Lesson 2: Brainstorming techniques and narrowing down your focus
In today’s lesson, you’ll learn how to narrow your business idea and pick up some powerful brainstorming techniques that will get you one step closer to developing your business idea.
Done right, brainstorming builds strong connections that brings together your ideas. Good brainstorming needs to be clear and actionable, so we’ll lay down some groundwork before getting into the main question.
Throughout this lesson we'll check in with Kelly as she starts her business journey
Activity 1: Recognising patterns
Ask yourself the following questions on the worksheet and record your answers. You can write, draw, even record your voice talking out loud – do what feels most natural and comfortable to you.
What we’re looking for with these answers are patterns. Go back and read what you’ve written. Go for a walk, have some lunch, give yourself a break and then re-read.
- Does anything jump out at you?
- Are these activities one-on-one, in a group, or solitary?
- Are they focused on a particular theme or within a particular area?
What is a problem for you?
Spend 10 minutes on this, listing everything from small gripes to issues that are difficult to resolve. There’s no right or wrong here, you’ll filter your ideas out in the next exercise.
Circle anything that you can apply your skills, knowledge and abilities to.
Let's take Kelly - she's 28 and when she answered these questions, it became apparent that bringing people happiness by celebrating them was something she enjoyed doing, but never thought of as a potential business idea.
For Kelly, finding seasonal cookies outside of Christmas is a problem. She can’t find cookies that she can gift her best friend for Valentine’s Day, or a break up cookie to share with her friends with a positive message. What’s more, if she wanted to spend a day baking at her friends’ house, she had to source all the ingredients and materials or bring her own.
Activity 2: Challenges and opportunities
Spend another 10 minutes asking yourself what challenges and opportunities you see in applying your skill set to this problem.
- Will it take too much time?
- Will it take too much money?
- Does it require other people to help fix it?
- Does it require a specific product?
Download the worksheet and record your answers:
Kelly recognises that there are two potential opportunities: cookies with seasonal-specific messages, and a gift box containing baking ingredients and materials, everything that would be needed.
Activity 3: Are people willing to pay for this?
Kelly can see plenty of bakeries in her local suburb, so the concept works, but she’ll need to narrow down her audience to prevent overlap with other bakeries. She can also see potential in her baked boxes idea but isn’t sure about branching this way exclusively.
How much time and money are you prepared to spend up-front?
We’ll go through this in more detail towards the end of the course, but for now, have an idea how of much you’re willing to spend on your idea to get it up and running. Will you be focused on monetising your hobby, or do you need to reserve a whole weekend at the start?
Other questions you need to ask yourself:
- What do you enjoy doing every day? Every week?
- What do you most look forward to, or reflect on?
- What would you enjoy talking about for 10 minutes? Or writing 1000 words about it?
- What are your hobbies? What do you love doing? What do you enjoy seeing those around you do?
- What functions or aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
- Is there anything you want to improve on, or have improved in the past?
Download the worksheet and spend the next 20 minutes working through these questions. There are no right or wrong answers, it all comes down to what you enjoy doing.
For example: Kelly looks forward to cooking elaborate meals for her family and friends. She loves celebrations: birthday parties, Christmas, anniversaries. She loves seeing the look of surprise, delight and happiness on her friends’ faces when she bakes them a cake. She works as a software developer for a small firm, and while she really enjoys coding, she looks forward to bringing joy to her colleagues’ lives.
From her brainstorming session, Kelly can think of a number of directions for her business:
- She can start a greeting card company for special days and anniversaries that the current market lacks, like “Happy Work Wife Day”, but she’s a bit apprehensive about her illustrating skills
- She can sell cookies with similar sentiments, utilising her baking talent
- She can sell boxes of dry and liquid ingredients and tools needed to create cookies and cakes for different occasions
Does Kelly’s story sound familiar to you? Are you tossing up between a few ideas?
Here's a few other stories about people brainstorming ideas for their business:
- Some people were unable to find a cab in Paris after an annual tech conference in 2008. The idea to solve this problem started off as a timeshare limo service ordered through an app, but eventually became Uber. It actually started off as a side project and testing was initially limited to three cars in New York in 2010 – taking two years to go from idea to MVP (Minimal Viable Product).
- TipsyElves, a holiday-themed apparel company, started off selling ugly Christmas sweaters with an irreverent, modern twist. Since its launch in 2011, the company has made over $100M in sales and sold over 2M products. The founders were only armed with knowledge of simple website design, SEO and their idea to sell Christmas sweaters.
- In the 2000s, Aaron Krause was fixing his warehouse machinery when the idea for Scrub Daddy, a high-tech polymer that was soft in warm water and hard in hot water, was born. He used the sponge-like material to clean his hands after fixing machinery, however the market of engineers needing clean hands was too niche. In 2011, he had all but forgotten about his invention when his wife asked him to clean some outdoor furniture. Finding a box of his old sponge samples, he realised there were other uses for his sponge – soft in warm water and hard in hot water, beyond just being used by engineers. Relaunched as a household item, the cleaning company is now valued at $170M.
As you can see from these stories, successful businesses started off with a small idea that was adapted over time. You don’t have to come up with a vision for your business in 10 years’ time – you just need one solid idea and one solid market for now.
In the case of Scrub Daddy, the niche audience prevented commercial success until the idea to expand the base from engineers to household cleaning.
Similarly, take these terms:
- TikTok Lights (selfie lights on mobile phones)
- Keto Bread (low-carb bread)
- Beauty Fridges (mini-fridges)
They were added to existing products to cater for growing search demand and a new audience – but the products (selfie lights on mobile phones, low-carb bread and mini fridges) remained the same. They found a new customer and with it, a whole new way of marketing.
The next couple of lessons will focus on industry and market research so you can make sure your idea can scale, and that you’re delivering your business to the right audience.
It’s tempting to start your business now, but as you can see from famous success stories, it’s important to have a strong strategy in place.
In the next lesson
We’ll look specifically at how large the industry is and how large your market can be.