In the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at what to do if you have no idea what business to start and how to start a business using your existing skills. But what if you’re full of ideas? What if you’ve never been able to settle on The One Passion, you’ve got lots of different interests and skills and you just can’t decide which business to start? How on earth do you choose between different business ideas?
1. Define success
Surprise! Step one for when you have lots of ideas is the same as when you have none. The very first step has to be to get clear on what you want from your business, and how that fits into the bigger picture of your life goals. Different ideas and business models can have very different implications for what your day looks like, the level of freedom and flexibility you’ll have, and the income you’ll be able to generate.
What are the criteria, the parameters, that a business needs to fulfil for it to work for you?
- Do you want to be location independent, so that you can work from home (or wherever you want)?
- Do you want flexible hours, a more ‘passive’ income stream rather than trading your time directly for money?
- Do you want to be working with big corporations, small businesses, or individuals?
- Do you want to be working on your computer by yourselfor out and about, interacting with people?
- Do you want to work in an intimate one-on-one or small group setting, or do you see yourself working ‘one to many’?
…and so on. Try to get super clear on all the ‘non-negotiables’ and other important criteria that would bring you meaningful success with this business, and to make it work for your personal situation and priorities.
2. Use a decision matrix
Once you have your criteria from the first step, above, you can check your ideas against those criteria. So, for example, if you definitely want to be location independent, have more of a passive income and work with individuals, then a business that requires you to work face to face with local businesses is probably not going to be the best fit. Filtering your ideas through your criteria should help you get some more objective perspective on which of the ideas is going to work best for you.
However, you may still end up with several ideas, all of which seem to fit your personal and professional criteria – what then? Well, I’m a big believer in the power of a ‘portfolio career’ that incorporates different projects as a great way for multi-passionate people to bring to life different ideas and use different skills and interests. However, although I absolutely think you can do more than one thing, I don’t think you can do more than one thing at the same time.
To help you prioritise between different projects, you might want to try using a decision matrix.
- High impact & low effort = quick win – This is a dream! If you have ideas that are easy to implement and will bring you massive reward, whether financial or another type of advantage, then these are the quick wins that you can get to work on right away.
- High impact & high effort = requires planning – These are your long-term business ideas that will take time to implement. You may need to invest in building a brand and an online presence, for example, which is valuable but won’t have an instant effect.
- Low impact & low effort = low-hanging fruit – It may not have a massive impact but if it’s quick and easy then you might as well do it. Little things like these can add up over time and can at least kick things off when you’re just starting out.
- Low impact & high effort = time waster – Forget about this one! Putting lots of time and energy into something that’s going to bring little reward will only take up valuable time that you could be spending on more productive work.
3. Validate your ideas
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new entrepreneur is to come up with an idea that you think is absolutely amazing – it’s the next Uber/Airbnb! – and spend lots of time and money on it without first validating it.
The risk here is that you create something that no one wants. On top, you may think your idea is revolutionary and bound to take off as a huge success, but you really don’t know that until it’s proven in the market. Just look at Dragon’s Den (or Shark Tank in the US): the millionaire investors will always favour the businesses that already have documented sales over an idea that may sound appealing but hasn’t yet been tested.
So how can you validate your idea?
- Talk to your potential clients and customers – The easiest way to test your idea beyond your own brainstorming bubble is to talk to potential customers and clients. There is a caveat here, however. Did you ever hear that famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”? Apparently he never actually said it, but the message is just as valid: people often don’t know what they want. So you’re trying to find out if this need that you’ve identified really is a need, and if your target audience is willing to pay to address it.
- Ask the experts – Ideally, you’re looking at ideas that sit within your area of expertise, so that you have the skills and experience to know that it’s a strong idea and how best to implement it. Sometimes, though, you may come up with a fantastic idea in an area that you’re not so familiar with. A bit of naïve optimism may help to dream big and potentially disrupt an industry, but it helps to know the rules of the game. Talk to experts who can tell you the challenges they’re facing, what are the restrictions and limitations, and how feasible is the solution that you’re proposing. This can save you from working for months on an idea that will never work in practice.
- Test it in the real world – That warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when everyone you ask says, “Wow, that’s a great idea!” is all very well, but the real test comes when you actually come to sell it. Once you feel you have a strong idea, get it live as soon as you can. Push out your solution, even if it’s not 100% there, and get some potential customers to pilot it. They can give you real user feedback that will allow you to optimise the solution as you go, and they can also give you testimonials and referrals to help you as you start to advertise and grow the business. You’re never going to be able to choose “the best idea” based purely on the theory, so create something real and then see what happens.
If you think you’re onto a winner, you may also want to check out How to get your business idea off the ground.
For inspiration along with practical guidance as to the opportunities to create a business outside of your corporate 9 to 5, check out my book, Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5: Stories from people who’ve done it (and how you can too). Read more at leavingthecorporate9to5.com or find it on your local Amazon store.