Chances are, you’ve come up with a business idea at some point in your life, whether you realize it or not. Some people come up with a possible idea for a solution to a common problem and dismiss it, never to address the subject seriously again. Others generate an idea for a business and fixate on it, trying to take action but never getting off the ground.
Ideas come in many shapes and sizes, and while most bad ideas are recognizable as bad ideas immediately, not all “good” ideas are created equal. A “good” idea, in theory, is one that solves a problem adeptly, with no major drawbacks. But not every good idea can sustain a good business.
For example, your idea, while good, might not be cost effective, therefore preventing you from generating a worthwhile profit. If you have a good idea, but you aren’t sure whether the idea is sustainable as the foundation for a real business, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you solving a common problem?
The first question to ask is an easy one. Think about your idea. Does it solve some kind of problem that an average person would face?
The first key here is that you’re actually solving a problem and not introducing some new function that nobody ever needed. The second key is that the problem you’re solving is widespread.
For example, if you invent a device that allows someone to play accordion and perform automotive repairs at the same time, you probably aren’t going to reach a wide audience.
You can do some market research to back up your idea here, but for now, a common sense thought experiment should let you know whether your idea is solid.
2. Are people going to pay for your solution?
Following the same rules as the question above, you can conduct some market research to get a surefire answer, but just think about this question in a practical setting.
Imagine you didn’t come up with this idea, and that instead, someone was coming to you with it. Would you be willing to pay that person for this product or service? How much would you be willing to pay? These two questions should immediately let you know whether this idea has the potential to make real money.
3. Is your idea scalable?
Making money, believe it or not, is only the first step of the process. To thrive as a business, your idea needs to have room to grow -- the term for this is scalability.
Can your idea gradually expand to new markets? Can you come up with new, improved models? Can you expand your business into other areas to make more money?
If your idea isn’t scalable, and it can only exist in its current form, it may not be worth pursuing as a business.
4. Has someone else beaten you to it?
This is an important question to ask, and one quick Google search should provide you with a succinct, direct answer. See if there are any other companies that are already using your idea. If it’s a great idea, there’s a good chance that someone else already thought of it. If you see at least one competitor with a version of your idea that’s as good as or better than yours, your idea probably isn’t sustainable.
5. Could anyone do this?
Imagine for a moment that nobody else has jumped on this idea yet. If you introduce it to the world and start shopping around a prototype or preliminary service, how easy would it be for someone else to replicate your idea? How easy would it be for them to make a subtle improvement?
If your idea isn’t unique, or if it can be easily copied, it has a high chance of being taken advantage of by copycats and idea thieves working well within the confines of the law.
6. Can it last for more than a year?
This may seem like an obvious question of sustainability, but think critically about the nature of your idea. Does it take advantage of a current fad or trend? If so, remember that fads don’t usually last long. Business ideas that take advantage of a fleeting interest do not succeed -- instead, you need something that solves a long-term problem with a long-term solution.
If you can answer all of these questions confidently, and backed with ample research, you’ll have a good chance at turning your idea into a successful enterprise. Just remember the ideation phase is only the first step of the process. From here, you’ll need to do exhaustive research, write a business plan and start shopping your idea around to investors. It’s a long, trying process, but with confidence in your idea, you’ll be off to a great start.