One of the first and most important things you can do when you have an idea you want to sell is craft a clear, succinct manifesto capturing the essence of your product and business philosophy. Drilling down to your idea's core and conveying its uniqueness in a few simple sentences can be a challenging and time-consuming task, but you'll pay later if you skip it.
It may sound self-evident to suggest that you need to identify WHAT you're selling before you embark, but you'd be surprised at how many entrepreneurs don't take the time to properly define what, exactly, they're selling. On Dragon's Den we see this again and again. Either they lack a clear vision of their product or the ability to clearly articulate their vision to others. That's a big problem, partly because vagueness doesn't tend to inspire confidence in investors, but also because if you can't properly express what you're selling, how can anyone else possibly be expected to figure it out? Taking the time to corral the unruly riot of ideas swirling around in your head will help keep you focused and give others a clear blueprint to follow.
By the way, it's not only those just starting out who fail to identify properly what they're selling. On The Big Decision, we often find that when companies that have been in business for a while start running into problems, those problems can be traced directly back to a failure to properly articulate their brand. In many cases, the owners are sure they know what they're selling since they've been living with the idea day in and day out for ages. But you'd be amazed at how many can't express the gist of their brand in a few simple sentences when asked to do it! That's why it's so important to release your idea from captivity in your brain and set it down in manifesto form. Only then will you be able to see whether it's viable, and to diagnose its flaws and tweak and refine it.
When I say that you have to articulate what you're selling, I'm not just speaking of the product--a new brand of baby wear, let's say, or an innovative bath gel. I'm also speaking of the philosophy behind your product: the overarching set of beliefs that drive your passion for it and inform and guide your thinking about all the business decisions you'll make.
Take, for instance, Lululemon Athletica. In a literal sense, the company sells yoga-inspired athletic apparel. But its manifesto, which you can read here makes it clear that Lululemon is also selling the idea of virtuous healthful living, mindfulness, and the power of self-improvement. And if you've never had Balzac's coffee but want to know what sets that coffee-drinking experience apart from others, you need simply click on http://www.balzacs.com/ and read "Our Philosophy" and "Our Founding Values". You'll know instantly.
All of which is to say that if I were thinking of launching a new business, I'd ask myself "Why am I in business? Who are my customers? What's the nature of my product and services? What image and values do I want my business to convey? What sets my product apart from others in the marketplace? What kind of service do I plan to provide?" And so on. I'd craft a manifesto, put it in a place where I could see it often, like an office bulletin board or the fridge, let its message seep into my consciousness, and continue to tweak what I'd written as my idea evolved. I wouldn't spend any money or ask anyone else to until I'd nailed my message.
Now I have a question for you. What companies do you think have mastered the art of the manifesto?
Now ask yourself a question, if you haven't done this for your own business, why not?