Starting a Small Business: The Idea

March 25, 2014

Editors Note: There's something intimidating yet empowering about starting a small business. One of our bloggers is venturing down this scary path and she'll be bringing us along in this "Starting a Small Business" series. First up? The Idea.

For me, it happened in autumn. The leaves were crunching, the corn mazes were cut, and the smell of delicious festival food was in the air. Suddenly, I had an idea. A fantastic idea. A “dude, someone should totally do this” kind of idea.

So you have this great idea. Now what?

Make sure it hasn’t been done – and if it has, make sure you can do it better.

This part is easy. A quick Google search will tell you whether or not someone has already picked up on what you want to do. If someone has your idea, check it out. Are they good at it? Is your idea better? It might be!

In my case -- and to my surprise -- no one had done it before! The idea was mine – something totally original, and it was mine. I wanted to make it explode.

Get a notebook.

Yeah, you probably have an app on your phone that can do what I’m going to recommend here, but I’m a “write it down” kind of gal. Sometimes an idea blows up so quickly in your brain that you can’t keep track of all the amazing things that seem to effortlessly flow – I promise you that won’t last. It will get hard. It will get frustrating. You may even forget why you thought this was a great idea in the first place.

Write down EVERYTHING -- name ideas, funding ideas, menu items or products, any kind of anything about your idea – write it down. Yes, I actually have a notebook that probably looks like notes from a psych ward patient, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to it and found a gem that sparks the creative juices again.

Get ready for research.

Why does your idea work? Ok, now prove it…with as many numbers and statistics as physically possible. Is there a need for your business or product? Is it immediate? What to market trends show? DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON THIS. Many websites offer studies for upwards of $4,000 each. You’re starting a small business; do you really have that kind of cash? I didn’t!

Entrepreneur has a great link where you can search for market research in your industry, and the Small Business Administration just launched Size Up, where you can search by industry and city. Remember though, these reports are conducted by companies on a large scale. You can also survey friends, people on Facebook, or others in your community – you don’t have to give away your idea to get the information you need.

Be specific. Ask questions. Track your responses.

Admit your shortfalls.

Do it now before someone else does it for you in the form of a public forum or yelp review.

Do you have a restaurant idea but have never worked in one? Are you wanting to design clothing but don’t know how to draw or sew? Or hey, maybe you have a product that you can create like no one has ever seen before, but you don’t know how to market it, or manage finances.

All of these are realistic shortfalls that can be corrected. Hire a restaurant manager with experience. Learn to draw and get a partner that sews. Take a free marketing class or watch webinars and hire an accountant. There is no shortfall you can’t overcome as long as you’re honest with yourself.

For the record, this is not the list of “Reasons Why My Idea Sucks” – these are honest shortcomings that you want to address so when a lender asks, “Have you owned a restaurant before?” You can say, “No – but I worked in one for over a year, and have prospective restaurant managers with extensive experience,” instead of “Um…no, but I seriously love food.”

Next Up: Creating a Plan