When watching an entrepreneur from a distance, it can seem as though their business idea fell magically into their lap. But in reality, the best businesses are born only after meticulous testing, hard work, and often a whole lot of heartache. The process can be messy and frustrating.
I know because I watched it come “naturally” for others as I wasted month after month on failed business ideas.
But after six months and four failed business ideas, I finally found the one idea that not only proved its potential for being highly profitable, but also proved it was an idea I could blissfully pour my heart into for years to come.
So I’d like to share with you the real-life process. The messy process. And the one that doesn’t often fit into a neat and tidy 400-word blog post.
Starting from zero
When I began creating my business from scratch, I had a few ideas floating around in my mind. But I wanted to start with a clean slate and remove preconceptions. I didn’t want to limit myself, overthink it, or waste time wondering whether people would actually pay for the idea.
With pencil and paper I filled a page with all the things I thought I was good at, and ways in which I could use those things to bring value to the world. This was the starting point for my new business.
Ideas flowed from asking myself these four questions —
- What do my friends complain about that I find effortless?
- What do my friends say I’m great at?
- What do my friends say when they introduce me?
- What would I do if I had three hours free every week?
The ideas that came to me mostly revolved around design, fashion, bridal, couture, costume, creativity, beauty, and placing value on womanhood.
Most of my ideas were predictable. Some were not. And that’s the beauty of mind-mapping. The process pushes you to think outside of the ordinary.
Below you’ll see my very first mind map.
(By the way: Tony Buzan is a fantastic resource to help you with mind-mapping, particularly if you’d prefer to brainstorm digitally. Click here to watch a quick five-minute video explaining how you can use his technique to help your ideas flow.)
My process was to start with the ideas I was most excited by and work to validate them. I went back to these two scribbled pages over and over again during the six months it took me to find my final profitable idea. For every failed idea, they gave me a clear direction, which quickly reset my focus and pushed me to keep going.
And keep going…
This is the process that most people don’t reveal, because by the time you hear about their business they have some momentum. But I want to share the entire process from start to success. Which took me FOUR ideas and six months.
Here’s what each idea looked like…
BUSINESS IDEA 1: Teaching costume creation to people wanting to work in theatre, dance, and ballet companies.
From the beginning, this was the idea that excited me most. I’d had years of experience as a costume designer, and I knew there was a huge demand for high quality costumiers by theatre, dance, and ballet companies across the world.
I spent a really long time in immersion — reaching out to dressmakers and designers, interviewing people, meeting them over cups of tea. I studied influencers, books, articles, and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on.
I spent hours creating spreadsheets, which recorded everything I was learning in infinite detail.
Like this first spreadsheet below which clearly recorded my immersion. It showed me who my audience was, their pains and fears, hopes and dreams, obstacles and any other interesting bits and pieces I was learning along the way.
Or this spreadsheet below, which was inspired by Selena Soo’s incredible Influence Program. This one records the main influencers in my industry, along with notes about them, their business, their contact details, their reach, and any needs they may have.
I also made a spreadsheet to keep track of people I was reaching out to through forums where my audience members spent a lot of their time.
And lastly, the spreadsheet below is where I recorded all the interesting or inspiring articles I was reading that related to my idea or industry.
It took me around six weeks to feel 100% sure that this idea was validated. I’d completed my profit playbook, an important step of Zero to Launch that helps identify your audience, find where to reach them, learn about the problems they’re facing, and figure out how to help them with solutions. Basically, it keeps you moving in the right direction.
I was ready to move forward. I should have been thrilled at that point!
But I wasn’t.
I was hesitating. Procrastinating. But I couldn’t figure out why? I couldn’t put my finger on what was holding me back. I was frustrated. Really frustrated!
But then one day after another face-to-face interview, I finally figured out what my problem was — I didn’t love my audience. I didn’t feel connected to them. Validated or not, I realized that this particular business idea wasn’t the right one for me.
I called my husband after that interview and burst into tears. Then I cried in the car while listening to sad Lana Del Rey songs all the way home. All I could think about was how weeks of my life had been wasted. (Not true!) And how all my hard work was for nothing. (Definitely not true!) And what in the world was I to do now? (Oh, woe is me!) Gah!
I was gutted.
For a week I resorted to binging on “Outlander,” eating waaaay too many spoonfuls of Nutella and buying myself a few too many pairs of shiny new shoes (much to my husband’s irritation).
But when feeling sorry for myself started to get boring, it definitely became time for me to go back to my page of scribbled business ideas. You know, the mind map from above.
BUSINESS IDEA 2: Teaching bridal and evening wear couture to fashion designers and dressmakers.
My next business idea was to teach couture to fashion designers and dressmakers online.
I felt excited by the simplicity of this idea. I had a degree in fashion design, studied couture in Paris, and owned my own label, Clarissa Grace Couture, for 15 years, creating bridal and evening wear gowns for hundreds of women across Australia. I knew the industry intimately and was confident there’d be a demand.
So I began immersion by asking my Instagram audience (which was mostly filled with people who had followed my previous career) if my idea would be something they might be interested in. I immediately had designers and dressmakers messaging me privately, asking me to teach them.
But after more immersion, more interviews, more meetings, more spreadsheets… I started getting that meh feeling again. My idea was validated, but again something was stopping me from moving forward with it.
I knew the problem wasn’t with my audience this time… I adored my audience. They were sweet and creative and hungry to learn. I realized the problem was that I was bored.
I’d already spent years creating bridal and evening wear gowns for my label, but it didn’t feel like enough of a challenge. It didn’t feel like I’d be stretching myself in the way I wanted to be stretched.
And I didn’t know how important that was to me until that moment. Sometimes immersion is as much about discovering your own wants and needs as it is about your potential customers.
The immersion process was really starting to frustrate me now. But the good bit was that I was beginning to get a much clearer picture of what I wanted from my new business. And although I was frustrated, still, I knew I was making progress.
I sulked over this second fail for a few days, but I refused to cry. I had a bit of a “Poldark” binge (I have a weakness for costume dramas), with a few too many scoops of Nutella, but this time shoe shopping wasn’t necessary.
Once I was done with sulking, I went back to my page of scribbled ideas to start again.
BUSINESS IDEA 3: Teaching aspiring fashion designers how to get into fashion school.
My third idea was to teach aspiring fashion design students how to get into fashion school through skills such as design, sewing, illustration, portfolio presentation, and interview preparation.
It was another long immersion process.
I was less familiar with this audience and how the school system works, so I had to learn a lot along the way. I spent weeks talking to teachers, parents, and students. I even spoke to a fashion design class at one of our local high schools, critiqued their work, and then did immersion interviews with the students afterwards.
I received validation in Australia within a couple of weeks, and again, completed my profit playbook. The schools loved the idea and were eager to pay for my help right away.
But then when I moved my immersion to the US, I found validation much more challenging. There seemed to be a subtle hesitancy from the people I was speaking with. I realized eventually that although the schools liked my idea, realistically they couldn’t pay for it.
So I had to make the decision as to whether this was a business idea that could thrive only on Australian customers. And after researching the numbers of students who are accepted into fashion school each year in Australia — I decided that it wasn’t.
As disappointed as I was, this meant that it was time for me to go back to my scribble notes again!
I gave myself permission to mope for a day. Without Netflix. Without Nutella. And without buying a single pair of shiny new shoes.
I knew I was getting better at this! (Both moping and immersion.) I held on so tightly to my first couple of business ideas, which made them so much harder to let go of. But now it was different. I’d released my grip.
BUSINESS IDEA 4: Teaching fashion styling and personal branding to female entrepreneurs.
My next idea was to teach fashion styling and personal branding to female entrepreneurs. I have a huge soft spot for women entrepreneurs, and I loved the idea of being able to help them create an unapologetically confident, out-of-this-world style to complement the unique brand of their business.
The idea was quickly validated and by this stage, I knew I was close. But I wasn’t there yet.
All I could think about was the pressure the fashion industry puts on women to be “trendy,” “cool,” and “cutting-edge.” I really don’t like it and I didn’t want to put myself in that environment.
It made me wonder whether this idea might be a touch too shallow for me. I wanted something so much more than that for myself and for these beautiful ladies I’d been speaking to.
I wanted something deeper.
Something more meaningful.
BUSINESS IDEA 5: Teaching ambitious moms to embrace their body, believe in their beauty, and transform themselves through personal style.
After four rounds of immersion, I realized that what a woman wears is far more about what’s in her heart than it is about her clothes. For the first time ever I became wholeheartedly convinced that clothing is not superfluous. It’s about a woman’s beauty. Not the kind of beauty that puts unrealistic expectations on her to be skinnier, prettier, whatever-er… but the kind of beauty that comes from inside of her.
I realized that incredible style is when a woman uses her clothes as a way to tell her story. To express her hopes, her dreams, her darkness, and her strength. To radiate the beauty that’s in her heart. Because there is nothing so powerful as a woman who feels beautiful. It was the concept lurking behind all of my ideas the entire time.
But there is this intense pressure on women to constantly be society’s picture-perfect version of beauty and many of us are filled with shame because of it.
But I didn’t realize how messy the subject of a woman’s beauty was until I actually looked them in the eyes and asked them really hard questions and saw their hearts in a much deeper way.
And what I learned during my time with each woman was that regardless of how successful she was or how close she was to society’s definition of beauty, even if she was society’s definition of beauty, still, she couldn’t escape the feeling that she had somehow failed in this area.
This was her burning pain.
Women poured out their hearts and cried tears and I broke for them in the process.
But it was the moms who had the greatest emotional impact on me. They were the ones who expressed this pain most.
I fell head-over-heels in love with the moms who felt they had lost their beauty, and even more in love with the idea that I could help them! They had so much to give, and every single one of them deserved the power of feeling comfortable and confident in the process of becoming a world changing woman.
Within a couple of weeks, I had more than enough validation to move ahead with my business. But I wasn’t ready. I wanted to learn more and more about these moms. I wanted to be able to wrap words around their every thought and feeling. I wanted to know them better than they knew themselves.
And after another four weeks… I did! I knew with everything inside of me that I’d finally found the idea I’d been searching for. I’d finally found that sweet spot where my profitable business idea matched my passion. Where my idea aligned with my heart!
It’s the stuff entrepreneurs don’t talk about much. We see so many numbers and graphs and analytics, but I think your love for what you do and who you serve is equally as important.
And once you find that – it’s the most spectacular feeling ever!
Give yourself permission for it to take as long as it takes
The one thing I know I got right above everything else — I gave myself permission for immersion to take as long as it needed to take. I was patient with the process. I trusted the system. I embraced the frustration. And I was willing to spend the time up front to virtually guarantee my long-term success.
80% of the work I put into those early business ideas came to nothing. But they led me to the next idea, and then to the next one after that. And if I hadn’t tried those ideas, how would I have known they wouldn’t work? How would I have found the one idea that was the perfect fit for me?
And as I continue to create beautiful high-quality content, I’m filled with the confidence that all my hard work in immersion has created a foundation of love, care, and understanding for the women I am striving to help. Nothing could be more important to me.
I know the immersion and research process can be excruciating and frustrating at times, but trust me: you have to keep going!
When you find the one idea that is the perfect fit for you — it’ll be worth every minute.