I get business ideas all the time. Some I sit with for ages and ponder. Others I consider for a day and move on. But how do you know which ideas are worth pursuing. As business owners we want to know which ones are worth us investing time in. Our time is so precious, we only want to research and explore the ones that are most likely to be viable.
Here are 3 quick things you can do, to quickly test that a business idea is worth pursuing and validating further. I have used these 3 steps over again. I initially learned these 3 steps from Pat Flynn's book Will It Fly - check out the book - its well worth a read. I have taken Pat's idea and tweaked it to make it work for me. You can do the same. This activity can be done over two days. The first day is about formulating the idea and the second is about running it past real people to get their feedback.
Remember the objective of these steps is to work out if the idea is worth your time and effort to pursue and develop further.
Step 1. Brainstorm and Mindmap
The first thing you need to do is to get the idea out of your head and onto paper. The best way to do this is to hold a brainstorming session with yourself and create a mindmap. In the session I want you to dump down everything you have every thought about this business idea. In the first round its best to just get everything down - don't edit it or categorise it - at this stage. Keep your mind open and let the ideas flow. You can do your mind map on paper or using software like Mind Meister. Give yourself about 10 to 20 mins to do the first round of mind mapping.
In the second round, it's time to refine and structure up the idea a bit more. You can group like ideas or points. Start to add headings and fine-tune your thoughts. There might be points that are on the mindmap that actually don't really fit so these can be removed. Some of the typical headings I end up with when I do this exercise - Products, Marketing Ideas, Launch Ideas, Unique Selling Points, Target (Ideal Customer), Customer Journey, Business Process, Payment Options, Support, Tech Needs, Website Ideas etc
Here is a mind map for the new business I am working on Fowlers Carpets + Blinds called SPRUCED UP.
After this exercise you should have more clarity around the idea. Doing a mind map helps you to see the idea taking shape and it makes it real. It's no longer an idea - it's a real thing now.
Step 2. Biz Manifesto
The next step is to write a business manifesto. This is essentially a one page document that summarises the business idea fleshed out in the mind map. There is a technique to this. The first thing you need to do is to summarise your business idea in one page. You have to keep it to a page and you need to describe your idea as you would to a potential investor. So this is not a sales pitch to a customer - its more like a pitch to an investor but you have to do it in one page. You need to succinct and to the point. Explain what the idea is.
Once you have written a page, summarise it down into one to two sentences, your catch cry. When you pitch an idea to someone, which you will be doing in the next step, you only have a few seconds to grab their attention and get the idea across. If you can't explain the idea in a few sentences is probably not the best idea. Think of this like the 'back of a napkin' test. Your one to two sentences need to fit on the back of a napkin.
It may take a few goes to refine the one to two sentences. This is the hardest bit. Getting clarity on this idea down to this level is really powerful. If you can do this, it means you have a really good handle on what you think the idea is or more to the point, what you hope it to be.
Here is my one to two sentence catch cry for SPRUCED UP.
SPRUCED UP is an online platform that allows property managers to quickly and
easily order flooring and blinds for the properties they manage.
Looking at this now, its comes across as so simple but it took this exercise to help me frame it with as much clarity as this.
Step 3. 20 Conversations
Now its time to talk to people. Too often we stay behind our computer screens and we don't spend enough time trying to speak to people who can help us to test the idea. Now that we have the catch cry (our one to two sentences) for your new business its time to run it past some real people to find out what they think about your idea. This step is really powerful and for most of us maybe a little scary as well.
When you start to talk to people about your idea you are "putting yourself out there" and asking people to comment and I guess judge your idea. A word of advice here, they are commenting on the idea and not on you as a person. Don't take the feedback personally. Keep an open mind and use to improve your idea.
Its important to spend sometime thinking about who you should approach. We ideally want to speak to between 10 to 20 people. I recommend that this is a mix of people but ideally I really want you to ask some of your target or ideal customers what they think of the idea. I don't recommend asking your Mum unless she is your target customer. You can ask your partner if you think they can be objective and constructive. Otherwise run it past a few friends and current colleagues as well. You can speak to potential suppliers as well. They know their industry well and they can let you know what they think of the idea.
Sometimes finding your target customer can be tricky and you need to think outside the box. Maybe you need to post on a forum that your ideal customer visits. Maybe you need to conduct a survey, maybe you need to stand outside a similar business and ask their customers if you can interview them. You might need to leverage your network and ask your friends if they know anyone that fits the bill of your ideal customer. You might need to get creative but it's worth it.
In the case of SPRUCED UP, we actually called every Property Manager in two towns to run the idea by them. We got a resounding 'Yes' from everyone we spoke to. This was enough, in our case to proceed with the idea.
A tip from Pat Flynn and I love and agree with this - give before you ask. Remember that you are asking people to give up some of their time to listen to your idea so you need to give them something in return. Take them out of coffee, give them a voucher or find another way to thank them. For SPRUCED UP I targeted one property manager to have a detailed chat. I thanked her for her time by giving her a voucher to a local store.
Once you have spoken to 10-20 people spend time consolidating the feedback. Did people think it was a sound idea or do you need to tweak the idea a bit. Your idea might have been a dud. Think about why this is. Maybe you need to rehash the idea to make it more marketable. If so, make sure you go back and get more feedback on the rehashed idea.
Either way if your idea passed the initial 20 convo test then I think it's worth pursing further. Its worth investing your time and energy in developing a marketable solution. There is still lots more to be done to get the idea formulated and validated with real dollars but at least you know the idea is worth your time.