To grow our businesses, we don’t need more money; we need better ideas. Stop worrying about new investors and lengthy business plans, and focus your attention on what really matters. If you want your business to thrive, you not only need better ideas for now, but for the road ahead as well. This fact shouldn’t concern you, but instead, it should make you realize how important the idea process is and excite you for what the future holds.
So, here are the five most important steps to create better business ideas:
José Scheuer, a former lecturer in business and marketing at the London School of Business and Finance, says market research is necessary because competition is tougher than ever. In a recent interview, Scheuer explains that small businesses compete in a much larger field than ever before, primarily due to the growth of e-commerce. And with the growth of e-commerce and other businesses, it is often found that competitors have greater negotiating power to source products and sell them at cheaper prices. Don’t miss the competitor advantage that research gives you—research is what separates you.
- What are other people in your business space already doing? Steer clear from those ideas and find your own niche. Research will tell you where you need to be now and in the future as well.
- Who can you reach out to that will make you and your business better? Research those in your field who are doing things right and learn from them.
- How do they work? What positives can you take away from their work, and how can you make your business better than theirs?
No matter where you need help in your business, researching businesses that do things well (and not so well) will help you improve. You can always learn from the triumphs and mistakes of other businesses, so research to improve your business and impact more people.
2. Build on Your Previous Ideas.
Joel Gascoigne, the co-founder of Buffer, a social media manager software, built his company on the ideas of other clients and apps that didn’t perform well. He extracted the good ideas from those apps, threw away the bad ones, and then made his own to fit his needs and those of others.
Gascoigne created a way to queue up tweets based on the time of day where the most people can be reached, instead of scheduling each tweet individually, without knowing if your audience is even online to read your content. His idea with Buffer shows that rarely is one idea sufficient on its own, because ideas are meant to be built upon. If an idea comes to you, make sure to capture it, but never consider it your final idea. This is where the ideation process is given life.
My own practice is to grab two ideas that have at least one similarity, to see how they relate and to see how they’re different. Once I have an idea of how they fit together, I take two brand-new ideas that are completely different from the first batch, and then find something similar between those two. At the end, I take the first result and the second result and then try to connect the dots between the opposites to create an original idea. It’s time consuming, but it’s worth the extra effort every time.
3. Encourage Mistakes Along the Way.
Did you know the slinky was a mistake product that came from attempting to build a meter designed to monitor power on battleships? The inventor, Richard James, was working with tension springs and accidentally dropped one of them to the ground. When this happened, the spring kept bouncing from place to place after it hit the ground, thus creating the slinky.
Did you also know Spencer Silver, a researcher with 3M Laboratories, is the person who developed Post-it notes by accident? He was trying to develop a strong adhesive, but instead found an adhesive that was weaker than what he needed. It stuck to objects but could be pulled off easily without leaving a mark. A great invention, but it wasn’t what he was looking for at the time. It was this grand mistake that led to a mainstream office supply.
Freedom in your workplace breeds creativity. To have better ideas, you must learn to take risks, let go and promote creativity. Trying new things will always produce mistakes, but that’s OK. It’s actually the only way to learn along the way, and who knows, you might discover the next slinky or post-it note. Better business ideas are only found when you are willing to combine creativity, risk and a willingness to make mistakes.
4. Realize Everyone Has Something to Offer.
In 2015, when I heard that Alan Lafley would be stepping down as CEO of Procter & Gamble, I knew it was a loss for P&G. He listened to his team, welcomed feedback and promoted healthy communication. He laid the groundwork for a company that thrives off the idea that everyone has something to contribute. Of course, David Taylor is doing a fine job as the new CEO, working to fix the company’s agility with decision making, but I can only wonder if Taylor will strive to continue leading his company with this mantra at the forefront of everything they do. What I do know is how important this concept is because it can be the difference between a team who finds success or one who misses the mark.
Former first lady Barbara Bush said, “Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life’s blood. But everyone has something to give.” This is true, that everyone has something to give, but individuals must be willing to look for opportunities to do so. Put those people—the ones who want to change the world for the better—on your team.
To have great ideas, you must see things from all perspectives. The best way to do this is to have conversations with your diverse team. If everyone thinks like you do, there will only be good ideas, not great ones. You need to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, not just the people who agree with you. Build a team that works in different strengths than you do, and use those strengths to build better ideas for your business. The more input, the better. It gives you more feedback and data, which will improve your ideas.
5. Identify Your Customer.
Dollar Shave Club allows members to select blades for $3 to $9 per month and receive them directly to their door. It was an unheard-of concept in the shaving industry, but in 2011, Michael Dubin and Mark Levine knew they were onto something big. Their idea proved successful, and by 2015 owned 16% of the U.S. cartridge market by volume. Their rapid growth launched them just ahead of Schick as the nation’s second-largest brand. In online razor sales, Dollar Shave Club commanded over 50% market share pre-acquisition, according to Statista.
Dollar Shave Club revolutionized the shaving industry, not only because they made the art of shaving easier for consumers, but because they are a company who understands their customers. Sure, other companies collect data, but not all companies dissect it. Using analytics allows Dollar Shave Club to deliver an outstanding customer experience every time. With more than 2.2 million happy subscribers, they have driven a stake in the ground of a previously undisrupted industry, all by understanding that business is about people.
- Who is our customer?
- What does my customer want and need?
- What can our company do exceptionally well to help our customers?
Great business ideas are found where the answers to all of these questions intersect.
When you conduct research, build on other ideas, encourage mistakes along the way, realize that everyone has something to give and know who your customer is, you will ultimately make a bigger impact with your great business ideas.
This article was published in August 2017 and has been updated. Photo by @NAO/Twenty20