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Whose Idea Was it Anyway?

07/11/2013 10:50 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013

I know you want to start an online business but you don't have an idea for a product. Or you need to add products to your current line-up. Or you have an idea but it is just not fully formed yet.

Well you are not alone. Many entrepreneurs get caught up in the feeling that they must create something new to be successful.

But very often, being first with a new product is not the best way to get started. In fact most successful entrepreneurs made their fortunes selling products similar to those others were already offering.

There are techniques for producing great product ideas. And it works for every aspect of your business from new product ideas to brainstorming your marketing campaigns.

The Ten Steps For Producing Profitable Product Ideas

Step 1, Identify the problem: You cannot solve a problem until you know exactly what that problem is. Yet so many entrepreneurs charge full steam ahead without really knowing what they are trying to accomplish.

Don't try to apply a solution before you have taken the time to have accurately defined the problem. Make a list of the problems your target market is facing. Think about what is keeping them up at night. Now pick the ONE you think you can solve. That's the problem you must address.

Step 2, Assemble the pertinent facts: Professionals in every field know the importance of gathering specific data/facts. A scientist planning experiments checks the abstracts to see what similar experiments have been performed. An author writing a book collects everything he can on the subject from newspaper clippings, photos, official records, transcripts of interviews and magazine articles. A business consultant may spend months researching a company before coming up with a solution to the company's problems.

Build a "swipe" file. This is an organized collection of successful promotions including newspaper and magazine ads, direct mail pieces and email campaigns.

Constantly study your file. Build simple excel spreadsheets or use a mind map to pull out solutions to the very problem you are trying to solve for your prospects.

This step increases your familiarity with the background information and gives you a fresh perspective on the problem.

Step 3, Gather general knowledge: This has to do with the expertise you've developed in all aspects of your life; from events, people, marketing, technology, management, communications, selling, entrepreneurship, parenting, the Internet and human psychology.

You will accelerate your own education by becoming a student in the many areas that relate to your business. Subscribe to trade journals related to your field. Read books in your field and start a reverence library. Attend seminars, conferences and trade shows. Network with people in your field and exchange information, stories, ideas and resources.

The majority of SUCCESSFUL entrepreneurs are information junkies. By becoming one you can learn in a few short weeks what others took 20 or more years to accumulate.

Step 4, Look for combinations: Is there really such a thing as a completely new idea? Many ideas are simply a new combination of existing elements. By looking for combinations, for new relationships between old ideas, you can come up with a fresh approach.

Look for synergistic combinations when you examine the facts. What two things can work together to form a third thing is a new idea. Take the clock-radio for example. It was invented by someone who just took two existing technologies to create a brand new product. If you have two devices, and each performs a function someone might need, can you link them together to create a new product?

Step 5, Sleep on it: Putting the problem aside for some time can help you renew your idea-producing powers just when you think your creative well has run dry. But this is only after you have gathered all the information you possible can and you have gone over that information again and again.

Once you have come to the point where you are so punch drunk from hashing the ideas over and over -- it's time to take a break. Put the problem aside and let your unconscious mind take over.

The solution may come to you in the shower, at your kid's soccer game or while you are exercising. Even if not, when you return to your problem, you will find you can attack it with a fresh perspective.

Step 6, Use a checklist: Checklist can be used to stimulate creative thinking and as a starting point for new ideas. Many manufacturers, consultants and trade associations publish checklist you can use in your own work. But the best checklists are the ones you create yourself, because they are tailored to the problems that come up in your own day-to-day life.

Step 7, Get feedback: Some entrepreneurs prefer to work alone, but feedback is critical. Getting someone else's opinion of your work can help you focus your thinking and produce ideas you hadn't thought of yet.

Take the feedback for what it's worth. If you feel you are right and the feedback is way off base -- ignore it. However, if 9 out of the 10 people you ask have the same notes on your work so far, it will behoove you to examine why.

Step 8, Team up: Many people think more creatively when working in groups but tend to involve too many people.

It is recommended that 3 - 10 people are the ideal size for an entrepreneurial team. With more you are in danger of ending up with a committee that spins its wheels and accomplishes nothing. The people you team up with should have skills AND thought processes that balance and complement your own.

Step 9, Give new ideas a chance: The creative process is a TWO-stage process. The first is an idea producing stage, when ideas flow freely. The second stage is the critical editing stage, where you hold each idea up to the light and see how it stands.

Many of us make the mistake of mixing the two stages together. Don't criticize during the first stage. Instead think about how the idea can become better and easier.

Step 10, Define success: Always set metrics. Define what is the least amount of sales you would accept for this product to be a success. Also define your optimal amount of sales as well as the number of sales that would be beyond your wildest dreams.

This tells you if the product is viable. Can you hit the minimum amount of sales? If not, perhaps the idea is not viable as it is and you need to go through your steps one more time to make sure you have solved the problem you set out to solve.

In the end, the market place will determine if your product is one they want. And if you have completed the ten steps above you will be positioned better than 99 percent of your competition.