Change is not easy.
Starting something new is a step into the unknown. It can be unsettling and frightening – we don’t know what the outcome will be.
That first step is often the most difficult to take but unless you take it you’re not going anywhere. The idea will stay an idea, your dream will stay a dream and the world will be none the wiser.
This can be made more difficult by the limitations of the very friends and colleagues you seek encouragement and validation from.
I used to seek validation from friends about every new business idea I had in mind.
But I don’t anymore… why?
A moment of magic
Coming up with a great idea is a moment of magic, but it is an extremely fragile one.
As is my nature I dive into everything headfirst, with boundless enthusiasm and wearing my heart on my sleeve, I am no different now at 60 than I was at 11.
But new ideas need protection, not because someone might steal them but because well-intentioned feedback can be destructive.
Your new embryonic idea needs protection from the limitations of others – especially your friends and family.
I have one friend who when called for encouragement or feedback on a new idea would invariably say:
“Oh, I had that idea a few years ago”
Or “ I read about another company who’ve already done that”
Or ”loads of people have had that idea”
He would then spend 20 minutes telling me how he would do it (interestingly he never realised any of the ideas he came up with but “I could have if I’d wanted to” he would say.
I’m sure he had the best intentions
At first the result was that, I inevitably came away from the call feeling deflated and depressed.
Later I would come away from the call thinking to myself “Well sod him, I’m doing it anyway”.
Now I don’t ask anymore.
Not only was my idea not ready for harsh criticism, neither was I.
Remember, most of your friends and family have never tried to start a business themselves. They also don’t want you to fail, they don’t want you to take unnecessary risks, they don’t want you to make a fool of yourself and in doing so they can’t see the light for the darkness.
Some people are also, by nature, filled with negativity; they can demolish your fragile beliefs and fill you with doubt. Recognise these people for what they are.
Sometimes you even have to ignore yourself. You can be your own harshest critic, I am certainly mine.
There are countless examples of successful ventures; artists, musicians, authors and inventors who, if they had listened to others at the very beginning, would never have succeeded.
Take Google – “Who needs another search engine?” Or AirBnB – “Who would want to sleep in a total strangers house?” Or J.K Rowling whose family saw her imaginations as just “an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension”, but who went on to become one of the world’s most successful authors.
When should I tell people about my idea?
Some entrepreneurs recommend getting feedback from family and friends as soon as you can and that by keeping it a secret you’re only isolating yourself from their help and support.
I disagree. I think that, in the beginning, it’s best to resist the temptation to tell everyone you know about your idea while it’s still naked to the touch and blinking in the sunlight.
“Everybody is too busy with their own lives to give a damn about your book, painting, screenplay, etc., especially if you haven’t finished it yet. And the ones who aren’t too busy you don’t want in your life anyway.” – Hugh MacLeod
Yes you’re going to need encouragement and emotional support as you progress, but do some ground work first.
Bed your idea down in some solid thinking and research and answer your own questions before you seek the opinions of others.
- What are its strengths and weaknesses?
- What are the potential risks and opportunities?
- What is the potential market size?
- Who is the customer?
- Does it fulfill a need of the customer?
- Who are your potential competitors and what is you ‘USP’: What makes your idea different / of more benefit and interest to the customer?
- Can it be profitable?
Without a decent profit margin your business will not survive and grow
- Is it scalable?
Does it have the potential to make money while you sleep?
- Can you do it without outside investment?
- What is your MVP?
(Minimal viable product) meaning: what is the smallest/quickest/test version you can build to test and deliver customer value with the least amount of effort.
- Will you be able to launch it quickly?
When to seek feedback
Once you have answered these questions and you feel your great new idea for a business still has potential, then seek opinions carefully. Be selective with who you ask.
Entrepreneurs don’t work in isolation. You definitely need feedback, opinions, guidance, mentors and connections to help you make your idea a reality and a success. But, give your new idea a chance to take form before you talk.
Then ‘Listen to advice, but don’t be dictated by it’.
The idea however is just the beginning, what you do next will decide whether you’re a ‘dreamer or a doer’.
Ideas are common, everyone you talk to has an idea for something they would like to do, but 99.9% of people never do them.
What is uncommon and will turn that idea into a reality is self-discipline, the ability to listen and a willingness to keep going. It may sound harsh, but if you don’t have all of these then stop now. You will only waste your time and your money.
You don’t need the perfect idea you don’t even an original idea to start your own business, you just need to start.
Entrepreneurs are no different to anyone else, there is no special genetic ingredient and they don’t have magic powers – they are just like you. The only difference is they don’t just dream it, they do it.
Is your idea the right idea?
How do you decide if your idea is the right idea for you to pursue?
Starting your own business requires sweat, hard work and persistence, persistence, persistence – every step of the way. You need to live and breathe your business and your brand, not because you have to but because you want to.
Building a successful business especially a self-funded business (which is how I prefer to work) is no walk in the park; it requires a lot of self-discipline, passion, patience and planning.
A well known quote by Eddie Cantor, back in the 1950’s:
“It takes ten years to become an overnight success”
Therefore it makes sense to build a business around something you enjoy doing.
Here are a couple of things I believe are worth thinking about when deciding if your new idea is right for you.
- Why do you want to start a business in the first place? The answer should not be just “to make money”
- Will you enjoy doing it every day
- Does it “scratch your own itch”? Meaning if you’re a potential user yourself, you know the problem firsthand, you know what is wrong with what is already available and you want to find ‘a better way’.
Cautionary warning: Don’t assume everyone has your problem and don’t assume your solution solves their pain.
- Is it a good fit with your personality / your personal goals?
- Does it match the lifestyle you want to have for you and your family?
I have some very successful friends who are doing what they do for the money, for the exit strategy, for the buyout, but they hate their job. I have friends who do what they do because to do something else would risk the lifestyle they are used to and have come to depend on, so they ‘keep on keeping on’.
- What is the worst that can happen if I fail? I think It’s good to know where your boundaries are.
Remember ‘the idea’ is where it all begins.
But, you need to answer these important questions before you jump into spending valuable time, energy and cost developing business plans, designs, websites, incurring legal setup costs and all the other things that come with starting your own business.