This is part three of a summer-long blog post about how to use design-thinking in your career search, as well as if you decide to go solo and start your own business.
This blog post is based on advice on using design-thinking in business consulting, found in IDEO.org’s Design Kit: The Human-Centered Design Toolkit. It also uses advice found in Lynda.com’s online course “Entrepreneurship: Finding and Testing Your Business Idea” with author and business coach Dave Crenshaw.
In the previous two blogs, you’ve gone from using research and brainstorming methods to find your peak compatibility with a range of jobs and careers you may not have considered when you first started your job search; to using design-thinking to invent your own business idea. In this post, you’ll learn about how to implement your idea in a structured, intentional way to gauge its impact and potential success in the market.
Now that you’re in the implementation phase, you’ll want to do the following.
- Test the desire in the market. You may want to test the viability of your idea through a cheap or free small social media advertising headline. The simplest way is to have people call a special number or go to a particular website, and then you’re going to track the results. If you’re using a phone number, you’re going to want to have some sort of service that allows you to track the number of calls. You can simply google “call tracking” online to see what services are available, or you could sign up for something like Google Voice, which allows you to see the number of calls when you log in.
If you’re using a webpage, make sure you have a web address that’s quick and easy for people to remember. When visitors come to your webpage, make sure you have a place where you can capture their email address. On the web page you present the offer, you have the headline, and then say something like “if you’d like to learn more, please add your email address and we’ll let you know when it’s going to be released.” This way you can see how many people opt in, as well as how many people visit the page. Creating a listing on Craigslist is an option that many entrepreneurs have reported has worked well for them.You can also use small, pay-per-click tests. This is a more targeted approach that allows you to specify more details about the demographics of people who click on your ad, where they came from, and what they’re interested in. You can use pay-per-click such as Bing Advertising or Google. You can also use small ads on social media like LinkedIn and Facebook. (There is lots of advice online about how to set up a social media ad campaign, including YouTube tutorials like this.)
First you’ll need the ad offer—something that’s enticing to people, like getting a coupon for 10% off, or getting information about a product or service. You’ll want to use different headlines and test them against each other. By testing a few different headlines and capturing the success rate, you can accurately gauge the interest of your potential customers, and whether or not they care enough to buy what it is you’re selling. You can then tweak your business idea according to the feedback you’re getting.
- Make a roadmap. By now, you’ve got a concept you feel great about. Now you’ll need a timeline and a plan of action to get your entrepreneurial idea out and implement it in the world. A roadmap can help keep you on time and on target.
- Assess your resources and define success. You’ve got a great business idea, but what is it going to take to execute it? Alone, you may not have all the resources you’ll need. This stage will help you understand the feasibility of your idea and where you’ll have to seek help.
The main elements of implementation that you’ll want to understand here are the distribution of your service or product; the partners you might need; and the capabilities needed to execute the rollout. Fill out a resource assessment, and list what you’ve already got and what you’ll need. You may want to brainstorm about what needs to happen for each of the main categories: distribution, product or service activities, capabilities, and responsibilities. As you look at all the activities after the brainstorm, consider what skills and abilities you already have, and which you’ll need to outsource or find a partner.After assessing the resources you’ll need, do you need more or less help than you originally thought? This shouldn’t dissuade you from pursuing your idea, but it should make you think about the pro’s and con’s of implementation in a new perspective.
- Create a funding strategy. Sit down with your partners (stakeholders or collaborators) and brainstorm about how you might fund the launch of your idea. If you need to apply for grants or raise money, determine which relationships you may need to develop to help your chances. Then create a pitch to help you do so.
- Planning for sustainable revenue. Get together with your collaborators and build a simple spreadsheet showing all the costs your business idea would incur, from staffing to marketing and production.
If you’re relying on grants or donations, think critically about how you’ll raise money and how reliable your funding sources are. What kind of relationships might you need to build to ensure your venture? If you’re selling a product, how much of it do you need to sell to hit your revenue goals? How can you keep customers coming back? How much should your product cost? Will you need to introduce new products over time?Finally, think about scaling your project. In five years, will you be operating in more than one location? Will you have multiple products? Is this first offer part of a family of potential goods and services? How can you grow your long-term revenue plans alongside your solution?
- Build partnerships. You may need some help getting your concept out into market. Build the partnerships you’ll need in advance. You can identify potential funding partners you may need by having thought about your funding strategy and your sustainable revenue method. Also, it’s useful to do a resource assessment (see above) to see who is necessary for getting your idea off the ground. The key idea here is to identify the partners you’ll need and build relationships with them.
Start with a brainstorm around what your primary partnership needs are. Maybe you need greater access to the press; maybe you need to raise money. Determine what you need. Next, take those key partnership needs and have another brainstorm around who you know already and who you can reach out to you in your greater network.Though you’ll want to remain flexible, you’ll also want to start to set parameters around what you need from your partners. Figure out when you’ll need each one, how much you can reasonably ask of them, and what kind of deadlines to set around your ask.
- Create a pitch. Now that your idea is pretty well set, you’ll want to communicate it to funders, partners, consumers, everyone! A pitch is a great way to communicate your idea, how it works, why it counts, and who benefits. Just like creating an elevator pitch about your dissertation research, you’ll clarify the key elements of your idea and refine how you talk about them.
The first thing you’ll want to articulate is the essence of your product, service, or experience. Offer context, the main thrust of your idea, why it’s different, and any call to action you’re making. Try to succinctly explain it in less than a minute with as little jargon as possible. You’ll want your pitch to be clear and unambiguous, so don’t get bogged down in the details just yet. Instead, sell your idea by sharing how and why it counts.Next, you’ll want to put that story into some kind of format. It could be a pamphlet, a website, a book, or a presentation. You may need more than one. You may need a graphic designer, videographer, or writer to help.
Remember, you’ll likely communicate differently with different audiences about your business. Make sure that as you create your pitch you think about telling stories of varying lengths and in varying degrees of detail. What are the short, medium, and long versions of your pitch?
- Pilot your new business. A pilot is a longer-term test of your idea before going to market. Pilots can last months and will fully expose your business idea to market forces. At this point you’re not testing a particular idea—like “should my product be green?” or “do I need a different logo?”—you’re testing an entire system.
First, you’ll need to sort out all the logistics of your pilot. Who will you need to hire? Should you rent a space? Are your distributors and manufacturers lined up? Do you need a permit or anything like that? Before you launch your pilot, strategize how you can differentiate yourself from your competition, how you get customers in the door, and what kind of messaging you need to succeed. Remember that while you can make necessary improvements as your pilot goes forward, if you change too many variables at this stage it becomes harder to know what’s working and what isn’t.As you run your pilot you’ll want to collect information about how your solution is working. Feedback from the people you’re designing for is always crucial, but you’ll also want to have business metrics to assess your success.
- Define success. Setting milestones will keep you on course and give you something to work toward. Think about a variety of time horizons. What is success in the next two months? In the next year? In five years? Imagine success in terms of both your organization and the people you’re serving. What does success look like in terms of how you’ve affected them?
Monitor and evaluate your choice, and keep getting feedback! There are lots of ways to run a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) assessment, the key is to understand what kind is right for you. Sometimes it’s easy, either your solution makes money or it doesn’t. But if you’re trying to change a community’s behavior or increase the adoption of a service, you may need a more nuanced approach.The first thing to think about is why do you need to Monitor and Evaluate your work? Is it to demonstrate impact? To get more funding? To improve business practices? To generate more revenue? Be sure to bring your stakeholders into this conversation. They may have been monitoring and evaluating your topic area for years and can provide key insight. You may need to hire an outside team or consultants to help you.
For example, while something like a randomized controlled trial is rigorous but lengthy and expensive, dynamic measurement tools (like number of visits or sales numbers) may be more useful to you. Try to find a balance between quantitative and qualitative measurements. A mix of anecdotes, stories and data can be very powerful when demonstrating the viability of your idea to donors or investors. Take a prototyping attitude to your measurement. And remember, you can always tweak your business model based on the information coming in to maximize your impact.
Hopefully, these steps give you a good sense of how to hit the ground running and make sure your business idea represents a real opportunity worth pursuing, and not just a great idea. Good luck, and thanks for reading!