Part of my job as a business coach is to help budding entrepreneurs and experienced business owners come up with new ideas to expand their brands. I’ve noticed over the years there are a few fears around business ideas: a fear that they aren’t good enough, a fear that someone will steal them, or a fear that they will fail. Nobody should live in fear, especially of ideas, so here’s my how-to guide on coming up with new ideas if you’re stuck, and how to test ideas to help you gain the confidence to go for it.
10 Bad Ideas
This is my favorite exercise for all people. It really gets the creative juices going and tends to yield some really fun ideas.
Stop what you’re doing right now and write (by hand- don’t type) 10 bad ideas. They don’t have to be realistic or even possible. In fact, I want to re-emphasize that I want them to be bad. Don’t hold back. Invisible elevators. Video post cards. Solid gold throw pillows. There, that’s a start for you.
Seriously. Stop reading and write down 10 bad business ideas.
Done? Great. (The point of having you physically write, rather than type, is because when we type we tend to censor ourselves. The delete button is just so easy for us to use, whereas to cross something out with a pen takes a bit more effort.)
Do this exercise every day for two weeks and see what it does for you. Better yet, have your whole team do this exercise together at the beginning of the day and see what it does for your company. My guess is some of these “bad ideas” will actually be quite good, or can be tweaked to be quite good. Regardless, this exercise gives you the permission to not have to come up with the next Google or Netflix, just something bad, which may ultimately turn into something really amazing.
Change Your Environment
You have to see something new to make something new. Since I started traveling full time I’ve noticed I am exploding with new ideas, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. I carry an idea journal with me wherever I go, and sometimes I look back and read some of my ideas and think they’re terrible, but other times I think “Yes! This needs to be made!”
If you’re unable to travel often, or even travel right now, then change your environment. Work from a new coffee shop, or from a different room in your house, or even a different spot in your office space. Try answering your emails from the office lounge and do another task from the break room. Working from different locations opens your mind and allows for new ideas to break through the monotony.
However, the best way to truly do this is to visit a new culture or country. Bonus if you go someplace where you don’t speak the language because then you can really just observe and take it all in. See how people do things, explore their markets and restaurants. I can guarantee that you’ll find something you want to create or expand upon for your own business if you take the time to truly observe a new culture.
Talk About It
This is the biggest fear all of my clients have: that if they talk about their idea someone will steal it. Let me put this fear to bed for you: it rarely happens. Trust me. Everyone is walking around with their own brilliant ideas that they want to turn into a reality, they don’t have the time or energy or enthusiasm to take on your ideas, too.
Talking about your ideas will do a couple of great things for you:
- It’ll test the market. Ask your friends what they think and ask them to play devil’s advocate. Getting feedback is so helpful and you can only get it if you speak your ideas out loud.
- It’ll reinforce your confidence that this is a good idea, and maybe also help bring on new partners or new ideas that you hadn’t considered.
When I first thought up the idea for Flauk I sat on it for about a week. Would it work? A one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs? I finally pitched it to my friend, and now co-founder, Stephanie Goldfinger who agreed the business was needed and she showed just as much enthusiasm for it that I did (maybe more, actually). I wouldn’t have probably gone for it if I hadn’t gotten her feedback and buy-in.
Finally, to see if your business idea is truly viable do some research to see if you have any competition. Competition is not a bad thing. Let me say that again: COMPETITION IS NOT A BAD THING. It means there is a market for your idea. Look at the bread aisle or cereal aisle in any grocery store. Is there only one brand and one kind? Not at all. Do your research and see what your competitors offer and what their customers have to say. The best way to differentiate from your competition is to take the criticism from their customers and apply it to your company or idea.
For example, one of my early ventures was an e-commerce business. I found this really cool and innovative pooper scooper at a product fair in China. I did some research and there was nothing like it on the market. Sure, there were pooper scoopers, but they didn’t have the features this one has. I checked the reviews of the other handheld pooper scoopers: people kept complaining that they still had to feel the warmth and squish (sorry if your stomach is turning) even after having scooped their dog’s poo. This pooper scooper eliminated that problem in its design, so it would make those people with sensitive stomachs happy. I bought 800 of those scoopers to start and sold out within 2 weeks.
Ideating is one of my favorite things, and probably one of the things I’m best at, but I didn’t get this way without practice. I regularly write down terrible ideas, travel frequently, and brainstorm with friends. Ideating is a practice, much like working out or meditating. You have to do it frequently to get good at it. Cheers to you starting your own ideating practice!
For more help on bringing your next business idea to life, hit me up at: Sarah@Flauk.com
C0-Founder / Chief Happiness Officer
A recovering lawyer and trained happiness in the workplace coach, Sarah is Flauk’s resident business ma’am and money strategist.