As a woman thinking about going into business, it’s important to know that not every idea has the potential to become a business opportunity. Ideas, as they say, are a dime a dozen. When you assess your business ideas thoroughly you will know if any of them will present an opportunity for an actual business.
One way you can assess your business ideas is by undertaking an opportunity analysis. The process often starts with asking, ‘Who is my customer, and how long will it take to get them to respond positively to my product/service?’
Author John English calls this analysis an Ideas Evaluation and uses questions that take a cold hard look at demand, market acceptance, competitors, risks, expertise and resources. Assessing your business ideas should help you to decide if any of them are likely to make it as a potential business opportunity. Still, many businesses begin without having a firm understanding of their market.
The struggle between head and heart
Dreading the possibility that assessing your business ideas will shoot them all down is one reason you might not do it. We fall in love with our ideas, we carry them around in our heads and hearts for potentially decades and we want to birth them. Having built an emotional connection to our dreams, it’s tough to face the realisation that maybe the idea isn’t even worth starting.
However, one of the leading causes of small business failure is overestimating the size of the market share for a new opportunity says Tim Mazzarol, entrepreneurship academic. We tend to think that everyone will love our idea, but we underestimate how long it takes people to convert to that market and the fight the competition put up to keep their customers.
This tension between head and heart plays out early in your decision to go into business. Your accountant tells you to use your head and look at the numbers. Your family or best friend know how much you want this dream and encourage you to follow your heart.
Your head says it doesn’t make good financial sense but in your heart it still feels right.
What should you do?
Get the balance right
For a business to be successful you need to balance both head and heart. Few women want to create a business that is purely profit driven and yet no business can survive long on inspirational quotes and hopeful thinking. To get the balance right, you need to know a little about your brain, and how it influences your head and heart.
Safety at all costs
A brain that can predict with some certainty what your immediate future will look like, is a happy brain. It pumps out feel-good chemicals and keeps you focused on your day-to-day activities. But a hint of uncertainty can quickly disrupt that. Your brain may not have an existing neural map for a future in which you throw in your well-paying job for an untested business idea. Therefore, it hurriedly sends out an alert about the danger of going ahead with this crazy plan.
This alert tells your brain to release chemicals, particularly adrenaline, that urge you to get away from this dangerous threat. Suddenly, you find yourself lying awake at night anxiously foreseeing a future where you and your entire family are on the street, broke and starving.
All. Because. Of you.
This threat response is one of the many reasons that good business ideas never get off the ground. One major threat will trigger a host of smaller threats, such as, ‘What if I look silly in front of my peers?’ or worse, ‘What if I have to crawl back to my old job?’ These status threats and other fearful thoughts are neither head nor heart – just an unhelpful reaction from a threat-focused brain.
Find the balance
Calming and settling your brain’s threat response will help you focus on the worthiness of your idea without the doomsday scenarios. In fact, one way to settle it is to do an ideas evaluation. The brain loves information that creates certainty. Even if you assess your idea and realise it is not worth pursuing, having this information gives you a basis to make a head with heart decision rather than a knee-jerk one.
Your brain loves love!
While your brain is designed to move you away from threats, it will also move you towards rewards. Rewards are things that the brain recognises will increase your safety. When it detects a reward, the neurochemical dopamine is released by your brain cells. Dopamine acts as a powerful driver and motivator towards a goal and it makes you feel happy and excited at the same time.
Love is a powerful reward to the brain along with sex, caffeine, food and humour (not a bad mix!) If your business idea stimulates loving and joyful feelings, your brain is more likely to recognise that this is something you should have more of and push you towards it. Without loving your idea, you are unlikely to feel motivated to keep working at it – particularly during tough times.
Find the balance
Balancing head with heart when assessing your business ideas means realising that a building a business purely on facts and numbers may not stimulate a feeling of loving what you do and how you do it. No evaluation process will ask if your business idea stimulates joy, so listen to your heart for this one and take it into account in your decision making.
Left or right brain – does it matter?
A balanced approach to assessing your business ideas means that you use your whole brain, not just the right or left hemisphere. Fortunately, in all but the most severe medical cases, this happens automatically.
Both brain hemispheres are connected by a thick band of fibres called the corpus callosum which carries information from brain cells on one side to the other side in milliseconds. However, the left and right hemispheres process information differently, and knowing how to take advantage of this is another way to balance head with heart.
If the words ‘evaluation’ or ‘assessment’ filled you with excitement, causing you to eagerly leap for a spreadsheet, I’m guessing that you might be left-brain dominant. Left-brainers enjoy segmenting an idea into numerous small steps and then analysing each one individually. The logical, sequential and analytical skills applied to finance, project management, accounting and data analysis are processed in the brain’s left hemisphere.
However, if the idea of answering fifty questions about demand for your product sends you straight to the whiteboard to mind-map audacious plans for global world takeover, you are more likely to be right-brain dominant.
Your brain’s right hemisphere processes information holistically, randomly, creatively, and sees patterns quickly. It grasps the vision and the blue-sky thinking needed to aim for the smaller goals detailed by the left hemisphere. Without your right brain your idea would lack creativity and simply consist of a well sequenced list of small component facts.
Insight is another function of the right hemisphere of your brain, so getting a ‘gut feel’ for what you should do next may play a role in your decision-making process. The right hemisphere is also responsible for mournful, fearful and pessimistic feelings and not the happy optimism most people assume.
Balancing your whole brain
When assessing your business idea, it’s important to be aware of how you can allow one side to dominate your thinking. Ignoring the idea’s vision and purpose to obsess about all the small details is left brain thinking that won’t achieve a balanced business proposal. But spending all your time on grand plans and how to upscale without having looked at the daily costs and targets is just as unbalanced. Use ‘whole brain’ thinking to put head and heart into this decision.
While the nuts and bolts of your idea are more ‘head’, the feelings you generate about your idea come from both hemispheres and are more ‘heart’. Feeling joy and love for your idea is just as important as getting the facts straight. Don’t dismiss gut feel. If you have an intuition about the idea, your right hemisphere is doing this. Trusting your instincts is just as valuable as logical business planning. By balancing head with heart and seeing the whole picture before diving into a new business, you will give yourself the best chance of success.