Whatever you want to call it…a brainstorm, a thought cloud, a mind map or a spider diagram…I don’t think you can beat getting a piece of paper and writing down everything that comes in to your head about a given subject.
I truly believe that spending just 10 minutes doing one about your small business will be one of the most useful 10-minute task you will do. Go on, get a bit of paper (a brightly coloured one if you have it to hand). Write the name of your business in the middle, draw a cloud around it and then get writing…everything and anything! Draw lines, draw links, and ‘think outside the box’. When you have run out of ideas, ask yourselves these questions:
- Have you put down the obvious? i.e. Your name? Your location? Your services? Your area of coverage? The date you started?
- Have you included adjectives, as well as nouns? Not just ‘what’ your business is about, but why you do what you do. Think about the emotions and the other words which would describe your business.
- Have you covered the future, as well as the present (and perhaps even the past)? This bit of paper needs to include your whole story
So, what do I suggest now? Well, I promise, you have created a document which you can use in so many different ways; for inspiration, for guidance, for ideas, etc.
Here is just three to get you started:
I admit that this is one of the first tasks we ask our delegates to do when they attend our business planning workshops (see Business Skills Consultancy), it really helps delegates to see the extent of their business and instantly highlights what is at the ‘forefront’ of their mind when they describe their business. It can help them to pull out their mission and vision, as well as their goals. They haven’t been asked to focus on these specifically before creating the brainstorm, so the content of the brainstorm reflects what they truly see as important, what is front and centre when they asked to think solely about their business for 10 minutes. This is quite powerful to see down on paper. …and even more interesting to identify what has been forgotten.
Take a close look at the words you have written down and analyse what you see in front of you. Are there key themes? Are there core values? Are there services which seem to have more prominence or importance for you? This is very interesting to consider and can help you define what the essence of your business really is.
If you have a website, now take a look and see if the elements you have listed in your brainstorm are covered on your site. Does it reflect all of the core services that you offer? Does the branding reflect the adjectives you use to describe your business?
It’s great for also checking that you have included the obvious. You might know exactly what you do, but have you shared this clearly on your website using the terms you’ve used in your brainstorm. Have you included location, opening times and contact details, for example? When listing your services, is it clear from your brainstorm that there is a hierarchy of some kind? Would it be useful if this was reflected on your website? It could help with navigation.
A brainstorm is also absolutely essential for helping you to identify the keyword strings and keywords that will be important for search engine optimisation. Which words keep appearing? Are there words which you can instantly see people would/should use to search for your business? Once you have identified these, go back and check they are featured appropriately on your website, particularly in headings.
A brainstorm like this is the ultimate starter list for a blog. Start circling or underlining some of the keywords and I promise you could write a blog post about each of them. For example, if you have listed each of your services, that could be a blog post on each to explain more about your unique approach to said service. If you have mentioned your location, perhaps this is a blog post about where you are based and how it influences your business. If you have written down some values, you can talk about these in a blog post and how they affect the day-to-day running of your business.
I could go on for hours about individual topics for blog posts, but what is even more useful is to then think if there are natural ‘collections’ staring back at you. These could become your categories for your blog (see my categories list to the right, if you are on a laptop, or at the bottom on a mobile). You can then start doing mini brainstorms around those words which best represent your categories to come up with a collection of topics. See the image below as an example…
What started as simply a list of my services, in relation to three different formats of digital content, has turned into a categories list: ‘websites’; ‘newsletters’ and ‘blogs’ (and I can write a blog post on each – perhaps top tips or a general introduction on how I can help), and then there are ideas for a further 3-4 blog posts, taking more specific topics areas, such as ‘Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)’, ‘DIY websites’, ‘importance of clear navigation’ and ‘aiding user experience’, as an example, under the website category.
This is only the beginning!
Keep this bit of paper – if it is a different colour it is less likely to get lost…or at least, easy to find! Stick it on the fridge or the wall of your office. Add to it. Look it when you can’t decide what to do next. Use it!