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What makes a great business idea?

As readers of this blog will know, I work with young people to help them launch their own businesses. Business start-up success is, of course, as much to do with the capabilities of the would-be entrepreneur as the quality of their business idea, but invariably I judge the latter before I know the former.

 

When I first hear a business idea, I subconsciously and unfairly assess it by whether the idea personally appeals to me. My passion for social enterprise, for example, tends to make me more positive about business ambitions that are more than just ‘making money’.

Over the past 20 months I’ve been told about over 100 possible businesses. Beyond my personal interests, what can I conclude about the elements of a potentially good business idea?

Is it a novel idea? If you take the ‘five f’s’ – fashion, food, facial treatments, photography and fitness – out of the frame, there are probably less than 50 other ideas. Of these, few have been particularly different, but two stand out.

The first is a shoe-selling service for people with different sized feet and amputees with only one leg. A young entrepreneur with mild cerebral palsy has feet that are two sizes different meaning she needs to buy two pairs of shoes to get ones that fit properly. She knows how costly this is and wants to solve the problem for herself and others by selling odd size pairs and single shoes.

The second business involves selling pearls in oysters that are then set in jewelry pieces of the customer’s choice. Each oyster (scanned at source to ensure it actually contains a pearl) is opened live on social media, with the owner looking on, creating an excitement which builds as the jewelry piece is created in the following weeks (for supply in the oyster shell?)

What are the start-up costs? Cost is as much about the time as the money it will need upfront. Even techy start-ups – with the right in-house expertise – can launch a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to test the market without a major financial investment. I’ve written elsewhere about the value of not investing too much time and money in a new venture, making it relatively easier to ‘recover’ if/when the enterprise doesn’t take off. Some argue that a high personal investment makes the entrepreneur work harder to make the business succeed (but it can also make them blind to the dead horse they’re flogging).

What’s the competition? Novelty adds interest and ‘instant appeal’, but the most unusual business ideas may be novel for a very good reason; that others have tried unsuccessfully to make them work. This may be down to timing or location, but the rate with which some restaurants continue to change hands on the same site after successive failures makes me think that many restaurant owners believe they alone can buck the trend.

That said, there is something to be said in favour of starting a business in a crowded marketplace – a coffee shop for example. The number of people already selling coffee confirms there’s widespread demand for the product and/or service. And, to some degree, publicity for just one coffee shop benefits all coffee outlets in the locality. When competition is fierce it’s then ‘just’ a matter of doing better than the others. Like the barbershop in my home town which opened on Sundays when the other four barbers didn’t (now three of them do).

One way to tackle the competition is to go for a niche within the particular business sector – something that, with the advent of cost-effective communication through social media, is now more possible than ever. One young photographer is specialising in photoshoots with new born babies aged 5 to 10 days. The beauty of catching ’em so young is the scope for repeat business with milestone photos.

Is the idea simple to grasp? Business start-up ideas tend to be over-complicated. This is partly a reflection on the muddled thinking of the would-be entrepreneur – buzzing with too many ideas and thinking they have to be firing on all cylinders from day one. But if the product and/or service is not clearly communicated, the business tends to suffer because it expects too much of potential customers to understand the offer – they lose interest and look elsewhere.

It’s almost as if young people think a simple idea makes them sound, er, simple. But in a room full of business ideas of varying complexity, the best idea (on a particular day I’m recalling) was described quite simply in three words – cleaning people’s houses. A great business idea – easily explained, low start-up costs, repeat business practically guaranteed for an affordable quality service, and potential customers almost literally on the doorstep. The same goes for the would-be gardener, dog-walker and ‘man with van’ who knows what s/he is doing.

Does it meet a real need? The clichéd definition of marketing ‘selling things that people don’t need at prices they can’t afford’ is, happily, less common now than when the phrase was first coined. If there’s a genuine need for a product or service – rather than one which is somewhat contrived (for examples, look in one of those problem-solving household gadget catalogues that drop through the letterbox) – so much the better. I also like business ideas that try to meet more than one need (without getting over-complicated). One young entrepreneur came up with an interesting idea to provide pamper sessions for young mums at playgroup locations – so both generations could benefit from some play at the same time.

Sad to report that business hasn’t taken off… yet. Business success is never guaranteed and even the best ideas in competent hands can fail for very good reasons. ‘Back to the drawing board’ is not just for would-be architects.

Further reading:

Business ideas to launch in weeks https://startups.co.uk/10-great-start-up-business-ideas-to-launch-in-weeks/

How to turn an idea into your dream job  https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/14/how-to-turn-an-idea-into-a-dream-job-by-people-who-have-done-it   

Business ideas for 2018 https://startups.co.uk/business-ideas-2018

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Beyond the stiff upper lip

It’s Time to Talk about mental health, men, and moustaches

Enterprise Essentials

Day 30 MoThis blog post is re-issued to mark Time to Talk Day – 4 Feb 2016 (http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday)

Day 20 and my face fungus is progressing considerably better than my fundraising effort for Movember (but more about that later… )

We all know that ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ is the traditional (British?) response to adversity – particularly for men who, like me, had a privileged education in a boys’ boarding school. I imagine it was like that in the two World Wars and, in relation to men’s mental health today,  it’s still the recommended remedy from well-meaning people who know no better.

If, like me, you’ve experienced clinical depression you’ll know that ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ is not the answer. For me and many others it helped to talk and that’s why I’m using my top lip this month for something more positive – to start conversations about…

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Could your enterprise be more mindful?

Rearview mirrorWhen I was younger, I had a recurring dream that I was driving a car by looking only in the rear view mirror. It probably has some deep psychological meaning about my childhood – I never found out – but it never ended in disaster; it wasn’t a nightmare.

As regular readers of this blog will know, in developing The Repair Shed, I’ve taken many opportunities to reflect on my ‘journey’ so far – to look in the rear view mirror and use what I see to map my route ahead.

So looking back is part of business planning, what about looking forward?

Business planning has more than its fair share of clichés, quotes and supposedly-clever sayings. ‘Fail to plan and you fail to plan’ and ’Pisspoor planning prevents proper performance’ (and any number of variation on the Ps of planning) are just two. I’m in favour of creating a map for the business journey; I’ve often advocated it when advising others while sharing another home truth – the planning process is more important than the plan itself.

But what if you didn’t look too far forwards or backwards while developing your business? It may sound like heresy, but bear with me…

I’m a convert to mindfulness – something which has been around a long time but is fast becoming more mainstream to the extent that schools and MPs are now considering its benefits. My sister who teaches mindfulness graphically summed it up for me when she said “If you have one foot in the past regretting what you didn’t do, and the other foot in the future worrying about what might happen, you piss on the present.”

Mindfulness is about living more in the present, being consciously aware of the ‘here and now’ to create some calm in an increasingly frantic world. I try to practise mindfulness each day when I’m shaving (I close my eyes and shave by touch), driving to work (giving a running commentary on my driving, other road-users and the driving environment) and while I’m cross-country running (scanning my body and identifying changes in everything from my breathing to my aching joints).

Going back to my recurring dream, while it would be impossible to ‘drive your business’ by only looking where you’ve been, you only have to see a short distance ahead to make progress (just as you can when walking or running).

Given the speed of change in the working and living environment and the likelihood that whatever you plan beyond a couple of months ahead is likely to need changing, what might happen if you didn’t have a medium/ long term plan? Here are just three speculative suggestions:

  • You might save a lot of time in meetings discussing things that will never happen, giving you more time to focus on running your business right now
  • You might be more open to opportunities and more responsive to the immediate needs of your customers (who says being pro-active is better than being reactive?)
  • Workers might feel less pressured by distant targets and more focussed on getting their job done better on a day to day basis

What do you think – could your business benefit from being more focussed on the present by being more mindful? Or maybe you think not enough time is spent planning ahead?

Further reading on reflection:  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/on-reflection-building-a-shed-day-400

100 social enterprise truths – revisited in 2015

I wish I’d been part of the PopSE! four years ago – I’ve certainly valued the 100 truths since and recommended them to others.

Nick Temple

popseIt’s almost four years ago that I took part in PopSE!, the first ever pop-up social enterprise think tank. I remain proud of what we got up to that week, the report we produced (which still bears reading), and the people who I got to know, meet and work with. It was also a lot of fun, and a refreshing break of new thinking, unfettered by organisational strictures and political agendas. One of the most read pieces was the 100 social enterprise truths that I tweeted throughout the week; they have been translated, re-blogged and continue to get sent round occasionally as they get re-discovered. Somewhat inevitably, the quality went down during the week, and there’s an air of desperation to some towards the end….as you will see. At the risk of extended navel-gazing, I thought I’d have a bit of a revisit of them and see what still…

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When high demand doesn’t mean success

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A recent Enterprise Essentials blog alluded to the problems of success for parkruns around the country – concern about deterioration of courses, pressure on facilities, and conflicts with other users of the open spaces.

A 5K run on a Saturday morning is, of course, not a matter of life and death, but wear and tear on the NHS can, indeed, be life-threatening.

When the NHS was established in 1948, apparently it was envisaged that as the nation’s health improved demand for the national service would go down. We now know, of course, that prediction was very wrong; unlike in business, increased demand is not a sign of success!

M.D. (aka Dr Phil Hammond) writing in Private Eye magazine recently, reminded readers of this difference between the NHS and businesses. “If the NHS were just a large collection of independent businesses, emergency departments would be welcoming customers with open arms rather than begging them to shop elsewhere. If money truly did follow patients, the unprecedented demand that did for Circle [the private sector provider running Hinchingbrooke Hospital] would have saved it.

In the less pressured world of Men’s Sheds, there’s been an impressive growth in the number of sheds being set up across the UK. During 2014, the number of Sheds in the UKMSA network doubled to 127 and a further 58 are currently in development. It’s not unrealistic to think that number will double again in 2015.

The link with the NHS is relevant here, as sheds have been achieving great things in keeping older men out of the health system in other parts of the world (see http://bit.ly/1zyPWPx) and similar health benefits are now being reported closer to home.

At The Repair Shed in Hemel, we’re expecting a local surge in interest as our promotion kicks in and word of mouth spreads (we’ve already had three people recommending their fathers for membership). Like A&E departments around the country, albeit without serious risk to health, we may have to learn how to turn people away – a difficult lesson.

See  parkrun blog at https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/the-numbers-game