Step 1. Take a moment to write all these ideas down. Do not think about what will work and what wont. This is your brain storming session. You are allowed to write down whatever comes to mind.
Step 2. Now take this list and (I love index cards), write them on a separate piece of paper or index card. Take as many as you need, each idea should have its own card. Write them in big letters to make them easier to read.
Step 3. Look at each of these ideas, you need to sort them out. Do any of them match up, are they similar enough that they could fall under one company. For example, you love to take pictures, you love to work with film, these two would go in the same pile. If you had said you love to fix bicycles and cook, these two don’t really go well together, put these in two separate piles.
Step 4. Take each card and ask yourself, does this idea fill a need, or fix a problem? This is crucial. People buy when you can fix their pain. Even if you have to educate them that they are in pain or need, they will buy. There has to be a perceived need for your product to be successful.
Step 5. On the back of the card make a list of your qualifications to sell or offer this service. You will also write down what you think the perceived pain or need is. Back to the film example, you have been taking pictures for 20 years, ok that qualifies you. You know there is a shortage of photographers because your friends are always complaining to you that all the good photographers have a 4 month waiting list. This is a compelling reason.
Step 6. Go back and look at each pile of cards. Do some of them have weak answers, perhaps you took a baking class, and your pies came out ok. Could you really see yourself baking every day. Is there a need for a baker of ok pies?
Step 7. Really narrow down your cards to three piles of your best ideas. These are the three you are going to do the research on. Put the others aside to use if your top 3 don’t work out. Perhaps these are hobbies you can do in your spare time.
Step 8. Research. Now you want to create a mini business plan. Don’t panic, this is just some questions to see if you have a viable business. Can you make money with this idea? How much could you potentially charge? How many clients would you need to support yourself and your business? If you are charging $10 vs $1,000 for a speaking session, you need many more appointments to make this work. Who would be your ideal client? Are there enough of these ideal clients to keep you in business? Will they be repeat clients, or once and done? This will mean you need to reach new ones every day. How will you reach these clients? Are you going to be paying for advertising or using word of mouth? Can you think of some overall expenses that will be associated with this business? The photographer will need film, dark room. You don’t need to come up with an exact budget, but a guess is helpful in determining if your idea will make a viable business. How long will it take before you start to see a profit, and a significant profit that will allow you to live?
Step 9. Put all this research into a written document. Doesn’t need to be more than 2 pages but can be as many as you feel it needs to be to get your points addressed.
Step 10. Take your research to an unbiased opinion. Your spouse or best friend is probable not a good idea. They will want to support you and may not be able to tell you the flaws in your idea. Let at least 3 people look at your mini plan. Ask them for honest feedback. This may be tough. Our ideas always seem great to us, after all we came up with them. I love the idea of fresh flowers, I am a good business woman, I have two businesses. I know people love fresh flowers. I however do not think I would be a good florist, I am not so good at color charts and mixing different colors to look cohesive.
Once you have this feedback you are ready to start your true business plan. You should look at all the feedback and determine which is the best business for you. If you have more than one, I urge you to just try one at a time. Starting a new business is time consuming and demanding. You need to focus on one. In time you can start a second and third if you like. One at a time is best.
Originally published in the Democrat & Chronicle on October 22nd, 2014.