How to Brainstorm and Evaluate Business Ideas

So, you want to start a business.

Being your boss and putting time and effort into your business seems 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 they are any good and are struggling to write a business plan for your new business.

Let’s 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 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, encouraging 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 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.

Will your business idea succeed?
illustration of entrepreneur evaluating startup ideas
Take our free quiz and find out.

We won't ask for secrets or specifics.
Start the quiz - completely confidential and free!

Techniques for successfully brainstorming business ideas

  • Aim for quantity, not quality. Finding one great business idea is 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 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 reread the list later and discover a new idea you hadn’t thought of then. 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 built around or growing 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. Putting in those long hours is much easier if you care about what you’re doing.

So, ask yourself what you are passionate about. List the things you love – or hate – and see if those things lead to potential business ideas.

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

You can also explore buying a franchise. You don’t have to create something new. Leveraging an existing brand can help you get started quickly.

So, do some research. Check out the news in your industry. Use a keyword tool to identify relevant keywords people are using when searching. You may just find a new opportunity.

How much is a great logo worth to your business?
logo designer sitting in front of a computer
Answer 5 quick questions & gain 15 valuable insights to drive customer loyalty and business growth.
Start the free quiz now!

How to evaluate business ideas

Once you’ve accumulated a few promising business ideas, it’s time to evaluate 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, your business idea must be 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 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 not to 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?

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

Get the free ebook

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 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 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 value proposition? (How is your business different from the competition?) We discuss how to find your value 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, it will make it harder for your business to carve out the necessary space 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 can 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 a 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.

Design Done Better

The easiest way to get affordable, high-quality custom logos, print design, web design and naming for your business.

Learn How to Grow Your Business With Beautiful Design