“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work,” American inventor Thomas Edison once famously said. Many business owners have had that light bulb moment—a nagging idea that whirls around in their mind—but they’re unable to put it into action.
Most businesses start as dreams, which twist and evolve into something tangible. When you’re starting your own business, the hard part is turning your idea into reality.
As you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve experienced a lightbulb moment of your own. You have a great idea, but what’s next? If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, it’s because you’re looking for a forward path.
To move beyond the idea phase, it will take inspiration and hard work—and an appetite for risk—to transform your lightbulb moment into a thriving business.
Edison famously failed a thousand times before he patented the light bulb in 1880. His bright idea paved the way for the universal application of electric light. Most small businesses won’t have the same impact as Edison, but if you have access to the right plan, the possibilities are endless.
Who are You?
When starting a business, the first step is to know yourself. Even if you have a highly original business idea, you may not have the skills or personality to implement it in practice. If you’re introverted and don’t like schmoozing with strangers, then a client-facing business is probably not for you. Likewise, if you don’t like fact-checking, then you’re unlikely to be successful running an HR software business.
A business idea needs to complement your personality and skills. If you can get into that space, then you’re going in the right direction. All entrepreneurs need to know themselves before starting. If you can go through the self-examination process early doors, then it will save you time and money in the long run.
Your goal is to find a niche where your personality and skills can shine.
What Makes Your Idea Stand Out?
You have to determine if your idea is worth pursuing. Ask yourself:
- What problem will your business idea solve?
- Are there competitors in your chosen field?
- If you have competition, can you do it better than them?
Figure out how many people are having this problem in your social circle and start talking to them. Your friends and peers are your customers at this stage.
Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.
Before we go into plans, tips, and tools, let’s cover one of the biggest taboos in business: failure. While no one wants to fail, mistakes are part of life, and we all make them. If you’re going to experience success in business, then it’s best to accept early on that it will involve failure.
Just ask Mo Zadissa, Namecheap Product Manager. He came up with an idea for an online marketing tool to help brick-and-mortar businesses attract more customers through Google search ads.
“When you only have an idea, the next stage is getting access to proper tools. Namecheap’s inhouse learning zone allowed us to test my idea and validate sales channels quickly, and build our product from scratch,” says Mo. The goal was to level the playing field for small businesses by providing users with technical and marketing support, almost like a startup incubator.
“Our focus was on the small business market, as we noticed a commonality among them and wanted to create an online product for traders. One that could automatically generate Google adverts for them,” says Mo.
Mo’s business idea proved to be unsuccessful. Why? Because it didn’t cater to its audience: “We were trying to build a product for working people, those who generate sales from customer calls. Whereas the Namecheap platform caters towards digital customers, who want eCommerce sales, which means web traffic, not calls,” says Mo.
“We were trying to build a product for working people, those who generate sales from customer calls. Whereas the Namecheap platform caters towards digital customers, who want eCommerce sales, which means web traffic, not calls,” says Mo.
Taking the lessons from this project, Mo is helping to grow Ted Worcester’s Namecheap VPN. “Building a new digital product that complements the Namecheap’s audience has been the key to our success, and it’s now operating in forty countries,” says Mo.
As any entrepreneur will tell you, things don’t always work out as you intend, but it’s the lessons you learn that make it worthwhile. What you learn in failure is often far more valuable than success at times. For one thing, there’s certainly no harm in knowing your customer better.
Know Your Customer
If you’re starting a business, the first thing you need to do is pitch it towards your customers. Right now, they are imaginary, so create a picture of your ideal customer and give them a name. Think of their age, gender, education, location, and income level. Learn from Mo’s ‘business promoter’ idea and make sure you’re targeting the right people.
For example, if you’re creating a boutique chocolate store, you might develop a customer persona called ‘Aaron.’ He’s a well-educated, affluent man in his thirties or forties looking for a luxury gift to impress his partner. Taste is vital to him and not just the chocolate bar. It’s the artisanal quality of the product that appeals to him, as he’s like beautiful things, and wants to impress a loved one.
Once you have a customer profile like ‘Aaron’ in mind, it will help you figure out if there’s a market for your idea.
The most successful companies provide market solutions to an ongoing demand or an existing problem. Doing a market review will allow you to decide if there’s room for your business.
Let the Stories Begin
A unique selling point (USP) is what makes your business stand out. Ask yourself why your audience or target clients should choose you? A strong USP will help make your business memorable from a customer perspective. Storytelling can do your business idea wonders and help define your USP.
Business storytelling is not only for the commercial giants. Small companies can also tell fantastical stories and inspire their customers to form bonds with them. That’s an essential part of your journey. Companies are fictional entities, and whoever tells the best stories usually wins, because that’s what people remember.
Ask the Right Questions
Your audience test pilot will be your friends and acquaintances at first, especially if they match your customer profile. If your social circle does not correspond with your market ambitions, then meetups and Facebook events are an excellent way to test your idea with like-minded strangers.
Running surveys or social media polls can help you find your audience. Once you have feedback from your chosen audience, you can decide if your idea makes sense or whether it requires changing. Test your plan until you’re ready to move forward.
Write a Business Plan
Starting a business is the beginning of an exciting—and sometimes demanding period in your journey. You may find yourself spending weeks reading about licenses and insurance policies, and feeling overwhelmed.
Breaking it down into little steps can make it a more manageable process. You already have identified your audience and ran some tests. With them in mind, you need to think about who will be reading your plan, whether it’s a bank manager or future business partner. Having a well-written document will provide structure and discipline to your efforts, even if it’s just for your internal admin.
Whether you’re starting a new venture or expanding an existing company, a business plan is an essential process. Think about who’s going to be reading your proposal and write for them.
What to Include in Your Business Plan
A business plan is unique to you, so there’s no singular approach to writing one. As a rule, most proposals declare their business’s strategic goals, marketing approach, and funding commitments.
The front page should be a concise summary and outline what you want to achieve. Like any good college essay, it’s sometimes better to write your front page last, once you have a clearer understanding of your objectives.
Look at the Bigger Picture
The aspirational part of your business plan will provide the following elements.
- A mission statement explaining the concrete goals of your business.
- A vision statement that outlines what you’re looking to achieve in the long term.
It might help to consult with an independent advisor to see if your business is viable before starting. A stitch in time saves nine.
Get Your Sums Right
In your business plan, you’ll need to show how you intend to implement your idea. Investors will carefully review your financial strategy, so having accurate finances is very important. If your figures are wrong or misleading, you will lose trust and respect immediately. You must get this section right so consult with third-party experts to ensure your numbers are accurate.
Have a Product Development Plan
Ever wondered how companies develop and launch new products? Chances are they’ve undertaken a product development plan to help them design, create, and build a minimal viable product (MVP). Having one will help you understand your customers’ wishes and expectations and accurately plan and resource your product.
Test Your Product
Testing your MVP will prevent you from prematurely launching a poorly designed website, product, or app. You certainly don’t want to put something out that doesn’t match the expectations of your target audience.
During the prototype stage, you will experience many failures until you get it right. So keep testing until everything is perfect. Think about how will you build it and how much money it will cost to run.
Once you’ve created your product, show it to friends and peers, and request their feedback before you launch. Use their feedback to improve your product. Listen to them, as during the prototype stage, they are your biggest source of information.
Get Ready for Lift-Off
By following these plans, tips, and tools, you’ll now be ready to turn your business idea into a reality. Get ready for an exhilarating ride, and remember your work is never complete, as you’ll always be testing and adapting to change.
You’ll learn a great deal about yourself when starting a business—your strengths and weaknesses and how you can apply them.
Failure will play its part in your journey. Some setbacks will be minor, which you can adapt to along the way. Sometimes it will be a fundamental mistake, but failure happens to everyone, so don’t be too hard on yourself if your idea doesn’t come off. If you’re already thinking about your next move, then you’re doing something right.
Like Edison inventing the light bulb, learning from your mistakes is the most exciting part of running a business. So be patient, and remember sometimes the rewards come later. Starting a new business is one of life’s great adventures, so strap in and get ready for a brighter future.