“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Prous
Some time ago, Nokia somewhat bowed out of the game, after Microsoft acquired them. During the press conference of their acquisition, Nokia’s then-CEO, Stephen Elop, delivered a speech and ended it saying, “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.” Most people do not even have the opportunity to look back and reflect as to what happened in business because they never get past the starting line. Always carrying bags of dreams in their heart but never realising them into something tangible. How do you then translate your vision into actionable strategy?
First thing first write everything down that comes to mind about your business idea/s. I tend to love the old school way doing things mind maps, they help me view how everything fits together without going into too much detail and allows me to generate ideas. Whatever the reasons are it is important to put every idea down, whether or not it makes sense or not now is not the time to evaluate that but rather, be creative, go wild have a culture of inquiry.
Now the fun begins filtering the ideas. Start simple, understand the purpose by creating a founder or owner profile. One of the fundamental mistakes that affect the success of starting a business is most of us jump right into evaluating business ideas and documenting business proposals and plans before understanding who you are and identify your strengths. Jim Collins in the book from Good to Great developed the concept of ”First who, then what.”
Ask why? There are many ways a business idea can evolve perhaps you want to turn a hobby or skill into a business, or you have invented something or you are in search of financial freedom or you just want to pick up freelance work to supplement your income. Whatever the reason is you need to first evaluate why do I want this? The why is your first filter.
Intertwined to the why is understanding your strengths. Have you ever wondered about what is your unique pattern? You need to understand who you are, what are you good at, what do you love and then link it back to why do you want to start a business. What are your innate abilities? Understanding your strengths at the beginning will help shape how and who you do business with.
“A leader will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity. One must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
By understanding your why and your strengths you have created your first filter that allows you to evaluate your business ideas. Look at all the ideas you have jotted down on paper and highlight those that resonate with your “WHY.” You want to focus on building a business that you can articulate what it is about. As Frederick Nietzsche “He who has a why can endure any how.”
Having bedded the why I decided to consider what naturally comes easy to me. Curious to know what I am naturally good at I completed the Gallup strengths Finder profile and the entrepreneurial profile and the results were quite similar to what I already knew. Strategy ranked at the top followed by Learner, Ideation, Achiever, and Significance. As for the entrepreneurial profile my style is more relational and armed with this knowledge I went back to my idea board streamlined it to what ideas are aligned with my strengths and my why?
“The companies that survive longest are the one’s that work out what they uniquely can give to the world—not just growth or money but their excellence, their respect for others, or their ability to make people happy. Some call those things a soul.”
Thereafter create a customer profile. Firstly, identify your customer as either a consumer or a business. There is no one concept fits all customers, therefore break it down to demographics and psychographics. Depending on the concept one can consider for consumers gender, marital status, income and education level. For business, consumers examine the type of business, turnover, and operating period as customer evaluation filters.
Once you have your ideal customer in mind spend some time thinking about what their needs/struggles are and how will your product/service address this? Understanding the psyche of the purchase decision makers will help you analyse 1) How often will they transact 2)What motivates them to buy 3)The elasticity of pricing of your product 4) Where do they socialise? 5) How comfortable are there with technology 6) Potential prospective clients (is there room for growth) 7) Size of the market?
Once you have bedded down the customer profile revisit the business concepts. Now highlight the concepts that you have a well-identified target audience that can be quantifiable to sustain the business idea. By now you should be able to narrow down the ideas further, making it easier to create a competition profile for the remaining concepts. It’s very rare nowadays to come across ‘unique’ business idea, so what differentiates you from the competition? In order to answer that, you need to search similar business ideas and concepts. Identify both direct and indirect competition for your business, now and in the future. Also, understand how other businesses are doing things differently by identifying your competitor’s unique selling proposition. This will encompass proximity to the target audience, how your products or services will be sold, how do they engage with customers, what is different between your concept and what is on the market. Consider what are they doing well, what can be done better, where would you position yourself and lastly how do you plan to compete in the marketplace.
The above is a sketch of your concepts in broad strokes and should ideally answer most of the following questions Does my idea make sense? Will my product/service actually sell? Can I do this alone? Who do I know? Has this been done before? How different is my idea to the rest in the same field? How do I see my business operating? Will I do it online? Will I use social media? Can I do it from home? Does the concept look sustainable? Is there room for growth? How many other people are doing what I plan to do?
At this point, all that you have done is broken down your concept into key elements of your business. You have not signed a lease agreement to rent offices, you have not started producing the product nor have you already registered a company you have simply filtered your ideas and at every stage, you have to go back to the why and to whom. Now that you have those elements defined you focus on the “what” being the product and service profile?
“The very essence of leadership is [that] you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”
The product and service profile will look at 1) What will my business provide the market? 2) What skills and resources are needed to deliver? 3) How will I provide it? 4) Are they any legal consequences I need to consider? 5) What are the risks? 6) How much time will this business idea require from me? 7)Can I outsource the work? 8) What equipment and software is needed 9) What do I have at my disposal currently? 10) Do i need to start big or can I build up my business gradually?
By now you should have more a less have answers for the product and service profile. The focus now should be on the financial profile, what is the cash investment required? Can it be broken down over stages? What is the best way to finance the business? Notice how this is the last point when wanting to start your business. Now you go back to every section and identify costs. In essence, you have actually documented a mini business plan. You have basically drafted a simple business plan that highlights the product or service , the market it serves, the business’ competitive advantage and rough price structure.
Your business concept is a roadmap of where you want to go with your business and which also allows you to make informed decisions. So for example, if you want a freelance job to supplement income you would not want to start a business that is time demanding and clashes with your other commitments? Understanding the make up of your business concept is the key to getting your business going as it details the general direction you’re heading and what you what to achieve and mostly importantly why.
- The founder or owner profile helps identify Key objectives of your business idea (Why)
- The evaluate your business ideas streamlines ideas to those that at are aligned to your goals.
- Customer profile analyses your target market, their needs, how your product or service will fulfil those needs, your unique selling proposition.
- Competition profile details the target markets, highlights competitive advantages, illustrates how do you set yourself apart.
- Lastly, it all boils down to the Benjamins providing a rough financial profile which analyses of how much investment is needed, when and how will you price your concept.
Once you are able to understand what your customer needs and what is currently provided by the market you are able to establish a gap analysis and create product and service profile that address the noted gap, you should be able to transform your vision into actionable strategies. Get your thoughts organised by visualising where you want to go and get engaged with your idea. As Marie Forleo says “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”
“The empires of the future are empires of the mind.”