Finding your voice: translating your business ideas into reality

By: Adesola Atanda

I always reflect on a crucial moment during my childhood, a key moment that continues to challenge how I see myself in the world. It was a Sunday afternoon in Lagos, Nigeria. We just got home from church, about to sit down for a family meal. My mother took centre stage at the table and began to recall her journey from a house wife to working for a multinational company and running a side business. She vividly recounted reading a newspaper article written by a house wife whose husband died, and had all their possessions taken by his family. She then looked at each of us and shouted! “It is important to face your reality! Always have more than one source of income, never be complacent! The world is a cruel place and it is important to channel your gifts and talents to give you the platform and freedom to make you happy!” I remember the awkward silence that followed the pained expression on my mother’s face, and the questions that began to develop in my mind from that moment. What does it mean to “face my reality?” How do I find my talents, my gifts? How do I find my place and my voice in a world in which we always put people in boxes and confine people to stereotypes based on religion, gender and ethnicity? How do I identify a unique business opportunity tailored to me and translate that from an idea into reality. If you have had similar questions, the purpose of this article is to give you some ideas on how to nurture your idea into real business.
Business opportunities tend to fall in three broad categories [1]. Firstly, a business opportunity can be found from frustrations you have identified and your ability to alleviate them; in other words ‘how can I make this better or faster?’. Secondly, a business opportunity could be the result of exploring ways to monetise a passion/talent. In this case, you have identified that you are really good or passionate about something, and you are driven to keep expanding and growing. Lastly, business ideas related to the creation of disruptive solutions and technologies with the aim of advancing an industry and /or user experience. There is no set path of coming up with a business idea, they may come from a combination of all three. The key is to start thinking about ideas and keeping track of them. I recommend writing these down in a book, journal, phone, or email, whatever you feel comfortable with. I am often teased by my friends for having a book of ideas, but when I bring out my book, they know not to disturb me as I become engrossed in pondering different business possibilities.
Once you have come up with a few ideas, the next step is to transform them into something tangible through research. You need to really dive in and be honest with yourself: what do you know about your product or service, industry, customer and competitors? Most likely, there will be a knowledge gap and you have to find ways to fill that gap. Attempting to research information to either validate or reject your business idea can be a tedious process, and this is where the initial optimism tends to die down. How do I even start, how do I know that I am doing it right? Is it worth it etc.? To tackle this, I recommend taking the following approach: imagine that you have already set up your business for a year and everything is going fine. You have overcome a few challenges and you are excited about your business venture. Now ask yourself how you got to this point and work backwards. To run a business you need funding from investors (friends, family, financial institutions). To get funding from investors you need a business plan. To get a business plan you need to carry out research. The outline of a business plan can be used to frame your research [2], [3], which makes your research efforts more streamlined and efficient as you are answering the relevant questions directly. Good research is not only necessary to convince investors to fund your business, but also to convince yourself and increase confidence in yourself and your business venture. As you write your business plan, it is important to understand and communicate your motivations and inspirations (the why) and how you are translating your ideas into running your business (the how). But then, the ‘why’ should be at the centre of your business in order to truly stand out and succeed [4]. My primary motivation for constantly coming up with business ideas is to achieve boundless freedom and as much control over my life as far as my belief will take me. Your motivation could be your children, spouse, self-actualisation etc. Whatever it may be, you need to translate this to your product and service such that customers can buy into your vision.

I can hear you think, but how do I go about embarking on good research? The key is getting quality data which is not the same as the amount of money you spend on it. There are two layers of research: primary; and secondary [5]. Primary research entails addressing basic questions surrounding your business such as: Is there a demand for my product/service? Who are my customers? Who are my competitors? What are they doing? What are they offering? The best way to carry out primary research is to make it simple. For example, you could conduct a survey (paper or online), speak to people face to face, or let people sample your products/service and give you feedback [6]. The key thing here is getting as many people to participate as possible, and not just family and friends. You can then see trends or gaps and tailor your business idea accordingly. Secondary research involves analyzing data that has already been published. You could identify people with certain behavioural patterns or belonging to a particular age group to further support your primary research. Sources of secondary research vary by industry and country, and can be found in industry publications, consumer behaviour journals, industry specific events, government reports, educational institutions etc. [7]. It is important to always keep doing research. The world keeps changing, and as businesses and industries evolve, the type of questions that should be asked change. Are my customers happy? Are my processes efficient? Is there room for improvement? Should I launch a new product? Open another branch? Open in a different town or country? One of my business ideas involves food. So I decided to cook for 150 people all by myself. It was very exciting and extremely challenging. Apart from gaining invaluable feedback, it also brought up valid questions. How do you scale up from cooking for 5 to 150 people? How do you keep the flavour consistent? How do I create a recipe that my customers will always be happy with? To help me with this, I asked other entrepreneurs about their experiences. How did they overcome the obstacles that I am facing? Their stories gave me a lot of help and I realised that as an entrepreneur building the right relationships (networking) is crucial. Your time is precious, you are building a kingdom, and you have to invest in the right relationships. It is impossible to build a kingdom alone. You need to develop and maintain relationships with experienced entrepreneurs, business colleagues, customers and vendors in order to succeed. [8]

No matter how extensive your business preparation, it is important to take the plunge. To find your voice, open your mouth and hear what comes out. This is how our ancestors did it. It might take a lot of trial and error, falling down and getting back up, endless tweaking and adjusting, but that’s what running a business involves. It is the bravery of conquering the unknown, facing reality head on, birthing your dreams and moving the world forward as you speak.

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