As an entrepreneur, coming up with new ideas for your business is likely not your problem; it’s knowing which of your many ideas are the best ones to pursue AND if now is the time to pursue them.
Throughout history, many great ideas have come and gone simply because they were developed at the wrong time, or not pursued at the right time. A team at Kodak was the first to develop a digital camera, way back in 1975, which they threw in a closet believing the people would never want to give up interacting with their photos on paper. Neither Facebook nor MySpace was the first social network, SixDegrees.com was; They launched in 1997, when the Internet was very new and people didn’t hang out online the way they do now, and as a result, they disappeared within 3 years.
Your success as an entrepreneur is based not just on which ideas you focus your time and energy on, but how those ideas fit into your overall business strategy and the marketplace.
Project Selection Criteria
Whenever you have a new idea, ask yourself the following questions:
- How long will it take you to get it together? Make your best guess and then double it; this will give you a more realistic expectation and will account for the inevitable delays that happen in every project.
- Will the time you spend on this project pull you off of a project that is more important to your business? You don’t have an unlimited supply of time so make sure you are utilizing it in the way that moves your business forward most efficiently.
- Does it have any leverage or re-purposing? A project that might not make sense on the surface might be more worthwhile when it becomes part of a later project. For example, hosting a free 30 day blogging challenge helped me create much of the content that I later turned into my Blogging for Business Course, plus it allowed me to see where bloggers were getting stuck.
- Do you have, or can you develop, a back-end product? Once someone becomes a customer, it’s easier to sell them other products than it is to find new customers. Try to position all of your offerings so they flow into your other products, rather than stand alone.
- What kind of resources do you need to bring this product to market? Consider ALL types of resources, including knowledge, technology, and financial.
- Is it going to solve a BIG PROBLEM? Solutions to big problems are easy to sell.
- Will it generate revenue for your customers, either directly or indirectly? Helping your customers to be more successful is not only easy to sell, the marketing practically writes itself.
- What is the potential size of the customer base and how easily can you reach them? Ideally, you’ll want to choose a customer base that it BOTH large and easy to reach. However, if you have to choose one or the other, choose the easy to reach group. You can always expand to other markets later.
- Can it take off and become self-marketing? In other words, will your customers like your product so much they tell their friends? Word of mouth advertising is still the best, and cheapest, marketing out there.
- Does it fit into your current offerings? When your products are too diverse, it is difficult for your customer to know what your brand represents.
- Are you passionate enough about it to create a compelling marketing campaign, even after finishing the product itself? If you exhaust all of your enthusiasm for the project in developing it, no one will ever hear about it, and you will have only succeeded in creating the world’s most amazing dust collector.
- Beyond the money, how does it fit in with your personal goals? During the day-to-day running of your business, it’s easy to forget that a big reason you choose this entrepreneurial life was to fulfill very personal goals. Maybe it’s to be home with the kids, or have the money to travel. When considering your new project, consider how it will impact these personal goals. It may be worthwhile to give up something in the short-term — taking a vacation in the next 6 months, for example — in order to reach your longer-term goals sooner.
After asking yourself these questions, you may discover it isn’t appropriate to move forward with your new idea at this time. Don’t throw that idea out! Simply shelve it for “later.”
Every time you have an idea, make a point to write out as many of the details as possible as soon as you can. In the creative passion that flows with a new idea, it will seem unlikely that you will forget any details EVER, but you will. The more time that elapses between the inspiration and the development of the idea, the more details will get foggy. So, get in the habit of writing IT DOWN. And storing it somewhere where you will come across the idea again later.
I have a file folder on my desk called, Tickler File: Ideas for Later, where I’ve stashed lots of random ideas I’ve had over the last several years. Lately, though, I’ve been using Evernote instead.
Evernote is a free tool that lets you organize your writing digitally across all of your devices. One reason it beats a paper file is that it is so easy to search. You may have forgotten the idea you had for a meetup group that you shelved 3 years ago, but Evernote won’t.
To manage your multitude of ideas, follow this simple process:
- Write it down! Before you do anything else, take a few minutes to write down your amazing idea, in as much detail as possible.
- Ask the “project selection criteria” questions above. If your idea meets muster, move it into your project management flow. If it doesn’t, file it in your “ideas for later” folder, or do nothing if you used Evernote.
- Review the “ideas for later” folder periodically. Whenever you embark on a new project, flip through your “ideas for later” folder for ideas you can incorporate into your new project. In Evernote, you can also search by keyword. The idea for this post came from an idea I had shelved many years ago and completely forgot about until I ran across my notes.
When you create a process for managing your many ideas, you can keep the creative juices flowing while also staying focused on the projects that you have already committed to. This will enable you to be much more effective in your business, both now and into the future. And you might find that the next time you sit down to crank out a new project, you’ll find that you’ve already written most of the content!