In one of our earlier posts, we talked about how to go about writing a business plan that’ll get you results. But there are about as many ways to write a proposal as there are entrepreneurial up-and-comers in the world (that’s a lot), so today we’re taking a look at another way to tackle the all-important (and sometimes feared) business plan: design thinking. This approach offers something a little different, but before we dive in, we need to tackle one quick question…
What is design thinking?
At its core, design thinking is a process that empowers you to find innovative solutions to everyday problems and challenges you might face. It can be applied to practically any area of your life, be it personal or professional, and has been hailed as a highly effective way to approach issues in business, technology, and education to name just a few industries feeling the benefits of it.
The result of using this method can range from new products and services to meet customer needs and address gaps in the market, vastly improved processes, and boosts in productivity and efficiency across your business. Think of it as human creativity with some serious wheels on it; the projections that you can get out of this approach help you (and your financial advisors) to find out whether or not your project is feasible.
Applying design thinking to your business plan
Design thinking is made up of five distinct stages, and that’ll be reflected in the way you structure your business plan. These are discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution – and we’re going to go through them one step at a time.
First thing’s first: collect that data. You’ll want to gather as much information as possible from all the relevant sources you can find – customers (both happy and disgruntled), clients, key stakeholders, your ideal customer, your peers. Every one of these groups is a potential goldmine of not just data, but inspiration. Ask questions that will help you understand the various needs and frustrations experienced across that whole spectrum of sources, and use that to fuel your problem-solving and prove that there’s a clear need for your proposal.
You’ve got a lovely treasure trove of data, but what do you do next? Well, it’s time to break that data down, digest it, and interpret it in a way that you – and your audience – will understand. Use that information to answer questions like:
- What is your business doing right?
- Where are your customer’s pain points?
- Which stages in the customer journey aren’t being addressed effectively?
- What does your customer want to achieve, and how can you help them do that better than ever before?
Customer personas come in handy here, especially if you’re a more visual thinker.
This is where the fun starts. The ideation stage is all about taking your budding ideas and developing them into fully formed opportunities. Once you’ve answered the questions above – and probably brainstormed a few more on the fly – you’ll understand your target market better than ever before. What follows is an improved understanding of what they need and how current solutions are falling short of properly delighting them.
Pick one or two of your standout ideas, and play with them. The experimentation stage isn’t costly in terms of time and money, and is essentially a litmus test for whether or not your business plan will be successful. Go back to your customers and talk to them about your business plan, asking them for their thoughts on your solution.
Here, you’re testing the waters and gauging your customers’ response – if it’s positive, move forward, but if it’s overwhelmingly negative, then it’s time to hit the drawing board again.
This stage sees your idea mature into something a little more coherent and actionable. The evolution stage is all about careful consideration of everything you’ve worked on so far, and confirmation of whether or not your business plan creates real value for your customers and key stakeholders.
If you’re not 100% happy with where you’re at at this stage, it’s time to cycle back to the discovery stage again and go through as many iterations of the process as you need to get to where you need to be.