Five questions to ask before starting a business
This article’s purpose is to encourage you to ask certain specific questions, along five essential lines of thought, to thoroughly analyze your business idea/opportunity. You should ask these questions at the very beginning of the entrepreneurial process, meaning as soon as you’ve pinpointed an idea or opportunity that looks interesting. You can also think back to them before making major strategic decisions. This will help you decide whether or not to further pursue your venture.
This one involves reflecting upon your passions in life, what gets you excited, what you love to do, and what you don’t like or wish to keep doing. Try to imagine your future life as an entrepreneur, everything you will have to do, and ask yourself if it lines up with your desires. Can you still see yourself there in 5 years’ time?
Your personal values. Everyone’s values are different. Values are essential benchmarks we use to assess ideas. Of course, they come for who you are, as well as your education, culture and environment… They may include control, reliability, discipline, wealth, rest, accomplishment, etc. Think about your idea and how it will help you grow and feel good about yourself.
In sum, your desires and values focus on the interest your business opportunity has for you: how will it make you happy? Your desires ask the question “Will I enjoy being an entrepreneur on a daily basis?” while your values ask “Am I in agreement with my idea and what it implies, and how does it align with my beliefs and personal values?”.
Both questions aim to validate your feeling of desirability toward your business idea/opportunity.
Think about the skills required to make your idea work and identify those already at your disposal, either directly from your own experience and training, indirectly via the support of your associates and project team, or even other people linked to the project. This item should draw your attention to the skills you will need to acquire in order to bring your idea to life (either via training, job experience or by including more people and their skills into your team).
Seeing as you’re still in the idea phase, you will likely make a few mistakes regarding the skills required for your project. Plus, any shifts in your project plan could call for different skills.
4. Financial constraints
What financial means are at your disposal for your project? Do you feel it will be enough for your project, as you currently imagine it, to see the light of day?
Consider the “costs” involved in creating your business, but think about your own personal needs too: what do you need to live et perhaps support your family?
This will essentially be a gut feeling, which cannot be verified.
5. Social constraints
How will your entrepreneurial project impact your family life and, more broadly, your relationships with other people? Is your project viable vis-à-vis your family responsibilities (children…)? Are your friends and family supportive of your venture? How will they perceive your idea, and how could they get involved either directly or indirectly?
These three lines of thought (skills, financial constraints and social constraints) aim to validate your feeling of feasibility toward your business idea/opportunity.
Having gone through this thought process, you should have a more objective assessment of your idea, which will help your decide to continue to move forward (or not) with the following phases: structure, market research (which takes weeks or even months) and launching your business, implementing your activity.
To do so, I’ve included a helpful method1. You will find an example in the diagram here to work on it on your own.
For each of the 5 questions above, write down your answer or answers. Each question (desires, values, skills, financial constraints and social constraints) will be assessed on a scale of 10, with 1 being the least favourable/desirable situation, and 10 being the ideal situation for you.
Your total score, out of 50 points, will help you:
- Assess an idea’s potential by setting a limit for moving forward with it (for example, my bread dispenser idea scored 29/50, but my limit to keep moving forward is 30/50 – I will not further pursue this idea).
- Compare several ideas/scenarios in order to choose the one that’s best for you (for example: your bread dispenser idea scored 29/50, your mini-market idea scored 32/50 and your idea to supply companies with fruit scored 35/50, so you decide to pursue your fruit distribution project and leave the other two aside at least for the time being).
As you can see, at a very early stage of your reflection, this exercise can allow you to:
- Validate your feelings of feasibility and desirability toward your project, thus helping you avoid embarking on a project for the wrong reasons and ending up doing something that doesn’t make you happy, or even engaging in a study you won’t be able to see through due to your personal situation, or a lack of skills or financial means;
- Decrease the number of ideas in your mind, making the next steps of structuring and market researcher easier as you can focus on the idea that, according to your gut feeling (we can’t speak of certainties, but rather intuitions), seems most desirable and doable.
- Make certain adjustments to your initial idea even before furthering your research, based on the five big questions you asked yourself (for example: deciding to find a partner because you don’t possess all the necessary skills to succeed in your project).
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