The Business Plan: How to test your big idea

The Business Plan: How to test your big idea
Bill Reagan

By Bill Reagan

Lots of people always are coming up with ideas for a new business or nonprofit venture. While great ideas are important, there are several tangible steps you should follow to give that idea the greatest chance of success.

Hopefully, your idea sprang from personal experience. The more you know about a particular area — trends, challenges, latest developments — the better positioned you are to evaluate the impact your product or service might have.

If you have no experience in that area, you must immerse yourself in the field. Actually working or volunteering in that area is best, but if that’s not feasible, meticulous research is essential. Online research is helpful, but public libraries often have access to subscription-only resources. Their research librarians can often point you in directions you might not otherwise consider.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the market or area you hope to enter, you need to objectively answer some fundamental questions. The most important question is “what.” What problem does your product or service solve, or what need is it filling?

Next, ask yourself several “who” questions. Who is your target market? Who will benefit from your product or service? Will they realize that they need that benefit, or will you need to market extensively? Who is your competition, and what advantages would you have over them?

After “who,” address the “how” questions. How are you going to identify and reach your target market? How are you going to persuade them that your product or service is worth their purchase? How will you develop that product or service into something that can be produced or expanded, while still maintaining quality? How much will it cost to get the answers to all of these questions and get your business set up? How long will it take to begin generating revenue?

Lastly, the “where” questions consider the location for your enterprise. Where do you want to locate, and is that site zoned to allow your activity? You must carefully research what permits or licenses will be required, how complicated those are to apply for, and are those requirements feasible for your potential business, both in terms of time and cost?

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center can assist potential business owners by providing objective step-by-step guidance as entrepreneurs consider these questions. Its website ( has a robust Startup Checklist that walks through the necessary steps in priority order.

The center also has staff, consultants, and planning guides that can help you develop things like financial projections, even if you don’t have previous experience with these business processes. With the center’s help, you have a greater chance of building a viable and sustainable business and are more likely to succeed in securing a loan.

While it may initially seem daunting, people just like you are working through questions like these every day and starting successful ventures. If you approach your business thoughtfully and access all resources available to you, you are setting yourself up to succeed.

The writer is the executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.