Is Your Big Idea Good Enough to Launch Your Self-Employment?
By Mark Swartz
I was fortunate to have a Big Idea that launched me into self-employment. At the time I was working in a corporate job. Married with two small children. Money was tight.
So how did I know the risk of pursuing my concept would pay off? One can never be certain. But there were clear signs in the marketplace my timing was right. And my background in marketing (coupled with an MBA) helped me analyze the opportunity.
You may have an innovative brainstorm of your own. Assess demand for it cautiously. Can you build a business plan around this? Or should you try to introduce it internally as an intrapreneur.
Step 1: Clarify the Concept
Before you can gauge reactions to your idea, the concept must be spelled out concisely. People should grasp the essential principle in ten seconds or less. This applies even to complex products or services. (Those will require a more detailed explanation after).
What is the core of your idea? Which key problem(s) does it solve? Who will benefit most?
Step 2: Check for Existing Demand
A great idea isn’t financially viable if no one wants to buy it. A way to tell if you’re on to something? At least one competitor offers something similar already.
If so, how does your version compare? It will need to be either better, less expensive, more convenient, easier to use…whatever differences you offer, they must be meaningful to the potential buyers.
I’d love to say my idea succeeded because I was already an established subject matter expert. Nope: I’d noticed something very similar do well in the U.S. Fortunately no one had launched here yet. That gave me a head start on a proven concept. All I really did was Canadianize and popularize. Still it was a huge amount of work.
Step 3: Find Out What the Market Genuinely Wants
To more accurately measure potential demand, some market research is in order. Not necessarily an expensive study that gives quantifiable results. It may be enough to gather opinions and expressions of interest informally.
Inexpensive market research is readily available. Online tools like Survey Monkey, QuickSurveys, and Google Forms offer free questionnaires and basic analysis. Paid versions give real-time results and detailed statistical breakdowns.
To test if your business ideas really might generate demand – enough to warrant a substantial start-up investment – qualitative research should be employed. Statistically valid surveys used to cost at least $10,000. Now they can be had for much less. For instance Survey Monkey and Google Forms have their own pools of survey respondents on demand.
Step 4: Self-Employment, Entrepreneurship or Intrapreneuring?
Everyone with a truly innovative idea must choose how far to pursue it. For me I was interested in becoming sustainably self-employed (as an author and consultant).
I wasn’t interested in building up a company as an entrepreneur. I’d had no training in how to run a business. What I knew about how to start a business was even less.
What about your own goals and style? Launching a company or setting out on your own is dicey. Do you possess the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs? You might be more comfortable attempting to get buy-in for your idea in your current job.
Step 5: Beware Intellectual Property Pitfalls
If you’re already employed when your Big Idea strikes, there may be a complication. Some employment contracts have very strict “intellectual property” clauses.
Basically they might stipulate that any innovative concept you develop while employed there – regardless if you dream it up at the office or on vacation at a beach – is owned by the employer. There may also be a non-compete clause that can impact your decision to leave or stay. Moonlighting your idea while keeping your day job could lead to problems.
But if you get legal advice that says you’re good to go, and you can muster the time and resources to pursue your concept full tilt, get ready for the ride of your life.
I’ve never looked back since becoming self-employed but do not forget that self-employment may not work for everyone. The freedom to choose your own career path continues to be been grand.