The Young Entrepreneur’s Guide, Part IV: Working on Your Idea

Many people have written tips, guides and questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.  Many of them are excellent, but I don’t think anyone has captured the essence of the stages a young entrepreneur goes through and specific advice for what they should do at each stage.  As part of our efforts at GreenhornConnect.com, we want to create a central location that provides the information that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to go from starting out (Is this for me? What should I do?) to evaluating an idea (What goes into a business plan? How do I build a team?)  to being a real business (Do I need investment? What tools should I use?).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing different sections of this guide in my blog, pulling from my experiences, what I’ve read and advice I’ve heard from others. If you read this and think something is missing or disagree with any of the advice, please comment; I want this to be the best guide possible and will gladly give you credit for your contribution. Thanks.

Thus far: See Part I: Starting from Scratch, Part II: Getting Out There & Part III: Building a Reputation, Network and a Following

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PART IV: Working on Your Idea

You’re takin part in the conversation and have built a network. You finally have that great idea you want to pursue. Now what?

1) Vet Your Idea

Just like you did your homework before going out to networking events, you need to again dig in and do some work.  With all of the technology at our fingertips, it has never been easier to research a business.  To get started, you need to consider trying the following:

A) Search using Google and Twitter for key terms related to the problem you’re solving.  This will give you an idea of how many people have the problem you’re solving as well as show you who your competition may be.
B) Search the companies you found that are competition. Are their customers satisfied? Is your idea superior in some way? Industry forums and message boards are great, free focus groups.
C) Consider how your idea creates value both for the user and your business. You need to be able to make more money than it costs to produce.
D) Talk to your target customers! Understand their problems…confirm or disprove your assumptions.
E) Search out additional resources for suggestions for vetting your idea.

The key is to have answered the basic questions of your business: What is the problem you are solving? How are you solving it? Do you have a basic business model that could be profitable? How are you different than the competition?  These are the first questions any fellow entrepreneur you meet will ask you.

2) Build a Team

Everyone remembers having those terrible project groups in school. At times you probably said, “I could do this all myself and it would be done better and faster.”  Well, in the real world, you’d often be wrong.

There is great debate over whether solo entrepreneurs are as likely to succeed as teams, and really the answer is that this is a gray area.  The type of business idea you have will greatly affect the number of people needed to execute your plan.  If it’s a smaller business, it is very likely that you can use consultants and contract work to cover the skills you lack.  It has never been easier to do this thanks to sites like 99designsMFG and Outright.

The best reason for having a team is diversity. You need a variety of skills to run a business as well as the ability to handle many different situations.  It is unlikely that you are great at engineering, sales, finance and management.  By building a team, you bring multiple perspectives to your business and can focus on what you’re best at.  In my experience, just having someone to bounce ideas off of and talk through problems is priceless.

All this being said, if you choose to build a team you have to be very careful in who you choose to be on your team. Choosing a co-founder is like a marriage, only you’ll spend more time with your co-founder than your significant other.  You want this person to be a good business compliment as well as someone you get along with, so they may not be your roommate or best friend.

3) Organize Your Thoughts

There is an ongoing debate over the necessity for writing a business plan, but there is agreement on one concept: you need to think about all the parts that would go into a plan.  When you’re getting started, you don’t need to have all the answers to the questions posed in a business plan, but you do need to start thinking about them.  When you go out and start talking to people about your idea, those are the questions you will most likely be asked.  There are a number of great resources out there to help you with this.

4) Get Out There

The best thing you can do to help your business develop is to get out there. Watch how people react to your pitch and try to refine it. Take note of what questions they have and any issues they raise (try to find some answers).  If you have an issue, don’t be afraid to ask others for assistance; often, even if they can’t help you, they’ll refer you to someone who can. Through this process you may even find a key member of your team.

You’ve got an idea, you’re refining it and building your team…

Coming Soon: Part V: Making it Official

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This is ongoing series to try to build a comprehensive, lasting guide for aspiring entrepreneurs. I would greatly appreciate any input in the comments below to make this the best it can be.  Thanks!