I come up with business ideas in the shower. On the airplane. Wherever. Each one seems really great when it occurs to me but I eventually get tired of mulling it over and when it loses steam, I add it to the dreams deferred pile.
I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Probably be a business owner. The problem is, I have so many business ideas, I can’t decide which idea to start. Which idea defines me as a person? Which one marries my skills with my passions, but also make sense financially? Should I launch a line of practical, colorful children’s clothing? Or open a co-working coffee shop?
I’ve struggled with this issue of thinking and never doing, and then I read Mari Kondo’s amazing organizing book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I figured there must be a system of throwing out ideas that don’t “spark joy,” of honing in on a concept that inspires me but is small enough to execute. If I see immediate results, I’m more likely to stick with something.
I devised an 8-step system to figure out what business idea to do now. Here’s how it works:
- Start collecting all the business ideas you’ve had. Ever. Even if they aren’t full businesses. This will take a few weeks. Your brain will remember half of them while you’re taking the train, driving, or in the shower. Be ready to write stuff down. Definitely take a few weeks to do this even if it pains you to do so.
- After a few weeks you’ll be able to put together a master list of all the business ideas you’ve ever had. Feel free to include things that are lifestyle decisions, too, like “move to an Airstream in the woods and be a freelance writer,” or “become an auto mechanic.”
- For each idea, ask yourself: whats’ the minimum viable product (MVP)? What’s the most bare-bones thing you could do to start the thing you’re talking about? If it’s coffee roasting company, you could start buying beans and roasting them in your kitchen and selling them at a farmer’s market. If you want to open a salon, maybe you can start by cutting hair. Whatever it is, figure out the easiest path to getting started.
- How much money do you have in savings? Find that out and write it down at the top of your list. If you don’t have anything in savings right now, write that number at the top. It’s okay to not have any money in savings! The goal here is to be honest with yourself.
- Now figure out, without changing anything you’re currently doing, how much time each week do you have to work on the business? If you’re working full-time and you have a kid, for example, you may only have 4 hours each week. Again, the idea is to be realistic.
- Look at the list. Lots of stuff on there! Now it’s time to weed it out. First, cross off anything that would cost more to start than you have in savings. You’re not starting that business right now.
- Second, cross out anything that takes more technical know-how than you have or could hire someone to do for you. For example, if you want to start farming kale but you don’t know the first thing about farming, cross that idea out. If you want to build a website for people to place bids on upholstery projects but you don’t know how to build a web application, cross that idea out. (Note: you may not have the technical know-how for some ideas but maybe you’re a real go-getter and you like learning. For those things, don’t cross them out. Learning the thing you want to learn, after all, may be your MVP.)
- With what remains, cross off anything that you cannot do in the time you allotted yourself in the steps above.
What is left? What you should have now is a short list of ideas that you can start yourself with the time and budget that works for you right now, with a plan for an MVP so you can get some traction immediately. I did this and it helped me realize I only want to work on 2 things right now: Swell Machine and Hey Little Engine, and each of them requires a significant pivot. But hey: at least I’ve got something! I’m focused.
What are you going to start?