When writing your business plan, you may be tempted to simply use a business-plan software template and fill in the blanks. But an exercise called mind mapping can help you to think outside that box.
Use mind mapping to explore the vast network for your product or service. The idea itself is simple; however, the results may cause you to rethink your initial product or service offering.
First, draw a circle in the center of a sheet of blank paper. Write the idea for your business inside this circle.
Now, draw lines outward from this circle, radiating from your focus idea to potential service areas or products, also represented by circles. Please focus only on service or product areas for this exercise.
For example, if your passion is photography, place photography services in your center circle. Draw lines from your center circle to the other circles. In these outer circles, list potential clients or service areas, such as weddings, families and children, and graduations. Commercial photographers typically offer these services. Now it is time for you to think “outside the circle.”
In this photography business example, you might want to add additional circles for pets, legal photography, photojournalism, real estate, insurance claims, fine photography, gifts, Web site photography, print catalog development, advertising, and biomedical photography. These services aren’t typical general photography services, but they are services that the individual wanting to pursue a photography venture may consider.
Expand Your Ideas
Let’s take one or two of these areas and develop them even further.
Perhaps you reside in horse country and have a passion for horses in addition to photography. Radiating from the pets circle on your web can be additional rays, connecting this area of concentration to several subspecialties, such as photography of horses for registries, commercial photography for equestrian sales publications, program photography for competitive equestrian events, and journalistic photography for horse enthusiast magazines.
Maybe you enjoy integrating the written word with photography. Let’s further expand the photojournalism idea. Radiating from this circle can be subspecialties, such as local newspapers, regional publications, book publishers, corporate annual reports, school yearbook photography, or family history.
You may see crossover opportunities, too. Maybe you’re a horse lover and a writer. Now your focus is more closely defined.
There is no limit to the number of specialty areas or subspecialty areas you can add. More important, there are no right or wrong ideas — all ideas are welcome. Allow yourself to brainstorm. Let your imagination take you into areas that you hadn’t previously considered.
Find Your Niche
Carry this paper with you for the next several days. Or post it on the kitchen wall or bathroom mirror where you will see it several times a day. Most likely, you will be able to add more ideas to your brainstorming exercise.
Are there too many ideas? Are you feeling overwhelmed and not certain where to concentrate your efforts? Don’t worry; that is part of the exercise. First, you see the big picture of opportunities. Then, you uncover your niche and let your passion guide you.
As you look at this piece of paper full of squiggly lines and circles, does one area of the diagram pop off of the paper ? Are you being drawn to a certain idea? If yes, this may be your niche, the area in which you may want to concentrate. Your passion should dictate your niche.
This exercise translates into products and service offerings that you’ll outline in your business plan. It shows your potential lenders (and you as your own investor) that you have thoroughly considered the offerings you could provide to your customers. In your plan, you need not list every product or service you have considered. List those that represent your niche.
Still not sure where you niche lies? Don’t worry — the more you revisit this exercise and observe the business world around you, the clearer the vision will become.
For more on this topic, be sure to read Map It Out: An Innovative Productivity Tool Promises to Boost Performance.
Carol Parenzan Smalley is an educator, innovator, and entrepreneur. She is the creator of and instructor for “Creating a Successful Business Plan,” an online course offered by colleges and universities around the world.