Last week, I was talking to a very smart lady. She runs two or three local businesses on the Sunshine Coast (north of Brisbane) in Queensland, Australia. She’s business savvy, she knows how to get clients and she knows how to make a profit.
Yet for months now, she’s been talking to me about the other business ideas she’d desperately like to pursue. Each time I see her, I ask how her new ideas are going. Each time she answers, she explains that she hasn’t had the time to write a business plan. She goes on to explain that she’s a self-confessed perfectionist and can’t ever move forward on an idea until she has a full business plan in place.
I understand. She’s busy and she wants things to be clear in her head before she takes another giant leap of faith in a new business.
But my question to you is…
Do you really need a business plan to start a new business idea?
I would argue not.
Sure, it’s wise to think through how your business could work and how you could make money. But, if not having a business plan is creating such a huge mental block that you never get started, there’s got to be a better way.
Here are 4 simple ideas to help you ‘test the water’ with your idea before you need a business plan:
1. Knock on doors
Before you spend money producing flyers or business cards, why not go and ask people who they currently use to provide the same service?
For example, if you’re living in Carseldine and you want to be a lawn care provider in north Brisbane, why don’t you get out and knock on some doors and say “Hi, I’m living here in Carseldine and looking for a reliable lawn mowing guy. Can you recommend anyone please?”
This takes a lot of pressure off you to have all your ducks in a row before you start. You’re basically just asking a friendly neighbourly question. That’s all.
If you find everyone already has a reliable lawn mowing provider, maybe this is not the best suburb for you to start your business.
If you find most people can’t think of a name but wish they did have a reliable local lawn mowing provider to call… bingo!… there’s your opportunity to ask if you could call back again once your business is up and running to offer them a special discount for helping you today!
2. Google Consumer Surveys
In 2012, Google released their fantastic Google Consumer Surveys tool for getting customer feedback early on in your process. I only discovered it this year and I fell in love instantly.
For as little as 10 cents per response, you can ask strangers any question you like that might help you gain some honest insights about your business idea.
For example, for just $500, we were able to ask 5,000 strangers in Australia which website they would go to first if they wanted handyman work done.
That’s crazy. How much would it cost you in time and energy if you were to go out onto the street and try to survey 5,000 people? Much, much more.
We then asked 2,500 people…
If we created a website for odd jobs.. .Would you want to pay someone to do odd jobs? Would you want to be paid to do odd jobs? Both? Or neither?
Not only did the responses serve to validate our assumptions about our business idea, but they also educated us about a lot more competitor websites than we ever found on our own – and this easily worth the investment.
Back to your business idea…
Are there any questions you could ask a bunch of strangers about your business idea or concept, that might help you further develop or validate your idea, and therefore encourage you that it really is worth pursuing, rather than just occupy space in the back of your mind every day?
To keep costs down, maybe just start with a $50 trial (which should garner you 500 responses) or search for an online coupon (like I did) so your first survey can be for free.
The best part is that once you set it up (and it’s pretty easy), it will take none of your precious time or headspace. Someone else is getting the results for you. Easy!
2. Get someone to do competitor research for you
If you’re not sure how many competitors are out there already, or you’d like to check the current best practices are for your niche, why not pay someone to find out for you?
Elance, Odesk, Fiverr and Freelancer offer very affordable researchers (from $5 an hour or less!) that can help you trawl through the web to find the information you need to feel more confident about your idea and how best to launch a new business in your chosen niche.
4. Google Keyword Planner
If you don’t know how many people search for the keywords ‘lawn mowing services in Bridgeman Downs’ or ‘lawn mowing services in Brisbane’, and you’re wanting to launch a lawn mowing business in Bridgeman Downs, Brisbane, Google Keyword Planner is a free and simple tool to use to help you.
In just an hour playing on this tool, you’ll be able to determine how many people are searching for the business you are wanting to provide and/or how viable it might be for you to advertise on Google AdWords (because it also provides advertising price estimates as well).
So, should you ditch the business plan?
The best way to get some momentum with your new business idea is to start doing something. So if writing a business plan has been your blocking point, don’t write it. Yet.
Instead, go out and get some feedback. Talk to people. Get some research done. It’s much easier, much more helpful and much more likely to help you get your business idea off the ground!