Every morning, many someones wakes up with ideas for new businesses. Only a few of those someones are brave enough to do something about those ideas. You’re one of the brave ones.
Your idea is great, amazing even. Maybe it could change the world. But in business, your amazing idea isn’t enough. You need a plan. After all, imagine where we’d be if the creator of hot dogs didn’t realize he’d need hot dog buns, too.
We’re not talking about a “business plan” in the traditional, spreadsheet sense. That comes later. At the beginning, you need to answer some fundamental questions. In other words, plan to get up close and personal with your idea.
You can start by turning up the BASE. I’m talking about the BASE Board.
After looking at the Business Model Canvas created by Dr. Alexander Osterwalder, we knew that today’s entrepreneurs and organizations needed something more robust. So I worked with my co-author Steve Fisher and the late Karl Baehr to develop the BASE Board.
It’s your go-to guide for taking an idea and finding a business model to support it. The Startup Equation and its elements are the engine that drives the BASE Board, but it’s you and your ideas that provide the fuel.
Licensed under Creative Commons, the BASE Board is yours to use and abuse. Done right, it will become the map for building your future business. You can grab your free copy here.
Now, strap in because I’m about to give you a crash course in how to turn up the BASE and make your idea a living, breathing business.
This section of the board covers two key areas: you, the entrepreneur, and your idea. Let’s start with you first. What kind of entrepreneur are you? You can learn more about the different entrepreneur types in the Startup Equation. Don’t worry. The board doesn’t need to know your sign. For now, think about these questions:
- What are your motivations and interests?
- What are you strengths and weaknesses?
- How do they all play into your efforts?
- Where you see yourself as an entrepreneur in five years?
Obviously, these are broad-stroke questions, and they’re just the starting point. You’ll want to dive deep into what drives you as an entrepreneur.
From there, you’ll want to dissect your idea. It may fit on the back of napkin or you’ve sketch out schematics on dozens of pages. Whatever the current status of your idea, you need to take a closer look at your vision:
- What is your idea?
- How did you get this idea?
- Is this idea something you’re passionate about?
- What is your company name?
- What do you want customers to think about your company?
- What you envision your company will become in five years?
After you’ve gotten in touch with your personal side, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
“If I’d just been a little faster …” We’ve all heard the stories. More than a few would-be entrepreneurs just missed their chance to develop the product or service that later took the world by storm. So it’s time to assess what opportunity exists for your idea:
- What does your business do?
- How will you make your money?
- What trends support your business?
- What do others think of your idea?
By understanding your opportunity, you have the chance to evaluate your market:
- How big is the potential opportunity?
- What should be your initial market focus?
- Who is your real competition? Why?
- Who are your customers?
- What do you know about the?
- Why would they buy your product/service?
- How will you reach them?
- What other customer segments or revenue streams exist?
Using the answers to these questions, you can start the research process. Unfortunately, the research didn’t end when you graduated from school. You need to understand your market and make sure that what you think you know about the potential opportunity is true.
The final part of your assessment needs to include a SWOT analysis. For your business geeks, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This exercise is a great tool for teams:
- Strengths: What are the strengths of our company? Our people? Major revenue streams? Special sauce?
- Weaknesses: Internal weaknesses? Lacking skill sets? Resources? Negative perceptions? Place in the race?
- Opportunities: Hot market or trend? Unique niche/hole in the market? Changing business climate or customer needs?
- Threats: Timing? R&D time? Money? Competition? Market conditions? Change in laws/government policy?
The SWOT analysis will help you identify and estimate the resources you’ll need to move ahead:
- What skills/people do you need?
- What partners do we need?
- What money, facilities and/or equipment do we need?
- What strategy help do we need (marketing, financial, other)?
Don’t be afraid to use this portion of the board to test your idea, to push the limits on what you think will work best. Because from here, you need to know what kind of tools are in your tool chest. Do you and your idea have what it takes to go from abstract to tangible? The next stage will help you answer that question.
So you’ve got a tested idea. You’ve got a sense of your market and opportunity. Along the way, you may have discovered you’re really a Winter instead of a Summer. Whatever you’ve discovered, it leads up to a big question: how will you take your idea to market?
This section of the BASE Board asks you to think about six, key areas: Company Goals, Value Proposition, Marketing & Sales, Operations, Financial, and Go-to-Market Strategy. Let’s start with something simple, but often overlooked, your company goals:
- What do you want to achieve? Why? How? For whom?
- What is your mission statement?
- How will this goal translate to your value proposition? Business operations?
In theory your goals should also reflect your values. When you tie together your vision and your missions with specific goals, you’ll find a value proposition:
- What is your value to your customers?
- What is your stated value proposition?
- How is this value driven by your goals/mission?
With your goals and values in mind, it’s time to tackle marketing, sales, and your go-to-market strategy:
Who are your customer segments? How will you reach them?
What type of relationship do you want with them?
How will your marketing and sales operations support your goals and desired customer relationships?
- After figuring out how you’ll spread the gospel (remember, it’s an amazing idea), you’ll want to focus on how you’ll pay to change the world. You’ll be considering things like your revenue/profit model and cost structure:
- Where will your company be based?
- How will your management be structured?
- What permits or licensing do you need?
- Where does your revenue come from?
- How much money do you need to get started?
- How much do you need to achieve critical mass?
- How does money flow through your business?
- What are your cost centers? Profits centers?
- Even though you’re just getting started, what is your exit strategy? Investor buy-back? Acquisition? IPO?
The questions in this segment can feel daunting, but don’t forgot something important. You can always pivot. Your goal with this process is to plant a flag and establish a baseline. Try to avoid putting vague answers on your personal board. Clarify as much as possible so you’ll have a working board that will provide real help at the end of the exercise.
We’ve reached the nuts-and-bolts stage of the process. Puns aside, your ability to execute in the following areas will support or undermine all of the work you’ve just done. In this section, operations refers to more than your strategy. It comes down to how you’ll make everything work. We’ll start with identifying your key activities, players, and partners:
- Who are the key people in your company? What are their strengths?
- Who are your key partners? What value do they bring to your company?
- How do you deliver value to the customer?
- What activities accomplish your goals? Development (creative, R&D)? Production? Promotion?
- Are these activities daily? Occasional? Seasonal?
These people will help you build a successful business, so don’t underestimate the importance of understanding your team and their roles. From there, we move on to your customer segments and relationships:
- Is there “low-hanging fruit” you can immediately capture with with your product/service?
- Do you appeal to the mass market? Just a niche? Are you nationa? Local?
- What type of relationship do you want with your customers?
- What do you want them to think about your business? Feel about your business?
- How will your company’s operations accomplish this?
All of this builds up to picking your channel. Choose wisely. Products that people need to see and touch to feel good about buying may not work exclusively online. Although, some business are trying to push that envelope, like BedInaBox.com. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
- How can you reach your customers?
- What messages do you need to convey? How do they change over time?
- How do you introduce your business? And how do you maintain the relationship after the sale?
- Do you need a physical location to start selling or can you start with a temporary one?
- Is the core thing you’re selling a physical product? If so, what is the leanest way you can build it in order to start testing the concept and making money?
- Is your business model that can be replicated and sold easily?
- Do you absolutely need an online presence to start generating revenue?
- Do you absolutely need a mobile application to start or can you test your business idea another way?
In theory, if you’ve done the work and you keep eating your Wheaties, your business will grow. But how it grows matters. What does the future look like long term?
- How do your goals, mission, and value proposition translate to growth?
- How should you grow? Why? How fast? Where?
- Are there any immediate opportunities for growth?
- How ill this growth be managed?
Finally, at long last, we’re within sight of the finish line. How will you assess and adjust? In other words, what might a pivot look like and how will you know if you need to make one? So you’ll need to think about:
- How will you monitor and assess what you do?
- What measures will you employ for your key activities?
- How will you handle customer issues? Questions? Complaints?
- How will you handle problems? PR? Communications with stakeholders?
- How often will you review company performance?
Phew. That’s it. I promise … except for one tiny thing.
Very few boards will look the same at the end of your adventure as they did at the beginning. And that’s a good thing. The BASE Board is designed to grow and change with you as your business grows and changes.
But what comes next is up to you. You’ve turned up the BASE, but now you need to take the next step and actually DO something.