How easily can you explain your business idea?

By: Kevin Duncan

Date: 20 October 2011

The original idea for a business needs very careful scrutiny. Few are brilliant immediately. Ideas are nothing if they cannot be enacted effectively, so clarity of thought at the outset is vital. As Einstein once said, if you can’t explain something to your grandmother, then you probably don’t understand it properly yourself.

Something may be clear in your head, but what happens thereafter? The journey from your head to the wider world is a strange one. You need to have a vision of what your business could be, work out what you want to do and find a way of explaining it clearly. Imagine you are going public and consider how you intend to let everyone else know. Your idea needs to follow this sequence:

  • In your head
  • Rough draft on paper
  • Refined computer copy
  • Explanation to someone who knows nothing about it
  • Explanation to someone who knows something about it
  • Refinement of the idea
  • Acceptance or rejection of the idea

Pitching on a postcard is a good idea. If you can’t explain in one sentence what the business will do (the ‘elevator pitch’), it’s probably too complicated. Keep it simple. Don’t let business speak affect your clear statement of the proposition. Some businesses are easy to describe; others are not. If it’s a well-known concept, you may simply say: “It’s a coffee shop.” No further explanation is needed.

If the business idea is not simple, you still need to find the simplest language to describe it. Saying you work in IT solutions doesn’t really explain anything. Don’t get bogged down in the detail at this stage. “It’s an internet business that provides people with X” is fine for the moment. If you are having trouble, try explaining the benefit your customers derive from what you offer. It may well not be the same as what you do. How you deliver the product or service is rarely as interesting as the problem it solves.

If this simple expression of the idea meets with general acceptance from you when you have lived with it for a while and from people you respect, you should be able to move on. Importantly, though, if there are significant doubts, you may need to scrap it. There’s nothing more boring than a person who insists on clinging onto a lame duck idea when it patently isn’t going to work. The most successful businesses have rejected many prototypes and initial thoughts. It’s a crucial editing skill that you need to adopt when starting a business. So, be precise about the idea, ditch all the bad ones, and refine the expression of it so that it is short, clear and intelligible by anyone.

This extract is taken from Kevin’s recently published book – What You Need to Know About Starting a Business

Kevin Duncan – business adviser, marketing expert and author

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