As a professor of social entrepreneurship and an entrepreneur, people often approach me with all their ideas. They get overwhelmed with how to start choosing their first venture (or second, for that matter).
How do you start? Whether you are new to entrepreneurship or starting another venture, you begin the same way:
Uncover your strengths FIRST: Research suggests that the most successful enterprises (for-profit or social) leverage each individual’s or organization’s strengths. Begin with your staff and/or board and brainstorm. What do you already have or know? Think broadly about your unique assets. For me, my unique asset was my speaking ability. I was a debater in high school and have always loved to craft a great speech.
Evaluate your strengths: After you identify your strengths, vote on the top five to seven strengths that are most unique, have value to others, and are closest to your mission. Then, walk through the questions below for each strength. Questions to ask:
- Is it different and distinct?
- Who would value this strength?
- How valuable is it? Do other options exist?
- What is the market willing to pay for this strength?
- Is this a long-term strength?
For me, my strength was my speaking ability. Through these questions, I realized that it was valuable to many different audiences and could present a long-term strength.
Identify opportunities from TOP strengths: After evaluating your strengths, think of all the opportunities that exist for that strength. For me, I could write speeches for others, write and present speeches myself, or teach others how to speak more effectively.
Assess your opportunities: After you identify your opportunities, vote on the top five to six opportunities and then walk through each question below to assess their promise based on ease of implementation, fit, and profit. Questions to ask:
Ease of Implementation:
- Do we have the right internal expertise and capacity?
- How complex is the opportunity?
- Does this fit with existing businesses?
- Does this fit with our image?
- What are the startup costs?
- What is the market demand and/or willingness to pay?
- How soon can we expect a profit?
Based on this, you will have an objective assessment of which opportunities have the most promise.
Not every venture is viable. Success requires the right opportunity, the right timing, and the right process. Once you determine that all of these are aligned, take each opportunity and conduct a feasibility assessment. The feasibility assessment allows you to “fail early and cheaply” and helps you decide on a go or no-go decision. If the feasibility assessment is promising, the next step is developing a business plan to create a roadmap for your venture. Once you go through these steps, you will have the confidence that your venture is not only the best opportunity for you, but also a viable business venture for years to come.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.
Suzanne Smith, MBA is a serial social entrepreneur and bridges many disciplines, including serving on the National Board of the Social Enterprise Alliance, coaching nonprofits as Managing Director of Social Impact Architects and Co-Founder of Flywheel: Social Enterprise Hub, and educating future leaders as Adjunct Professor at the University of North Texas. She holds an MBA from Duke University, where she was a CASE (Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship) Scholar and continues to serve as a Research Fellow.