Lessons Learned – Brainstorming Business Concept Options

Have you ever had the feeling you wanted to start your own business, but just couldn’t put your finger on exactly what type of business that would be? Do you periodically think you’ve come up with a great idea for a business, but never seem to be able to put two plus two together to make five or more? Well, we’re at that point in the business life cycle.

Maybe there will be a real business and maybe there won’t. It is up to us to figure out if we can pull off starting a successful one. We can definitely pull off starting a new business, but with a troubled economy, banks which seem to have a death grip on funds for even their best clients, and skittish customers who may be delaying or avoiding all sorts of traditional spending, we’ve got to be even more careful than in boom times. Cash flow hides a lot of mistakes in your business plan. A recession can certainly point them out.

The good news is that historically, in times of economic downturn, the United States and other countries have often produced healthier and ultimately more successful businesses than in more prosperous times. The common wisdom is that this phenomenon is due to the fact that entrepreneurs are, by necessity, much more cautious in an economic downturn, take better care of their resources. This includes more judicious use of those resources, careful calculation, and sampling of potential ROI for their time, money, and other resources.

Given this premise, we want to do at least as well, but there is something else we want. We want to be happy in our work. I’m not necessarily talking Snow White’s seven happy fellows who whistled while they worked, but we want to be happy when we spend our time on this potential enterprise. Then again, being happy enough to want to whistle while we work wouldn’t be a bad choice either.

We will come back to this when we get to the good old entrepreneurial self-analysis, but personal satisfaction must be a major part of this new prospective enterprise. We have to remember that often, one option is not leaving your “day job.” Sometimes inaction is the best choice.

The other factor, consistently preached by the most successful entrepreneurs in the numerous articles I’ve posted on the LinkedIn Applied Entrepreneurship group site, is that entrepreneurs must have passion for their business.

There are all sorts of articles on how to generate ideas, innovation strategies, and the like. Some of these are great for large corporations and other big organizations with lots of resources, including facilitators with plenty of professionally researched data. How does one person or a small group of folks go through a similar process?

There are way too many articles dedicated to this topic to post here. Many others deal with it peripherally. I have selected just a few from the Applied Entrepreneurship reading list to start with in this post.

Based just on the title, I picked one by Derek Cheshire to start with, How to generate 20 new business ideas over coffee. Cheshire suggests the following method.

To start with, select an issue or topic about which you need to generate ideas. The fact that some of you will be more familiar with the topic than others in a group situation doesn’t matter for this exercise. Everybody will get benefit from trying out the technique and swapping notes afterwards.

The topic should have a positive and possibility-focused phrasing, such as “How can we gain/improve/create/diversify/build…” Make sure that everyone in the group understands the question or statement.

Cheshire also suggests each member of the group take notes on their own notepad (a/k/a laptop or handheld) and pick one member of the group to serve as recorder, putting all the ideas generated up on a flip chart, being sure to write them verbatim so as not to interject opinion or other filters.

He also suggests using a reverse statement to start with. In the case of my group, this might be listing all the types of businesses we would not want to start together, or factors of such a business, which we would not want to engage in. For example, if none of us wants to be a welder or be involved in a fabrication business, we might eliminate a few of the possibilities right off the bat. If we don’t want to be involved with kids in business, a tutoring (at least for kids) or day care business might take a dive early.

Cheshire suggests the next move is to reverse the process, using the same ideas generated in the first round. Although this part of the procedure would seem to have merit for determining what is not going well in an existing business situation, I’m not so sure it works for a group of friends and colleagues trying to figure out if they can come up with a business they could start together. Perhaps you can help me on that one. If so, I’d like to hear from you.

If working for an idea is too much for you, perhaps it will just come to you. Ryan P. Allis, author of Zero to One Million, wrote an article I posted for the Applied Entrepreneurship group, 105 Business Ideas. I know it is a catchy title, but the point is that there are tons of such articles out there for you to peruse.

If reading is too hard for you, then try the article I posted by Jeff Elgin: Looking for a Great Business Idea? Stay Home. The subtitle reads “A tour of the typical home reveals numerous opportunities to start a home services franchise.” Keep in mind, this article comes from the “Franchise Zone” of Entrepreneur.com, but Elgin’s premise is that ” as just one example of how ubiquitous franchises have become, let’s take a look around a typical home to see what types of opportunities await people interested in starting a home services franchise.” He then walks you through everything from lawn services, garage remodeling companies (something we could all probably use), to interior decorating, and maid services.

If you have more rooms, perhaps you can get more ideas while lying on your couch. If you have the energy to get up, read another of a very large number of articles on generating business ideas, which was written by Steve Strauss, Find the Right Recipe for Business Success.'SMWLDN Brainstorm: Biz / Marketing (1)' photo (c) 2011, Chinwag - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

According to Strauss, creating your own successful recipe is a three-step process:

1. Brainstorming. Sit down and write down every kooky idea that comes into your head about possible successful formulas that might work for your business. It could be an ad that you run in your local newspaper. Maybe it would be a direct mail campaign. It could be a sale, or an outlet at a local flea market. Who knows? There are countless ways that you can distinguish your business and create a successful recipe.

Once you have some ideas, eliminate the bad ones, and then get some feedback. Speak with people whose judgment you trust, and talk to other entrepreneurs you know who are successful. Come up with your top two or three ideas.

2. Testing. Once you have a list of potential goldmines (which is what a good business recipe is — something you can mine again and again), try them out. Yes, it would be great if they all worked, but the idea here is to discover your very best option, the one plan that can be repeated over and over again to bring in customers and money. Figuring that out is a great moment in the life of any business because it means that you will be able to be a long-term success.

3. Repeat. You must make sure that you will be able to duplicate this success time and again, with measurable, predictable results. And once you have done that, you will have created a reliable, steady source of income that you can always count on. Doesn’t that sound nice?

There are many other ways to generate initial ideas for a new business. We will continue our search in the next post. Got any great ways to generate such ideas? Let me know.

This is the second post in the business startup series. For others in the series, check the series index.

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Join the Applied Entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn. Membership is free and I try to post about ten articles a day there. We have some great discussions going and if you are an entrepreneur, we hope you will join us.

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