How to Find Your Next Big Idea

By Maryalene LaPonsie | Posted August 30, 2012

The iPad, smartphone and even Facebook were game-changers, forever altering how the world does business. These products and services literally put millions of customers across multiple markets within your reach.

You may not be Steve Jobs or have the next billion-dollar concept scribbled on a bedside Post-It, but that doesn't mean you don't have a solid business-altering idea within you, one with the potential to transform your four-person operation from pretender to player -- even if it's only part-time. If your business needs a boost or a shot of creative energy, these five tips can help.

5 Ways to Spark a Big Idea

1. Dive in to Customer Feedback

If you're your own worst critic, then customers are a close second. Customers rarely hold back, especially when discussing your business anonymously. Whether through their comment cards or their online reviews, really dive in to what your customers are saying. If 30 percent of them indicate a lack of XYZ in your product, you may have something to build upon.

2. Seek New Applications

Innovation doesn't mean reinventing the wheel, but it could mean a fresh approach to your current business model or product. Arm & Hammer took a basic product and applied an innovative approach. Today, you can buy everything from kitty litter to toothpaste to vacuum filters with the Arm & Hammer name on it.

3. Change the Channel

For service-related businesses, the equivalent of leveraging your product would be to take your business to a new distribution or marketing channel. The most obvious example is to go online or use mobile applications. However, you can also look for ways to team up with other businesses to combine services and expand your customer base.

4. Make it Simpler

Many business owners, especially in technology, tend to refine a product over and over until they feel it's perfect. Yet what's perfect for a tech-savvy twenty-something might be miserable for a single mom. Sometimes simplifying your product or service can open it up to an entirely new consumer group.

5. Learn to Translate

You've listened to customers, developed a mobile app and even mocked-up a senior-citizen-friendly version of your product. But these measures still have you wanting more. When you get stuck, learn to translate. In other words, which brilliant ideas from other industries might translate to yours?


Could Priceline.com's customer-driven pricing model work for your delivery service or restaurant? Would subscription-based media a la The New York Times work for your greeting card website?

By no means are these techniques revolutionary or new, but they offer ways to revitalize your business. Generating the next big idea sounds glamorous and awe-inspiring, but sometimes you just need something smart and simple.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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