We can wait for that moment of epiphany when the most amazing business idea will suddenly enter our heads, out of the blue. But let’s face it – business ideas don’t grow on trees and sometimes you simply have to go looking for them.
So where do you start? Before you start generating ideas, a certain amount of preparatory work is advised:
Define the Problem: You may have already established a problem that needs solving but if not, you only have to open your eyes and easy to spot them. Listen to your friends, your colleagues and your customers in your last workplace, read the paper, watch the news – be all the time on the lookout for problems and difficulties that people are having. I’m sure you yourself have plenty of complaints to make about services or products you’ve used in the past – these are a great source of inspiration for new business ideas.
Analyze your customers: Who is having the problem? Is it a localized problem or more mainstream? Is it specific to a certain age bracket or gender? You can start to figure out who your target market might be. You can go to them for feedback but just don’t depend on them to come up with your business idea for you. It is not enough to simply ask potential customers what they would like. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Henry Ford considered the need which was faster transport and went about satisfying the need for that. Look at customer habits, lifestyles and behaviours. Ask yourself ‘Why are they having difficulty with that? What is the root of the problem?’
Look at what is out there already: What is currently out there to satisfy this need? What are people currently using and what is the problem with that? Look at competitor products and services and learn from what they do well and do not do well.
Idea Generation Techniques
Now to the creative part! We’ll now take a problem and use some idea generation techniques to come up with a business idea.
The Problem: Your friends work in a busy town and you have heard them complain about the queues they have to face when they go looking for good coffee on their lunch break….
Brainstorming. This is the most well known idea generation technique and is best used in a group situation. The aim is to generate quality over quantity and there is one critical rule which much be followed: never criticize other people’s ideas – instead try to build on them or try combining them with your ideas. Some of the more obvious business ideas for this problem are to open a new coffee shop in the town, or provide a catering service to some of the local businesses. But don’t be afraid to be a bit wacky!
Scenario Building. Look at the problem from the point of view of your customer and create a ‘day-in-the-life-of’ scenario. For example:
“Joe leaves the office at 1:00pm in search of a hot cup of coffee. Sometimes he gets delayed and when he does, he gets stuck behind a long queue as it is very busy during lunch-hour. The coffee in the office isn’t up to much. By the time he gets to the front of the queue, order, receives and pays for his coffee and returns to the office it is 1:30. If only there was a way he could get quality coffee as soon as he wants it so that he could really enjoy his lunch-break…”
This scenario provides context to the problem and therefore it is much easier to understand and associate with the customer’s experiences, problems and frustrations. This will help you to come up with solutions that really satisfy their needs. You might think of ideas such as a web-based application which lets him order his coffee and alerts him as to when his coffee is ready….
Preventative Brainstorming. This is where you try to prevent the problem for happening in the first place. For example:
The problem is that I spend a lot of my lunch break queuing for coffee. How could I prevent the need for having to leave to get my coffee in the first place? What if I had my coffee with me but could heat it up in the office. I think of an idea for a coffee drink product which will self-heat at the touch of a button.
You can also use this technique to apply it to your current business problems. For example, try it from the café owner’s perspective:
The problem is that there is a sudden rush between 13:00 and 14:00 in the café and it is hard to deliver a quality service to so many customers in such a short period of time. How could I prevent so many people coming in within that one particular hour? What if I could provide incentive for customers to come in earlier or later. I think of an idea for an incentive scheme for local businesses involving reduced rates for the 14:00 to 15:00 slot.
Remembrance. This is a technique which works by thinking about a problem as if it is already solved and then ‘remembering’ how it got to be that way. For example:
I have a problem about getting coffee during lunch hour. I think about the nice hot coffee I used to drink on my lunch hour and how I used to get it. I remember that I used to know the Café owner and she used to have my coffee waiting for me when I arrive. I think of an idea into for a pre-paid and loyalty based ordering system for regular customers.
Reversal. Using this technique, you reverse the problem that you are trying to solve:
I am queuing for coffee. I am looking for ways to get my coffee faster. But instead of looking for ways for me to get to my coffee, I look for ways to get my coffee to come to me. I think of an idea for a coffee delivery company, which brings coffee directly to your desk.