You'll need these later!
you'll be surprised where a good idea might come from.
To help you answer the Life Start challenges we’re lining up learning “shots”: quick but potent exercises to help you generate and develop ideas more quickly. You’ll learn how to form a creative mindset to solve challenges.
Every successful business is built on an idea that resonates with people. Finding powerful ideas like this isn't always straightforward.
They may not come when you expect, or they might not be what you first thought of. You could even be competing against others with similar ideas.
The good news is there's an infinite number of ideas out there. If you're alive to them, you can capitalise.
Whatever your idea, you'll need to dedicate a vast amount of time to make it a success.
For that reason alone choose an area that excites you. Your passion will give you an immediate advantage, so pick a topic you love.
We generate new ideas by thinking creatively, but don’t be put off if you don’t see yourself as a creative person.
Like anything, creativity improves quickly with practice. Sometimes the best ideas are found in simply looking for a workable solution. Once you identify the problem your business is trying to solve, you’ll often see the best way to solve it.
Don't worry if you sometimes draw a blank – this is natural. Just keep working at it and stay open minded.
You never know where you might be when an idea comes to you. A change of environment, different people, exercise, meditation, brainstorming. These are all ways that you can find inspiration – it’s about what works best for you.
Keep a notepad and pen handy and jot down ideas as they pop into your head or take notes on your phone as you do your daily commute. The idea may not entirely make sense, to begin with, but save it so you can refer back to later. And don't be afraid to experiment!
Now you know you have ideas in you, just don’t get caught up in detail too quickly. You might start thinking about an outstanding name, whether your business is a shop or an app, or even how it will make money. Instead, just keep it simple. Start with a real-world problem that you think needs solving and go from there. Top companies begin like this. So let’s take a look at the problems they’ve solved.
Let's look at how Uber is changing how we travel.
What problems does Uber solve?
- I need to get somewhere quickly.
- I need to get somewhere safely.
- I never have enough cash in my pocket for a cab.
We’ve simply identified a set of problems and then the answers to those problems can be developed into a business idea. There’s been no attempt to develop the business model itself yet – and no talk of an app that will get you from A-B by car.
Instead we think about what the solutions are to these problems. Then it may look something like this:
Problem: I need to get somewhere quickly.
Solution: A driver could pick you up from a GPS location.
Problem: I need to get somewhere safely. Solution: Drivers could be rated.
Problem: I never have enough cash for a cab.
Solution: You could process all payments through an app.
Now, this starts to look like Uber.
Just as identifying areas you’re passionate about will help you, so will solving an issue you’ve faced yourself.
First of all it helps ensure that it is a real problem. Many start-ups fail because they’re trying to solve something that isn’t really a problem.
If you can’t think of many examples, you can ask family and friends. Listing problems down can also make idea generation a lot easier. Get good at identifying problems you’ll get good at generating business ideas!
Ask yourself a few questions:
- What companies do you use in your everyday life that you like?
- Are there services that you don't like but have to use because there are no alternatives?
- What is it about these that annoys you and what do you wish they’d do better?
These are all areas that can help us generate ideas.
To begin targeting your thinking a little more let's look at where opportunities for your passions and interests might exist. One example is your university.
Some of the biggest brands in the world were founded by students for students. Richard Branson and "Student" magazine and Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are just two well-known examples.
So ask yourself what issues do students of your age group face today. Student life differs hugely from course to course and campus to c ampus of course. Meaning the issues you face may be completely different to those faced by your peers. This is what makes this such a valuable exercise.
Start by making a list of the issues you’ve faced at university. Then expand this to include issues other students on your course are facing. Expand this again to include issues students on other different courses in your university are facing. and Then expand once more to include issues faced by students at other universities.
As your lists expand you should start to notice some common issues across all the groups and along with more niche issues that affect only one segment.
Next, take your list of passions and interests and combine them with the issues you’ve identified. Some pairings will seem obvious and others totally random – but just have fun with it. Sometimes the best ideas start with unusual pairings.
You love to travel and identify money can be tight for students. Maybe you can look at how to save money on student travel.
You love art and identify that a society in your university doesn’t have a platform to advertise. Could you explore a magazine or design posters?
You love football and identify the Student Union food is terrible. So you explore a BBQ event around student sports events.
As you compile your list, you may start to question if the areas you’re passionate about can be profitable and if the profitable areas are something you can be passionate about.
Don't worry if the ideas you’re drawn to are not directly linked to a one of your hobbies or interests. Just ask yourself if you could enthusiastically get behind the idea? Could you convince others it’s a good idea? Can you see yourself working hard to get this idea off the ground or will you lose interest? This is what you need to be sure of.
Learning to spot opportunities will benefit you your whole life. Just look at the inspiration behind the Virgin brand to find out more.
‘I’ve tried to identify new areas, but all of my research either seems
to have already been done or just seems silly – what next?’
Coming up with a new business idea can feel challenging if you suspect others will have the same idea. Sometimes this is the reality, and it is a case of who gets there first.
Other times, it only feels that way because a problem is so obvious to you.
So don’t let this put you off.
The most important factor is to identify a real problem in an area you’re interested in and go from there.
If your idea is based on a business that already exists, you can also identify ‘gaps in the market’.
Spotting a gap in the market is still identifying a problem that hasn't been solved.
You do this by noting what is being done well, and what isn’t.
Don’t be shy of observing and borrowing from other businesses to help you shape an idea:
- Identify what can you can do differently
- Identify existing features and practices that you need to keep
- Decide on your Unique Selling Points (USPs). What will you have that no- one else has?
Technology has changed nearly everything in our lives, including opportunities for entrepreneurs.
For example, start-up costs are often far lower as you don’t always need premises. Technology also allows you to target a worldwide audience more easily.
In the same way that Netflix has replaced DVD’s, could you look at something we take for granted now and give it a technological twist?
Try looking at your list of hobbies and interests and think about how technology might improve your experience of these.
Then look at the accompanying issues you’ve identified and think about how technology might solve those.
You don't need to be tech savvy. If you have a strong idea that you think will solve a common issue you could always collaborate with someone on the technology.
A good way to stand out is to look at businesses that work well in other sectors and then apply their principles to a sector you’re interested in.
Borrowing from other sectors is a tried and tested approach to creating something new because it also carries less risk. You’re effectively creating a version of a proven product in a different sector.
Here are some examples:
- LinkedIn: Facebook for professionals.
- Grabble: Tinder for clothes shopping.
- Audible: Spotify for books.
Your passion could be more about how a product or service impacts people’s lives, rather than how it might solve an issue in your’s.
If so, ask yourself:
- Could this passion help other people?
- Are there business ideas in giving people a platform?
- Can you make money and still give people a voice?
- Is there a contradiction for you with ‘helping people’ and making money?
If you want to work with a particular group of people or attempt an idea that is more community based research everything carefully to ensure what you’re doing is ethical.
Now that you have identified a great idea, how can you find out if it could work?
To turn your ideas into a business, you will need to get into three main areas:
1 - understand your customers
2 - define a business plan
3 - learn to present your ideas.
A sustainable business needs customers. To help you understand your customers better you could look to yourself first.
Develop a basic understanding of your own personal finances and you’ll understand and appreciate your customers’ mindset more.
Like how they look to save and manage their budget.
A budget is a plan of how much money you expect to receive and spend over a certain.
Follow these quick and easy steps to create a simple student’s budget for a week.
1 - Work out how much money you HAVE.
Calculate this by simply dividing your student loan by the number of weeks in a term. If you receive £1,400 per term with 10 weeks in a term then you can spend a maximum of £140 per week. If you also work part-time or get money from your parents then add them to the initial figure.
2 - Work out what you NEED.
Write down your outgoings – like rent, food, transport and any other essentials.
Tip: Check out saving sites. One example is mysupermarket.com where you can create a basket of food for the week from all the supermarkets nearby to cut your food bill.
3 - Lastly, how much money do you have LEFT?
Try to include everything else you spend your money on, even if it’s an educated guess.
Then subtract the total amount you spend from what you bring in to assess where you are financially.
As an example:
You have £140
You spend £70 (rent) plus £5 (bills) plus £25 (food) which equals £100.
The money you have left is £40 per week.
That would leave money for two nights out a week (£15 x 2 so £30), a Netflix subscription (around £1.50 a week) and £8.50 to spend on a meal out.
Being more aware of what you spend makes it easier to spend money on the things you enjoy the most.
Now, in pretty much the same way, you can plan the finances for business idea.
1 - Figure out your fixed costs
These are business costs that don’t change from month to month like renting a work space.
2 - Then work out the gross profit
Gross profit is what’s left after you take off your direct costs from a sale.
For example, if you sell a shirt for £20 and it costs £10 to make and have it delivered your gross profit would be £10. That’s: £20 (sales) minus £10 (costs) which equals £10 (gross profit)
Next, work out your gross profit percentage. Simply take the gross profit and divide it by the price to calculate this. In this example it would be 50%. That’s: £10 (sales) divided by £20 (gross profit) which is 50% (gross profit).
3 - Now calculate the break-even
The break-even is the point at which you cover costs with sales. To work out how much you need to sell to break-even take your monthly fixed costs and divide by the gross profit percentage.
So if your fixed monthly costs (e.g. rent and website costs) are £100 a month, to break-even, you need to make sales of £200 a month. That’s: £100 (costs) divided by 50% (gross profit percentage) which equals £200.
So at a price of £20 you’d need to sell 10 shirts a month to break-even.
Although you may have only covered your costs, this gives you an really good measure of how much cash-flow you’ll need to run the business.
Cash-flow projections are useful in every business forecast, but especially if you haven’t launched yet. They can highlight whether you’ll be able to start off small with the resources that you have and build steadily. Or if and when you may need to borrow money to keep cash-flow going.
Most business ideas do need an initial investment to get started, but this doesn`t have to be as much as you think. Not having a large investment definitely shouldn’t put you off a pursuing a strong idea.
It’s a good move in any case to start off small, so you can get to know how the business will run and most importantly if customers are willing to pay for what you’re selling.
- What can you do when you have no resources?
- Is necessity the mother of invention?
There are many different ways to format your business plan, so don't get stuck on a particular approach, just focus on making it clear.
Lean Canvas is a simple framework to get started. There are a few different variations, but most use this kind of structure:
- The Problem: what are your customers top 3 problems?
- The Solution: how do you plan to solve each of these?
- Customer Segments: who are your target customers?
- Unique Value Proposition: what’s the compelling message that will get people interested in you?
- Unfair Advantage: what do you have that can’t be copied easily?
- Key Metrics: which calculations will help you decide that the business is doing well? It could be sales figures or sign-ups for example
- Channels: how will you reach your target? On Facebook, by email, in person? All of them?
- Costs: what will you need to spend on to make the business work? A website? Premises? Equipment? Employees?
- Revenue: how will you make money?
Why would people believe in your business idea without knowing who you are and what your business does? In other words you need to pitch.
The pitch is the presentation to showcase your idea and make people feel excited by what it can become.
Before you put your pitch together think, “what do I want to get from this?”.
A pitch isn’t just telling the world how great your business idea is. It’s a detailed, pre-prepared way to ask someone for something. Pitches involve a lot of effort to deliver well, so you make sure you focus first on what you want to get in return.
You may have heard the term ‘elevator pitch’. This is a condensed version of your pitch for more informal and fast-moving settings, like networking events.
It’s a simple yet powerful way to get people interested and is supposed to be short and to the point. Often they’re no longer than 60 seconds.
Elevator pitches all follow a similar structure. We’ll detail some of the different ways you can your craft one at the end of this section.
For now though we’ll build one together to demonstrate the kind of structure we mean. You can then follow this to create your own.
So imagine we’re in a lift with an investor, about to pitch to them an app for dog lovers! We have one minute until we each the top floor and part ways.
Here’s how we’d pitch it in that time.
Create the problem space:
This is the opening hook that grabs attention, sets the scenario and helps someone picture why there a should be business to solve this problem.
Example: “Dogs are awesome. They bring so much happiness. However, there are lots of dog lovers who can’t be dog owners. Dogs are expensive and the cost is just too high for some.”
Then talk about your company and what you do:
In one sentence, introduce your company name and mission statement.
Example: “Puppy Love is an app that connects dog lovers to dog owners in the local area to share the joy that dogs bring.”
Next speak about your target customers:
Example: "The app is for dog lovers who either don't have time to own a dog or can't afford to. The app is also for dog owners who need help to look after their dog on a short-term basis. Puppy Love allows them can go out for dinner or the cinema without worrying about their dog being home alone!
Identify your Unique Selling Point:
Say what makes you stand out. What you'll do that no-one else can?
Example: This is the only company that prepares people for the experience of owning a dog by creating an "on-demand" dog borrowing service.
Lastly differentiate your business from the competition:
Example: "Unlike a doggy day-care centre with dozens of dogs and busy staff, Puppy Love members only look after one dog at a time, so the dog gets their full attention. It's also much cheaper for dog owners than traditional dog care.
Put all this together and you have the elevator pitch:
"Dogs are awesome. They bring people happiness. However, there are lots of dog lovers who can't be dog owners. Dogs are expensive and the cost is just too high for some."
"Puppy Love is an app that connects dog lovers to dog owners in the local area to share the joy that dogs bring."
"The app is for dog lovers who either don't have time to own a dog or can't afford to. The app is also for dog owners who need help to look after their dog on a short-term basis. Puppy Love allows them can go out for dinner or the cinema without worrying about their dog being home alone!"
"This is the only company that prepares people for the experience of owning a dog by creating an 'on-demand' dog borrowing service."
"Unlike a doggy day-care centre with dozens of dogs and busy staff, Puppy Love members only look after one dog at a time, so the dog gets their full attention. It's also much cheaper for dog owners than traditional dog care."
Presenting can be a difficult skill to master and it comes more naturally to some than others. It’s important to remember that there is no one method of public speaking that works for everyone. For you to feel comfortable it’s important that you to develop your own presentation style.
Watch stand-up comedy and you’ll notice every comedian has their own way of delivering jokes. Public speaking is much the same and pitching works best if you’re relaxed and comfortable, so you can sell your business with more confidence. Figuring out your own style will help with this.
1 - Practice
The number one tip. Always practice your pitch, then Practice some more. Read the pitch aloud to yourself and others and get feedback. Maybe record yourself and watch or listen back to it. Even though it may feel unnatural, it's great to hear how you'll sound to the people you're pitching to.
2 - Break the ice
Introduce humour into your presentation if you can. It can create an emotional connection between you and the audience. An ice-breaker at the start of your presentation helps to relax both you and the people you're presenting to.
3 - Speak clearly!
Speaking clearly and steadily, try not to mumble.
4 - Take your pauses
Time passes differently while you're presenting. What may feel like a normal speaking tempo to you can feel like light speed to your audience. So build in pauses and cover fewer areas.
5 - Make eye contact
Try to make regular eye contact with people as it shows confidence and helps form an emotional connection. If you're having some trouble, focus on one or two people and imagine they're your friends down the pub.
6 - Borrow techniques from others
There are some great presenters and pitchers around. Watch Ted Talks and YouTube videos of people pitching and write down techniques that seem to work well.
It does require patience and perseverance to unearth a business idea you feel passionate about, but just remember ideas are everywhere. You can find them.
Just keep it simple. If you concentrate on the detail too quickly it'll distract you from the idea. Dig a few holes, as they say, before you start to dig deeper.
A good approach to generating new business ideas can also be found in this short 3-minute video.