Our 7-Day Challenge Will Help You Turn an Idea Into a Business

Two business partners hug after a business meeting comes to an end.
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Chances are you’ve daydreamed of what it would be like to run a business of your own. Perhaps you’ve thought of an idea that could be a real moneymaker. But you weren’t sure how to act, so those dreams faded to the background as you trudged through your day job(s).

To get you back in entrepreneur mode, we’ve created a seven-day bootcamp to turn your idea into a business. We’ve paired each day with a strategy to help you chisel away at your goals.

Dreams, you’re back. That business you’ve always wanted to start: It’s happening.

Day 1: Brainstorm Ideas

Business ideas don’t have to be glamorous. They just need to be realistic.

They don’t need to be based on a genius invention, a scientific breakthrough or a Shark Tank-worthy smartphone app (though they certainly could be). At their core, good business ideas identify existing problems and offer solutions.

Kathyrn Gratton is the president of the Hagerstown, Maryland, chapter of Score, a free small-business resource network and partner of the federal Small Business Administration. She spoke to The Penny Hoarder about coming up with a winning idea.

“Where’s your interest? Where’s your passion?” she said, noting that your ideas need to be more than potential moneymakers: You should also enjoy the work.

It’s OK if you can’t think of anything on-the-spot. The Penny Hoarder compiled nine business ideas to get your creativity flowing.

Day 2: Choose a Winner

Now that you’ve got a long (or not-so-long) list of potential business ideas, you’ve got to decide which one to run with.

Consider your own expertise. Use your insider experience and knowledge to pinpoint what’s original and novel about your idea. Start thinking about the connections you have, and how those people can help you get started.

You may realize later that, actually, the idea you picked wasn’t a winner. You need to rethink it, or return to your list. That’s OK too. The point of this weeklong exercise is to make progress. And determining that the idea you’ve been mulling over for a while is unfeasible is progress.

Day 3: Get Feedback

Feedback is crucial in the early stages of business building. The more the better — and the more critical the better. While you might think you have a brilliant idea, sooner or later, your business is going to need to convince a ton of other people of the same thing.

Within the constraints of day three, you’re not going to be able to test any markets or run any focus groups. Simply asking for constructive feedback from your neighbors, friends or family members will be tremendously helpful.

Think you’re onto something? Read our comprehensive 10-step guide to starting a business once you’re ready to launch.

Gratton recommends asking that one brutally honest friend we all have. You know, the one that’s comfortable with telling you if you’ve gotten fat over the holidays.

“They are the best to run things by because you know they will tell you the truth,” she said.

Day 4: Outline a Business Plan

Don’t roll your eyes. Business plans are worth it.

A 2016 study published in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal found it indeed pays to plan: Entrepreneurs who wrote formal business plans were 16% more likely to “achieve new venture viability” (aka succeed) than those who didn’t.

While it’s true that you won’t be able to – and probably shouldn’t – draft an entire business plan in one day, you can spend your time creating an outline that will set you up for success.

In the article-turned-book “How to Write a Great Business Plan,” Harvard business professor William Sahlman lays out the purpose of a business plan and exactly what to include in it.

  • The People: Who’s running the show? Include yourself and everyone else you’ll need for operations to run smoothly.
  • The Opportunity: Explain your product or service and who might buy it. Start thinking about price points, customer demographics and competitors.
  • The Context: Consider all “factors that inevitably change but cannot be controlled by the entrepreneur,” Sahlman writes. That includes laws, regulations and economic trends that could impact your idea.
  • The Risk and Reward: Describe the worst-case scenario, economically speaking, and how you plan to weather the storm.

Use those four sections as a starting point for your outline. As you fill it out, you’re very likely to find some deeper insight into your business – or you may find it’s just not going to work. The sooner you learn from either scenario, the better.

Day 5: Craft a Business Pitch

You’ve done all the heavy lifting for the week. Hopefully that dream you thought was long dead is starting to come alive. Now it’s time to polish up your findings and start sharing the basic premise of your idea and why it’s destined to be successful. Or at least be ready when the opportunity strikes.

To help you know what to include in a killer business pitch, The Penny Hoarder spoke to two former Shark Tank contestants who pitched their businesses in front of millions of viewers – nailed their performance – and now helm multimillion-dollar enterprises: Dawoon Kang, CEO of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel, and Sara Margulis, CEO of the honeymoon-crowdsourcing website Honeyfund.

“Succinctly stating what your business is, why it exists and why it’s better than everyone else is really important,” Margulis said. “Any time you talk about your company, you should be able to convey those things simply.”

That succinct part is especially important. Here are Kang and Margulis’ other key nuggets of advice.

  • Know your audience: No matter whom you speak to, your pitch should include the core elements Margulis mentioned, but you’ll need to tailor it slightly to different people. Is it a customer, an investor or a business partner? What does each of them need to hear?
  • Include a call to action: Depending on your audience, the call to action should change. Suggest a clear next step, something more specific than: “Let’s stay in touch!”
  • Practice: Pacing, enthusiasm and data are a lot to juggle. You won’t know what part of your pitch sticks with your listener unless you test it out.
  • Apply feedback: Your business pitch is never truly finished. You may learn that people want to hear more about a detail you thought was unimportant. Hear them out, and make the changes to keep it fresh.

“It feels like (I’m pitching) all the time … but what I’m realizing is it’s actually not enough,” Kang said. “There’s a saying: ‘Unless you’ve said it 10 times, you actually haven’t said it.’”

Day 6: Start Networking

What good is a pitch if you aren’t meeting new people to share it with?

Spend part of the day searching for networking opportunities, updating your LinkedIn profile and other online professional networks. Don’t forget the IRL ones either. Like, with real people.

There are networking organizations serving virtually every industry and profession, with local chapters nationwide. Consider attending events by the American Advertising Federation (or Ad 2, if you’re under 32), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Score, the Small Business Administration and the Small Business Development Center.

You’re bound to have an event or five in your area.

Day 7: Find a Mentor

Day seven already? You made it! Smooth sailing from here, right?

Well, not really. Entrepreneurship is hardly, if ever, smooth sailing. The point of the weeklong challenge was to make progress on your business idea instead of letting it endlessly bounce around in your skull.

To keep your momentum going, spend your day looking for a mentor, someone you trust and can turn to for solid business advice. Local Score chapters offer workshops and free one-on-one mentoring.

Or, if you’d rather keep it slightly more casual, search for someone who fits the bill at an upcoming networking event that you (hopefully) scheduled during day six.

Whatever you do, don’t stall out now.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.