A gluten-free bakery. An open-concept workspace for entrepreneurs. Your neighbourhood dog walker. What do these businesses have in common? They exist to solve a problem—that’s how the majority of business ideas come to fruition.
Identify the problem
Businesses exist to solve problems, and pain points come in all shapes and sizes. It’s possible you’ve already discovered a big idea to solve a problem, which means you’re ready to find a solution.
If not, discover the problem you’re trying to solve and do the critical work of exploring how your community and network react to that pain point. Dissect, understand and analyze your problem through the lens of your potential customers. This is the first step in the startup phase of your business’ journey.
Talk about the problem you’ve identified with a diverse group of people to gain unique insights and perspectives. You don’t need a formal presentation with a slide deck—just chat and see how they feel about it. Aim to talk to at least 100 people to get a good sense of whether or not this is a significant problem for others. When you’re talking about your problem, paint the picture of why it exists, who it impacts and what can be improved by solving it.
Find the solution
After you feel you have a firm understanding of this problem's impact, it’s time to brainstorm how to solve it. You might have come into this process with one solution in mind, but this is an opportunity to take it to the next level.
Reach out to mentors, friends and other collaborators for a brainstorming session. The more people you have around the table, the more ideas you’ll create and the clearer the potential of each idea will be. The more ideas the better.
To be as successful as possible, use a moderator so everyone gets equal opportunity to share ideas. Whoever moderates shouldn’t share their ideas so they can focus on creating a safe space for others. You could moderate your own meeting—this can be a good option if you tend to be more introspective.
If you want to be part of the brainstorm, find someone else to moderate the conversations and guide the session. If you prefer to talk through your ideas, this could be the best option for you.
Make the most of your brainstorming session—allow space for open conversation. Have someone take detailed notes to capture every idea.
Everyone brainstorms differently, so try a few different methods:
- Begin the brainstorm by setting some ground rules. Be open with the group, sharing the problem(s) you’ve identified and the specific goals you have for the brainstorming session.
- Let the group know that you’re looking for quantity over quality. Plausible or not, every idea has value. You can edit your ideas down the road.
- Generate ideas individually first and then come together as a group to review and develop them further. If this works well, do it a few times with a few key focuses.
- Bring a timer. This will help keep track of time for prompted brainstorming. If the conversation is really productive, however, don’t let it hinder your progress. Let the good work happen in its own time!
- Prompt your group to think big with questions like:
- What if money was no issue?
- What does the industry believe right now about what the customer wants? What if the opposite were true?
- What is trending right now? Is there potential to look ahead to capture something ahead of the curve?
- What is the shortest path to the customer, and how can we get there?
- What would our dream client testimonial say?
- Is there a businessperson you look up to? What would they do in this situation?
- Ignore distractions. It can be easy to jump ahead into things like names, logos and slogans, but always come back to the reason why you came together.
Solutions into ideas
Take away your potential solutions and walk through them one by one. What are the pros and cons of each? Is there one that stands out? If so, you may have found your business idea and can start testing it through market research. If you’re not quite sure, use an impact chart to rank your ideas. Look for solutions that are high impact and easier to implement—they’re your best chance of success.
Not all solutions will be apparent immediately—this is normal. It may take a few more tries to brainstorm potential solutions, but you can always keep your focus on why you started. Get back to the heart of the problem you hope to solve by returning to the discovery process above. Reaching out to new people to gain even more insights than what you found in your initial conversations can inform potential solutions and keep new ideas coming.
Once you've locked down a solid business idea, take some time to consider the structure of your business.