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Q & A

How to come up with and test business ideas

Julie Easterbrook of Enterprise First shares her insight about business ideas

Hard work, determination and commitment will only get you so far in business. True success is often determined by the value of your ideas and your ability to make them fly. Julie Easterbrook, business adviser at Hampshire-based start-up and business-support organisation Enterprise First, shares her ideas about business ideas

Are genuinely pioneering or unique business ideas rare?

Julia Easterbrook (JE): “Yes they are. Most new ventures aren’t based on genuinely groundbreaking business ideas; they’re based on existing business ideas with slight differences or a few new ideas that provide fresh appeal.”

Where do people get the inspiration for business ideas?

JE: “ Various sources, but often from wanting to provide greater convenience, more value or to solve a problem customers experience. Identifying a gap in the market can also give rise to new business ideas and this can be highly lucrative, if the idea is good, the timing is right and the individual can fully exploit the idea. Caution is advised, though. Sometimes there is a ‘gap’ because there isn’t sufficient demand to sustain a viable business.”

Do you recommend brainstorming to come up with new business ideas?

JE: “Brainstorming can be a great way to develop or test new ideas, as well as find ways of collaborating with others. However, if you’re not careful you risk revealing your business ideas, so exercise caution and consider using non-disclosure agreements to protect your business ideas.”

What about updating, customising or localising existing business ideas?

JE: “Each can provide the basis for a successful new business. You could update a product or service to increase its appeal to today’s consumer. Think of the bicycle; the basic design has remained largely the same for many years, but more recently manufacturers have introduced lighter frames to make bikes quicker and easier to pedal. You can even get electrically assisted bikes now for going up hills. And people often introduce to a market a product that sells well elsewhere in the world. Sometimes products need to be localised, but not always. You might customise an existing product to target a new market. For example, the male skincare product market has increased massively in recent years, when historically skin care products were aimed at women.”

Should it be easy to explain my business idea?

JE: “Simple ideas are often the best ideas, but not always. But, if you cannot easily explain your business idea - basically what you plan to sell and the benefits it offers - it could be a sign that your business idea is too complex, certainly for the mass market. This can lead to problems when it comes to marketing your products or services.”

How important is it for my business to have a USP?

JE: “Vital - otherwise why would customers choose you and not someone else? Even if you’re planning to offer a product or service that isn’t particularly new or different, you need to find ways to be special, especially if yours is a crowded marketplace. Your business needs to have a USP [unique selling proposition] if it is to compete. Your competitors can often be your inspiration. Find ways to be superior.”

How important is to thoroughly test a business idea?

JE: “Essential, otherwise you risk putting a lot of time, money and effort into something that fails. Speak to potential customers - not just friends and family - find out what they think of your business idea and, crucially, whether they’ll pay your prices. Get feedback on your products, services, branding, packaging, prices - everything - and learn from it. Never underestimate the importance of market research. Just because you think something’s good - doesn’t mean everyone else will.”

When it comes to pioneering business ideas, how important is to protect intellectual property?

JE: “Again, extremely important, but it can be expensive and you should seek professional advice. You might want to register a trade mark or take out a patent, but even then you can experience others trying to copy your ideas. People often overlook IP protection.”

Where do people frequently go wrong when it comes to business ideas?

JE: “They assume others will like their business idea as much as they do. They don’t carry out any meaningful market research or they ignore feedback. In other cases, owners don’t put enough effort into finding ways to differentiate their business. If you’re the same as everyone else, why would customers choose to buy from you?”

Read more:

Market innovative products and services

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Researching your market

New product development

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