents to the workshop)
- Ask them about their struggles in your market
- Ask them what they would need to relieve that struggle
- Ask them what features they would love in a product
- Ask them what they would be willing to pay for such a product or service
Take these workshops with a grain of salt. Just because your friends named a long list of features they would like doesn't mean that you have to build all of them. You can start with a basic vision of your product (also known as an MVP – Minimum Viable Product), and build from there.
Question your assumptions
The next step is to critically analyze the feedback you've gathered and the assumptions you've made during this process. A crucial step that sometimes people forget.
We like our ideas and accept them as good by default. However, most ideas come with assumptions based on intuitive cause and effect formulas, like: "If we do this, people will do that," or "If we sell this, people will buy it."
These assumptions usually turn out to be wrong.
For this reason, it is vital to test and validate your assumptions. Here are a few techniques to do just that.
Once you come up with an assumption for your idea, think of an opposite statement that creates an obstacle for the assumption:
For example, let's say that you had the idea of selling home couches with a new, comfy design.
Your first assumption could be:
"Home couches need to have big and soft pillows because people like to sit comfortably,"
Your opposite statement could be:
"But the current trend in home decor focuses on a minimalistic design and firm textures."
Afterward, you can develop a solution to the opposite statement to see if there's an opportunity to overcome the obstacle you defined.
"If we sell couches based on a minimal design with soft pillows, people will buy them because they will value both its comfort and trendy design."
A user story is a simple and general explanation about how your idea benefits or offers a potential solution to the end consumer.
For example, let's imagine you want to sell a new type of sports bag for bodybuilders. You might assume that since the product has a practical purpose, its design should be comfortable and ergonomic. However, your target audience might be youngsters who place a lot of value on how their clothes and accessories look rather than being practical.
Therefore, by putting yourself in the customer's shoes, it's easier to test and validate assumptions for that idea and develop a new solution.
How do you develop a user story?
You start by developing a user statement. The formula is as follows:
As a [insert type of customer],
I want to [insert the thing you want to accomplish],
so that I can [insert the desired outcome].
Using the young bodybuilder example, this is what our user statement could look like:
As a young bodybuilder,
I want to have a sleek gym bag with premium materials,
So that I can look more fashionable than my peers in and on my way to the gym.
This way you find your target audience, as well as their motivation for buying, which will help you with everything from marketing strategy to sales copy.
Strategy choice cascade
This strategy involves thinking about all the practicalities you need to make your idea work. This will lay out the framework for you to effectively get started with a laser-like focus on the goal.
The five questions that this method requires to answer are:
Which are your expectations and goals?
Ex. I want to launch an online store that sells 500 t-shirts with my unique design per month.
Which will be your field of competitors?
Ex. Other custom creators and artists.
How will you succeed in the chosen markets?
Ex. Accessibility – my products will be available online, not only in small markets.
Ex. Unique offering – my design will speak to my specific audience in a way that other brands aren't.
What capabilities must be in place?
Ex. Online store has to be up and running, designs have to be created, t-shirts have to be manufactured, email marketing has to be set up, social media accounts have to be created, etc.
- What are the management systems required?
Ex. I need a website platform upon which to build my store (ex. Mozello), I need a communications system with my manufacturer to tell them how many products have to be created, I need an inventory management system to keep track of stock, etc.
Answering these questions will give you a more clear picture of what you'll need to focus on in order to build a successful business.
Now you're ready to move forward
Defining and validating your ideas is a process that you'll have to do all the time, even when your business becomes successful. So it's essential to find what works for you and discover the best way to make objective decisions.
At this stage, it is important to remember that “done is better than perfect”. A common pitfall among aspiring entrepreneurs is getting stuck in the ideation phase and never moving on to the doing stage because they're waiting for everything to be “perfect”. But as long as you have your product defined, your goals in sight, and your roadmap in place, you're in a good position to move forward.
Developing ideas that create value is challenging for every entrepreneur who wants to start a new business project.
The techniques explained in this article might help you find a way to define your idea and meet the requirements to make it ready for the next phase: putting it into practice.
In the following article in this series, we'll take a look at how to get started efficiently and effectively.