If you have a half-baked idea for a business, it’s not always clear what to do next.
You may be thinking “now what?” or “how do I know if people would want this?” or “will everyone think this is cool or just me?”
These questions are too big to be actionable. It’s normal to feel a little lost. But, it doesn’t have to feel this way. You need a way to break it down into smaller pieces so that you can take action. The idea is to get the ball rolling with something easy.
A useful place to start is basic research to learn more about the competitive landscape and what opportunities are out there. Let’s look at 4 small, low-risk steps you can take to research your idea and start learning more about it.
By the way, a few months ago, I wrote 4 Steps to Shape a Half-baked Idea, which explores simple steps to capture an idea when it arrives in your mind not fully formed. This article assumes some of those steps have already taken place.
Note: these steps are meant to be extremely simple, because sometimes there is surprising value in obvious insights.
Open up your browser and start searching to see if your idea already exists. I told you this was simple. If you find that it does exist, don’t lose hope. Use it as an opportunity to learn more about what’s out there:
- Who’s offering it?
- What are other people saying about it?
- Does it already exist where you live or is it operating somewhere else?
- What’s different, similar, or the same as what you wanted to do?
- What’s good about it? What could be better?
- What’s something unique that you could do to offer something different?
You can also use it as an opportunity to do what’s called Competitive Shopping. The idea is to experience the business as a regular customer would to see things from a different perspective. Here are just a sample of things you could do:
- Browse their site
- Shop their store
- Examine prices
- Read their marketing messaging
As entrepreneurs, we need to be open to learning from our competition. More importantly, we can’t give up just because someone else has entered the ring. It’s a big market out there, there’s room for all of us to experiment. You may not be the next General Motors right away, but you’ll be able to carve out your own little corner of the market.
If you don’t find it by searching the web, that’s a useful data-point too.
Talk to people.
Imagine the ideal person who would benefit from your idea – your potential customer. And then, find ways to talk to them. It doesn’t have to be an awkward pitch or a complicated explanation, just ask them questions about their experiences that might relate to your idea. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Tell me about your experience with ____________.
- How does ____________ fit into your life right now?
- What about ____________ is important to you?
- Walk me through a typical experience with ________.
- Who else in your house engages with __________?
Keep it open-ended and go where the conversation takes you. Be open to being wrong and learning something new. Be sure to ask “why” as a follow up question so that you can better understand their needs, hopes, and challenges related to your idea.
Find a tribe without a leader.
Look for communities that already exist that are centered around your idea or something related to your idea. It can be online (through chat boards or social media) or in-person (through Meetup groups, faith-based groups, bowling clubs, etc.). The point is to find where people are already congregating, meeting, and engaging with each other. Attend a meeting if you can. Read the conversation threads if it’s a public platform. Get a better sense of what they’re talking about.
- Look/listen for things they say they “wish for” or what they might feel frustrated about.
- What hacks have they already come up with? What problems are they trying to solve for themselves?
- What brainstorm-type conversations do they seem to be having?
You don’t have to commit to a leadership role or to solving their challenges, yet. Just gather information. From knowledge and greater awareness, we can more easily shift our minds into action. But, without a little research, we may continue to feel stuck.
What other small steps can you take to learn more about your business idea?
Starting and growing a business is not a straightforward and linear process. It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok. It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself. And, that’s why it’s worth it.