Find An Idea

Stop hurrying: Why it took me 6 months to find my business idea

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

  1. What do my friends complain about that I find effortless?
  2. What do my friends say I’m great at?
  3. What do my friends say when they introduce me?
  4. 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.

IdeaMapping

(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…

And 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.

immersion strategy templateFor access to my immersion strategy template, click here.

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.

my influencers templateFor access to my influencers template, click here.

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.

my forum templateFor access to my forum template, click here.

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.

my article research templateFor access to my article research template, click here.

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).

Outlander GIF

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.

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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.

Poldark GIF

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.

It’s messy.

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.

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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!

I Love Lucy GIF

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?

My new site Waking Up In Paris has been launched, and now I’m working on writing my first Ultimate Guide on finding your unique personal style with one of the original Zero to Launch star students, Primoz Bozic.

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.

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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.

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There Are 63 Comments

Join The Conversation

I saw the title and was looking forward to reading this with cynical skepticism, but you totally won me over, Clarissa. You have a great attitude and follow-through. I particularly appreciate your focus on the actual people that you’re making a difference to. I think that’s at the heart of making anything that matters. Godspeed and good luck!

Helloooo!

So, I’m so ridiculously excited for this post to go live today! If you have any questions, takeaways, favourite lessons or inspirations you’d like to share – I’d love, love, LOVE you to write about them in the comments!

I’ll respond to every single one of them here!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Clarissa

It’s a great business idea because it kind of makes me tear up a bit every time I read about it. Go forth and spread that joy!

I love, love, LOVE your journey of finding your business idea that was just right for you, Clarissa! Your concept addresses the major pain points of your target audience, while letting you combine your expertise with something that is truly needed (as a mom of 2, working from home, I so appreciate this!).

But most importantly, your concept is something you feel excited and passionate about. It doesn’t get any better than that! I’m so excited for you (and FOR MYSELF, as I can’t wait for your product launch!!!)!

It might have taken you 6 months and multiple tries, but you stuck with it!!! This is SO INCREDIBLY inspiring, encouraging me to keep at it, even if my first or second or third attempts don’t turn out the way I want them to.

Thanks so much Eevie! You are sooo lovely! The process of ‘finding a new dream’ was frustrating at times, but so dang fun! And I cannot WAIT to have you in the group of my first product launch! Good luck to you beautiful! I know your new business is going to be incredible!

What a fantastic article, Clarissa!!!! Wow, seeing the beautiful ways you took what could have easily been a journey to giving up, and turned it into a process of self-discovery to get to your heart’s truth is incredible. I’m so thrilled for you and can’t wait to see what magic you continue to create. Congratulations!!!!

Thanks so much beautiful lady! It’s been a long journey, but it’s SO exciting to finally have a business that is the perfect fit for me! Thanks for being my cheer leader!

I absolutely loved this article, Clarissa. It is most definitely the side of business that we don’t hear about. Your honesty about the process of finding a profitable idea (that actually matches with your passion and the type of people that you like to serve) was truly a breath of fresh air. Your love for your audience really shines through as well. Thanks so much for sharing such a thoughtful piece with so many take aways!

Thanks so much for your beautiful words Nina! I adore my audience, and I’m so glad that translated in my words! Thanks love, for your encouragement!

Clarissa, always refreshingly honest and raw and inspiring. You turn everything into magic. I’m really so proud of you and how you continue to be true to who you are and how you strive to chase your dreams. It makes me want to be brave too. I love your journey and thank you for letting us into the behind the scenes stuff… this is the kinda thing that gives others a little more boldness and pushes us all to keep going. In any arena. You are breathtaking to watch! Love you

And that is why you are my dream customer! Thank you for your special words Renee! You are such a beautiful support and it means the world to me! And I absolutely LOVE that you think this post may help people be a little braver! Yay to that!

Wow. I adored you from the start but I had no idea how much process you went through to get to looking so poised and amazing in your business idea and your work! I really love that. And I find it SO encouraging because I have also struggled with finding a business idea that matches my passion and is aligned with my heart. I think I’m getting there, and I’m going to use your process for inspiration. Thank you so much!

Sunshine – you are so lovely! It was a really long beginning for me, but worth every second of it! I can’t imagine doing anything that could fill me with more joy than Waking Up In Paris does. I LOVE it! So keep searching lovely! The idea that’s perfectly right for you will come! And I can’t wait to see what it will be!!!

I love seeing this honest post (esp. with the coping of failure, eating nutella and ice cream, and more!) because I think most of us struggle with the immersion process and it can be discouraging seeing posts on primarily ZTL superstars who made THOUSANDS of dollars and here we are thinking …”can that be me?” What about the other 23759 ZTL students and their stories and how far they came? So THANK YOU!

PS – Question: How did you know how to narrow it down to females…then to choose MOMS (and not young working professionals, newly graduates, business woman new to the working field, etc.)? Did you guess to go for MOMS and then test it out?

Hahah… I love my Nutella Trang! And you are right – sometimes watching these ZTL superstars can be hugely encouraging, but at other times it can be a tad disheartening too. We all have our own journey to take. I think we need to be careful not to compare ourselves to the people around us too much otherwise it can become really distracting and consuming. So keep your eyes forward!

I knew all along that I wanted to work with women because my experience as a fashion designer was with women and I have always had a real deep love for them. In my last round of immersion, I interviewed as many women as possible. But when it came to looking for their burning pains, I noticed that it was the mums who seemed to be able to articulate this pain the most. I also noticed that I responded emotionally to the mums far more than any other group of women. That was a really good sign that they were the right audience for me.

Awe, man! Or should I say awe WOman!

This writing oozes you. It really does. You nailed it. You so eloquently captured the immersion process woes and angst while managing to tell a beautiful story of triumph in the process. SO frickin’ well done. There’s so much in here from the practical templates you provide, to the psychology of winning as an entrepreneur. But my favorite part of this is how strongly and uniquely your voice comes through. Well done.

Congratulations Clarissa! Thank you for sharing your journey , heartaches, (shiny shoes and nutella addiction with us :) )

Very thorough and detailed post! Love it. On an average how many hours did you spend every week? – because every bit is so well planned and executed

Hey Priyanka! Thanks so much for your encouraging comment. I have a little one at preschool 3 days a week so I would work on my business then. Probably around 15 to 20 hours a week when I could.

Absolutely love this Clarissa. You’re such an inspiration (on so many levels)! The templates are amazing and as a Selena Soo alum the influence template is going to be so helpful! Love how thorough you were in choosing your next biz and stuck with your gut to what was the right path for you. I know it will be amazing! x

CaroLyn dante

What a well written article and I love most how you share your heart… all businesses should be driven by a worthy desire rather than to just make money! Thank you for highlighting the grunt that comes with building something ( as there are no overnight successes) and the tenacity needed when doing due diligence!!

Business can be pretty black and white at times, so I loved being able to share the softer side of building a business. Thanks so much for your encouragement lady!

Such a wonderful article from such an inspiration lady! I loved reading your journey Clarissa and seeing everything you went through to get to where you are now. As a perfectionist with a fear of failure you reminded me that success comes in many forms and to just keep dreaming and pushing on through. Thank you for the friendly reminder xoxo

Thank you SO much Brooke! You are so sweet! It was not an easy journey, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world. I have this unshakable confidence now, which I wouldn’t have had otherwise and I’m so grateful for that. Keep dreaming girlfriend! You will get there!

Ahh. This article breaks down the process in such a helpful way! I’m moving from a service based business to a product model, and it’s so helpful to see some of these steps as I try to determine the right product that will not only fit with my brand, but that will also excite and inspire me to work on. Brilliant! Thank you.

Thank you so much for sharing your process. It’s inspiring to be let in on your process of decision-making. I keep thinking of all the connections and understanding you gained throughout it all, even it you didn’t end up pursuing 80%.

I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about my process and I totally agree with you Linda! Even the 80% of work that I didn’t end up pursuing, I still learnt so much because of it!

What a genuinely lovely and eloquently written article. I only wish you had bald, middle age men in your demographic. When you do…. ping me.

Such a thought provoking, informative and yet educating article!! It was like “dinner & a show”.
Thank you so much for both sharing your experience and the tools you used!

Thanks for sharing the heart and process behind Waking up in Paris. Your time, effort, emails, Insta posts give so much encouragement and validation to Mums out there who struggle with body image and body love. Your empathy, sweetness and honesty is beautiful. 1000 blessings cover you.

This is the BEST article I’ve read or even heard about that outlines this process. You’ve shared not only the steps in your process that gives great hope to all of us, but also shared the emotional impact of this journey. Love all your tips, the access to your tools and hearing about your love for moms in the struggle of clothing our changing bodies. Can’t wait to hear more about your Ultimate Guide and more! You’re an inspiration. xo

Wow! Thanks so much Lauren! I’m thrilled you found the post so helpful! We don’t hear about the emotional side of business all that often, so I loved being able to share that process!

Sudiksha Joshi

This is such a thorough breakdown of your journey Clarissa. With your expertise and so many people already looking up to you, you just did the work like a newbie. You are humble, creative, meticulous (I have to start using those templates), and you show your journey with such clarity. You are amazing!

I’m so glad you are going to use the templates Sudiksha! I’d love to be to hear how you go! Thanks so much for reading the post! And for your beautiful words! Bless!

Nichole Stohler

Clarissa! This is such an encouraging and uplifting article. You’ve shared with us the pain and frustration that so many go through in a way that leaves us smiling and eager to keep on going. I love that you provided so many great resources and through these, it’s clear to see how much work you put into each idea. I think the Nutella and shoes were justified!

Your post also hits home for me as my journey is taking a few twists as well. Not sure where I’ll end up but I’m enjoying the learning experience and the opportunity to meet the amazing people in ZTL like you!

Thanks so much Nichole! I know you can relate to it. I can’t wait to hear all about your twists and turns in Chicago! Yaaaay!

Hi Clarissa,

This is indeed an amazing post. My main takeaway was the spreadsheet templates – especially the immersion strategy template. I can’t put it to use.

My question to you would be what were the exact questions you asked people to nail down their hopes, fears, dreams and obstacles? I’ve talked to people a little and conducted a bunch of surveys but I can’t seem to get crunchy and emotional quotes from them that I could use in a sales page or make them feel like I understand them better than they understand themselves.

For instance, I did a survey on what people want most with regards to their finances or when it comes to investing their money. They said things like:

“I have 4 children and need more income to allow them to join teams and be active in our community. Investing interests me.”

“It will allow me to spend more quality time with my family.”

Obstacles – “Trying to figure out where to invest.”

I don’t know what I am doing wrong! Any insights you can share would be greatly appreciated!!

Hey Jalpan!

Thanks so much for reaching out and for your lovely words about my Growth lab article! I really appreciate it!

Regarding the questions I asked during immersion, to be honest, by my fourth round of immersion I scrapped the scripted questions completely and just improvised.

But the first few times that I went through immersion, I found it really hard and nerve racking. I researched immersion questions before I even began. I wrote a stack of notes on the process which I learned along the way from Facebook groups, people I had connected with, ZTL content etc.

Keep in mind too that ‘Burning Pains’ don’t always look the same. The burning pain of my audience runs very deep and is very obvious, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it might be more subtle. It’s tricky I know.

Another suggestion I would make is to get yourself into Accelerator. It is worth every penny, trust me! There will be lots of times through this process where you will get stuck and the mentors in Accelerator are so dedicated to our success and so committed to getting us unstuck! It really has been an amazing gift to me!

Clarissa! I want to jump through the screen and hug you right now! Thank you so much for writing this and being so honest! Beautiful article!

After reading this article 6 times I finally get the answer why am I stuck in finding my business idea till now?
Nice work CLARISSA! ☺️☺️
I learn a lesson from this article that “don’t tell people the SOLUTION teach people SOLUTION.”

Clarissa!! Thank you for this article, I attempted immersion almost 2 months ago and have been in the netflix/nutella stage minus the netflix and nutella but with a whole lot of panic, regret and stress. Its motivating to hear that you transitioned through so many ideas before finding one you really were passionate about. I’m struggling with where I can find the perfect meeting point between what I care about enough to make a business from, a topic that has traction and an audience that I will feel passionately about helping. I joined accelerator so I’m hopeful that will help me get motivated to try again. Your post is definitely a relief. thank you very much for sharing your story!

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