GUEST BLOG: Is your business idea viable?

This is one to come at from all angles. You'll need some friends, a very small laboratory and a cold towel.

Step 1: Some friends

This is where you test the theory. It is, by definition, theoretical. You'll want to talk to potential customers, to competitors and to people who have tried what you are doing and maybe failed.

When we started Leon we did quite a few different things to to test the concept and people's thinking. We asked people to fill out quite a detailed online survey about their current habits and desires, we held very informal evening focus groups at our houses where people tasted the food and talked about their tastes, and we spoke to as many people as possible who already worked in the industry.

The trick with all of this is to know how to read the tea leaves: Customers aren't always good at telling you what they want.

A friend who is in his eighties now tells me that when he created Bailey's, he had to hide the focus group research from his bosses as it was so negative.

But a concept is so much more than its appeal to customers. What is equally critical is the business model. The efficiency with which you are serving customers. How can you be better than your competitors at this? Again, talk to as many people as possible and ferret out what they can tell you about the costs and complexities in your competitor's businesses.

And then there are the people who have tried what you are trying and have succeeded or failed. The chances are you will hit the same obstacles and challenges as they did. More often than not history repeats itself... unless you can predict and circumvent those obstacles.

Step 2: The laboratory

More powerful than the theory of how people will behave is finding out how they actually behave. And the same goes for operations. You need to find low cost ways of gradually testing your idea in reality.

Henry Dimbleby and I spent a Saturday building a mock-up of our potential Carnaby Street lay-out to see if the kitchen and queuing system would work. If you are a web business create a test site and try and hide away until you are confident you are on to something. If you are starting a retail or consumer business, get a stall at a market before committing to a shop. You get the idea.

Step 3: The cold towel

This is probably the most important piece of all. You've seen the tennis players at Wimbledon? Hiding under a cold towel during breaks? This is where you find the time to escape the information flying at you from research and people and little trials.

It is where you let your intuition do the work. Is your subconscious shouting at your conscious trying to get a message through? Don't try and be rational at this point. Let your instincts tell you what they think. It is easy to be swept along with the whole process of starting a business without stopping to reflect.

Does this help? What else can you tell me? Leave your comment below.

John Vincent is this week's online mentor in our Brother Business Ambitions competition. Ask him your burning business question here.

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