How to Brainstorm and Evaluate Business Ideas

So, you want to start a business.

The idea of being your own boss and putting your time and effort into a business of your own probably seems pretty appealing. But, you may have already realized that coming up with a viable, profitable business idea can be tough.

Maybe you just don’t think you have any ideas. Or, maybe you have plenty of ideas, but don’t know if any of them are actually any good and are struggling to write a business plan for your new business.

Let’s take a closer look at how to brainstorm and evaluate business ideas.

How to brainstorm business ideas

There is an art to brainstorming.

And that art lies primarily in getting out of your own way.

Brainstorming relies on divergent thinking. This kind of non-linear, stream-of-consciousness thinking where one idea naturally leads to the next can be challenging for many.

Science may be able to explain why.

A longitudinal study of creative potential performed by NASA revealed that 98% of 4 and 5-year-old children were “creative geniuses” according to their test. This percentage dropped drastically as the participants grew older until only 2% of the original group scored at that same “creative genius” level.

NASA’s test measured for strength in divergent thinking. However, our educational system (and social conditioning) focuses on convergent thinking which encourages linear, black and white thinking.

With such emphasis placed on finding the one right answer (convergent approach), by the time we are adults, we’re taught to ignore the wide variety of possible right answers (divergent approach).

But, if you want to brainstorm effectively, you’ll need to tap into that childlike, divergent freedom of thought that you may have left behind.

We realize that that may be trickier than we make it sound. So, here are a few tips for de-conditioning your convergent-thinking bias and conducting an effective brainstorming session.

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Techniques for successfully brainstorming business ideas

  • Aim for quantity, not quality. Finding one great business idea is obviously your primary goal. Quality is important. But, worrying about quality taps into convergent thinking, inhibiting your ability to generate new ideas. It will only hold you back at this stage of the game. Putting the focus on generating lots of ideas takes the pressure off. Have confidence that the best ideas will reveal themselves. You can’t force only the best ideas to come forward. But, they will appear together with other, less effective ideas. And, that’s okay.
  • Have fun and be silly. True creativity and ingenuity occur when you don’t try to control the process. Free-form, stream-of-consciousness associations are most effective for brainstorming. So stretch your cognitive process by allowing silly ideas to have a voice.
  • Don’t edit or judge yourself. There are no bad ideas this early in the process. And, finding a profitable business idea is a process. Allowing yourself to riff off of an idea that may not work is part of the journey to finding an idea that will.
  • Write everything down. It’s important to keep a record of all your ideas. You may not see an idea’s true worth until later. You may read the list again later and discover a new idea you hadn’t thought of at the time. All of that creative thought is valuable. So, keep a copy of it.

Brainstorming prompts to get you started

Staring at a blank screen or an empty canvas can be daunting for even the most experienced creative thinkers. It’s hard to pull a fully-formed idea out of a vacuum.

Luckily, there are many sources of inspiration that you can use to guide your brainstorming as you work to discover your great business idea. Here are a few…

Think about problems in your own life

As crowdspring founder and CEO Ross Kimbarovsky explains in how to start a business:

Some of the best ideas are born when a person solves their own problem.

We started crowdspring because we were frustrated that it was difficult, time consuming, and expensive to name new companies and buy affordable, high-quality custom graphic design. In solving our own problem, we built a global community of over 220,000 designers and namers who have helped tens of thousands of the world’s best entrepreneurs and small businesses with these (and other) creative services.

What challenges in your life frustrate you the most? How are you solving those problems? Are there existing solutions that could help you?

Think about other people’s problems

If you find that you don’t have a personal problem that translates into a profitable business model, Kimbarovsky recommends:

Talk to people you know. The world is full of problems that need to be solved.

When you talk to your friends about their problems, ask “why” questions before you get to “what” or “how.” It’s most important to understand why people have a problem because knowing the “why” will often let you find an out-of-the-box solution.

Plan to research multiple different ideas simultaneously to find the one idea that makes the most sense. You’ll want to understand who has the problem you’re solving, the size of the market, potential competitors, and more.

Consider your skills or area of expertise

What are you really good at? Do you have a unique area of knowledge or skill?

If you’re an expert in a topic, consider business ideas that are built around or grow from those skills.

As the founder of your business, you should know it better than anyone else. Your employees will look to you for answers. And, you’ll be responsible for making things right with customers or clients when they go awry. So, founding a business in your specific field of skill will serve you and your business well in the long-run.

Consider what you are passionate about

Whether it’s a hobby, a personal value, or an altruistic mission, your passions are a great resource for business ideas.

You will spend long hours starting and building your business. You’ll find it much easier to put in those long hours if you really care about what you’re doing.

So, ask yourself what you are really passionate about. Make a list of the things that you absolutely love – or hate – and see if those things lead to potential business ideas.

Just remember, once you make your fun hobby your work, it often becomes work. Be sure to find new ways to relax and unwind to maintain a healthy life balance if you decide to make your favorite hobby your job.

Think about what is trending right now

Has new legislation opened up a new industry? Or has new technology developed a new market? There are plenty of opportunities and variety in the self-employed jobs you can pursue.

With every new innovation, a lucky few entrepreneurs with excellent insight and perfect timing are able to seize the moment and build wildly successful businesses. Leveraging new technology, product or service can deliver lots of business ideas worth considering.

So, do some research. Check out the news in your industry. You may just find a new opportunity.

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How to evaluate business ideas

Once you’ve accumulated a few promising business ideas, it’s time to start evaluating them critically for viability.

You’ll want to consider both internal factors (determined by you) and external factors (determined outside of your control) to get the complete picture.

Here’s what you should consider…

Internal checks

There are many unknowns in every new business venture. But there is one definite known quantity – you.

And, while your business’s success will depend on many things, your skills, knowledge, and work traits will play a huge role in your success or failure. So, it’s important that your business idea is compatible with… well… you.

Here are some questions to ask as you review your possible business ideas:

  • Do you care enough about your idea to devote most of your time to it?
  • Do you have the skills and/or knowledge to pull it off? (If not, do you have resources who can help?)
  • Can you live with or enjoy the day-to-day duties this business will entail?
  • How much of your own time/money do you have to devote to this venture? And, is that enough?

External checks

Perform a market analysis

Your market is the audience of people who may buy your product or use your service. Without a market, every business idea is doomed to fail.

But, it’s not enough to assume that a market exists. You must dig deeper so you don’t build a business around faulty assumptions.

Here are a few questions you should answer with your research:

  • Is there a market for your product or service? (Who will buy from you?)
  • How many potential customers are in your market?
  • Is the market big enough to sustain your business?
  • Can your target audience afford your product or service?

How do you perform a proper marketing analysis?

For a more in-depth study into how to perform a proper market analysis, check out Chapter 2 in our free ebook - How to Start a Business from Scratch. You can download it for free.

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Review your competition

Once you’ve researched your market and established that it’s healthy enough to sustain your business, it’s time to consider who else may be vying for your market’s money and attention.

Unless you’re very, very lucky, you won’t be the only game in town. You’ll be competing against other businesses for those same customers.

  • What market share will you need to claim in order to sustain a healthy business?
  • What market share is already controlled by your competitors?
  • Is there a giant brand that has already cornered your market?
  • What is your business’s unique selling proposition? (How is your business different from the competition?) We discuss how to find your unique selling proposition, and much more, in our guide on creating a unique and memorable brand identity.

You may have a brilliant business idea. But, if the market is already cornered or over-crowded, that will make it harder for your business to carve out the space necessary to succeed.

Perform a financial analysis

Finally, it’s time to consider the financial viability of your business idea. If the numbers don’t work out, your business won’t succeed.

  • How much will it cost to start the business?
  • How much will it cost to run the business?
  • Can your target market provide enough sales to cover costs and deliver a profit?
  • Can you acquire financial backing (micro-loan, business credit account, crowdfunding, grants, etc.) to help you get started?
  • How long do you estimate it will take to reach profitability?

If you understand the financial landscape, you’ll be able to confidently assess whether your business idea is strong or just a pipe-dream. So, take the time to do the research.

Ignore distractions

At this stage, focus on evaluating your ideas, not on things that can distract you. For example, it will be important for you to find a catchy business name and develop a  unique business logo for your brand. But neither will matter if you don’t have a viable, strong idea in the first place.

You can do this

Starting your own business can be the most rewarding decision you ever make. Don’t let lack of an idea hold you back from your entrepreneurial dreams.

Instead, follow the guidance we’ve provided here to brainstorm and evaluate ideas until you find the one.

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