“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” -Thomas Edison

You might have an exciting business idea brewing in your head, but are you terrified at the thought of giving it a go? What if you leave behind the job you have now only to fail at something new? What if you’ll someday look back and wish you’d never tried in the first place?

Two things come to mind here: First of all, failing is part of living. It happens to all of us. So part of the battle is just moving past that suffocating fear of failure. Secondly, there are some steps you can take to test your business idea. While vetting your idea doesn’t guarantee that it won’t fail, it can definitely give you some really concrete indicators and steer you in the right direction. So here are five steps to vet that business idea of yours:

1: Do your homework.

Start by seeing what else is out there. There’s a very good chance that someone else has taken a stab at your business idea already. Look around not just locally, but beyond. You’ll get a taste of what’s happening in this business sector or niche—who’s doing it, where they’re located, how they’re doing it, etc. This type of research arms you with valuable information about your potential competition, but can also spark inspiration, help to shape or refine your idea, and inspire new thoughts or angles you might take in your own business.

Word of caution: don’t let the competition discourage you. Often people will worry if they find other folks out there doing what they want to do, thinking the market is already saturated. But here’s the thing: seeing other businesses thriving in a certain area means simply there is demand for what you have to offer. People want to pay for your talents and skills! It also means that you need to focus on differentiating yourself—finding ways to set yourself apart from the competition. Maybe you provide the same products or solutions, but you do it better or differently.

And remember this: there’s only one you in this world. You bring a distinct flavor and personality to everything you do, and you will naturally connect with certain kinds of people. This alone will set you apart.

2: Get clear on your ideal customer.

You’ll hear marketers talk all the time about target markets. This phrase simply refers to the people who are most likely to connect with and buy from you. You have to get crystal clear on who these people are. It’s important to think through demographics like age, location, economic status, and educational background, but it’s even more powerful to drill down to questions like these.

  • What keeps my ideal customer up at night? Think about what might be some of their biggest worries and fears.
  • What are they passionate about? What gets them all kinds of giddy and excited? What do they care most about?
  • What is the pain point that would drive them to hire me/buy from me? Great businesses don’t offer products or services, they offer solutions to problems.
  • What’s at stake if they don’t engage with me? What do they stand to lose?

Once you have your target market nailed down the best you can, find some of those people and ask them if you can pick their brains. Tell them about your idea, see what questions they have, concerns, thoughts, or feedback. Talking with them can really help you gauge interest and shape your business plan moving forward.

3: Ponder your natural wiring and talents.

Does your idea involve things that people are already coming to you for? The best businesses are often formed from those things that we are naturally great at and just take for granted. We are often completely blind to our own strengths and expertise because they’re just part of who we are.

For example, my friend Jenna is killer at decorating. She’s never gone to school for it, but it just comes as naturally to her as breathing. She curates some of the most beautiful home decor I’ve ever seen, and she doesn’t even have to work at it. Some of us (AKA me) have zero gifting in this area. ZERO. The thought of choosing paint colors or curtains for a room makes me want to hyperventilate. My house basically looked like a college dorm until I engaged the help of interior design and home-decor minded friends like Jenna. For her, starting a home decor consulting business would be a no brainer.

All that to say, it can be helpful to think through those areas where people already remark on your abilities, ask you for advice, or come to you for help. Maybe it’s a natural talent, something you’ve done for years as a hobby or just for fun, or something you’ve purposefully (or accidentally) become a quasi-expert in. If you start to see a theme or pattern emerging here, you might be onto something big.

4: Have lots of coffee dates.

Meeting with other business owners (both in and out of your niche) can be a great way to get feedback and inspiration for your business idea. If you’re a raging introvert, this part of vetting your idea will be harder for you, but it’s a critical step! Honestly, most people are happy to have a quick coffee or phone call with those just starting out. Learn from them. Ask them to talk about their biggest successes and failures. Ask them for advice and input on your idea. Sometimes these people end up being your biggest fans down the road.

5: Reflect on the why.

Stew on why you really want to start your business in the first place. Really exploring this question is so important. Will this business allow you to craft the life you want? Will it fuel your soul and fill your cup? Would you most likely come home from a day of work feeling exhilarated and satisfied or completely drained? Does your business idea align with your personal and professional goals and values? (This one is key!) Are you passionate about what you’d be doing? Even if your business idea flies and you’re making a boatload of money each month, if you hate every minute of it, have you really succeeded?

Before you tackle any of this vetting work, I’d encourage you to get a journal or notebook (these build-you-own journals are great!) or start a Google or Word doc to collect your notes all in one place. You’ll want one central place to start capturing ideas and inspiration and to help stay organized. Do this from the get-go. You’ll thank me later.

The bottom line is this:  Ideas are a dime a dozen, but most people stop there. Don’t get caught in that trap. If you have a business idea stirring in your brain, commit to taking the next step to make it happen. Consider signing up for my next 12-week business-build to get one step closer to making your dream business a reality.

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