Post by Steve Upham, altspace Coworking Office, Altrincham
The Summer is a great time to take some holiday, get out of your routine and put some thought into your business plans. If you are considering freelancing or starting up your own concern it can be a valuable chance to get some inspiration, research an idea or seek advice. Over the next 2 months I will be writing a string of posts aimed at helping you through the various elements of business planning. The early stages of planning should be fun and spontaneous and this week I will cover some techniques that I used to come up with my business idea for altspace.
Many of us who have committed to starting up our own businesses have switched from a comfortable existence working for an established company with the associated ( and often missed) perks. I was fortunate enough to have a good period of time to plan my startup and could call the shots on the timing of my departure from my role. Further to meeting a lot of entrepreneurs I now realise how fortunate I have been to have this time-line to think of strategy, funding, location and all of the other variables necessary to make a go of it alone.
If you have the drive and resilience you can complete your business plan quickly and accelerate your launch. One of my biggest challenges was discovering a business idea and combining a role that firstly I’d enjoy and would importantly be a financial success. Here are some brain storming techniques that you can practice to help to get your creative juices flowing and unearth some fresh, out of the box ideas.
The lightbulb moment – For years I couldn’t put my finger on a sensible business idea despite a strong desire to manage my own career. I then read a book by Chris Barez- Brown called ‘How to Have Kick Ass Ideas’ (2) which turned my life upside down. During a working exercise I established what I enjoyed doing and forged a link to my chosen career. In a nutshell I like helping small businesses and meeting a wide variety of people from contrasting backgrounds. When I combined this with another passion for property design and management I began to think of hosting events or training sessions.
The exercise involved recording my passions and hobbies on a scribble pad. By recording them in marker pen bubbles on paper I could then look for areas of overlap This creative process completed in my back garden resulted in a leaning towards a community based business in an inspiring venue. The idea of running my own coworking space almost jumped off the page and fascinated me. I knew very little about commercial property or how to start a business however I was confident that I could get around anything to reach my goal.
If you can write down your passions and build a business idea around these then you could be onto a winning formula in business. I would recommend that your ideas are future facing, in a growing field or area with not too much local competition. Coworking is taking off in London and across international Cities and I had a good grounding in digital media to help on the administrative and promotional side. My choice of location in South Manchester was determined partly by competition in the City Centre.
In my experience it is true that you need a lot of motivation to get the idea off the ground and it’s a lot more likely to succeed if you enjoy it. Ultimately you need your enthusiasm for a service or product to propel you in the early days and help it stand out to your target market.
Where’s the gap? – If you notice a missing service in your area or think of a product that can help improve your life then why not look into this as a business idea? In the age of the ‘long tail’ (1) there are a myriad of niche interests and consumers who you can now sell to online. As an example previously we thought of surfing as the only wave based sport, now we have kite surfing, paddle and boogie boarding, paragliding, outdoor swimming…. All of these activities require specialist equipment and some need instruction.
Think like a child – If you are drawing a blank with your creative vision for a business then approach the challenge as a child would. By this I mean thinking of outcomes without barriers or constraints fogging up the creative process. Children don’t tend to think of inhibitions and are naturally inquisitive so it can be refreshing to try to counter a challenge by putting yourself in their shoes. What would you do if money wasn’t an object and time wasn’t a constraint? Try to be playful and change your environment if possible. If this doesn’t work for you then think how would Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos approach the challenge?
By changing your perspective on a work challenge it will help you think laterally and create amazing solutions. Apply this to a startup and just scribble down any ideas that come into your mind and you might just come across a gem of an idea. At this early stage try to overlook any barriers to entry as this will cloud the exercise. Splurge all of your thoughts down without applying a filter, this can follow later when you revisit. By being spontaneous it stimulates the creative, right side of your brain. This spontaneity will reap rewards when you study the options in a more measured fashion.
(1) Chris Barez – Brown 2008
(2) Chris Anderson 2006