Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Thinking Inside the Box: The Power of Idea Frames

 Aim at nothing, and you’ll hit it every time. Fail to plan and plan to fail. We’ve all heard these quotes before, so how can we take action to improve a business (or start one)?

I’ll show you how to put your business idea into a simple little box and help it grow using the Idea Framing method by Michael Burcham.

In short, this a clever way of creating great business outlines and getting to the heart of your business model on paper. If there are holes to find, the idea frame will find them. It makes you think deeply about your business by helping identify the resources available to you, identify your USP, think about your customers, and identify revenue and expenses. 

1. Get Out of My Head

Formulate your master plan

One of the worst things for your business is for the business model to never be clearly and thoroughly identified. Grab yourself a piece of paper, and divide it something like this:

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Put your business idea – let’s say it’s to make handmade artisan lightbulbs – in the left triangle on the right side of the paper. Don’t get snow blind, we’re going to be filling up those other white spaces soon.


2. Know Thy Customer

Who wants to buy handmade lightbulbs, anyway?


So, based on the fact that we’re selling artisan lightbulbs (hey, it was your idea, remember?), we need to draw some conclusions about our customers.

It's ok for these to be assumptions — they almost always are — but, if you've been running your business for a while and have been tracking data, then take time to utilize any and all information available to you.

Let's think: they’re probably on the younger side... say 24-36, probably socially conscious, and they put a high premium on hand made, one-of-a-kind items. Get as detailed as possible here. 


Think of them as a character in a film or book that you're creating. By predicting their responses to various marketing initiatives, you'll be one step ahead. 


This style of thought is known as creating your buyer personas, which you can learn more about here

Write down information about who your potential clients may be in the bottom most triangle, and include as many details as possible. Use Google to make a list of these potential clients, and keep it handy. You may be reaching out to them later.

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Advanced Tip: Use this step to identify where your business could be falling short. Maybe you’ve been marketing to the wrong customers or you have an area of untapped potential you need to expand into!


3. Signed, Sealed, Delivered

From creation to distribution


Now that you’ve fleshed out your business model and identified your customers, you need to figure out how to distribute your product. This information should be written in the right-most triangle. Are you going to be doing direct sales or wholesale? Are mail order via flyers and catalogues and option for you? Do you really need an expensive storefront or a mall kiosk? Maybe you could sell your product exclusively online and take home even more profit. Figure out what method makes the most sense for the customer base you’re aiming for – and make sure you get a killer website. The first impression may be the only impression you give!

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

4. You Made Me Love You

Identifying how your customer will fall in love with your product


What makes your lightbulbs really stand out from the competition? Why should a customer buy your product over conventional GE bulbs? Perhaps your selling points are that you’re a small "mom-and-pop" business, or that your lightbulbs are more energy efficient. Maybe you offer custom colors and shapes or special rates for buying in bulk. Details like this should be included in the top-most triangle. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination, but no customer is going to want to read a novel about why your company is better. Condense that list down to three or four really powerful factors that speak to who you are as a company.

Once you've solidified those factors, integrate them as a part of your business's identity by placing them across your website, prominently placing them in your literature, and encouraging employees to use them in conversation with clients. Haven’t you ever called a store and had the phone answered “Welcome to Super Savers, where every day is a big savings, how can I help you?” That’s their pitch! They are telling you exactly who they are within the first seconds of interacting with you, the customer.

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Advanced Tip: If you’re already established, use this time to revisit your mission as a company. Maybe the mission is still on point, but your focus has drifted. Or maybe you like the new direction and need to change your mission. Now is the time to take stock and tighten everything up!


5. It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – Take this!

Check your inventory and equip yourself


You want your artisan lightbulbs to become a hot commodity, used in every household in America, right? Well first you’re going to need to make them. Think carefully about what you’ll need, and what it might cost you. These items should go in the upper left box. Really break down your idea and think critically.

For a lightbulb business you might need filaments, glass, and metals. Maybe you’ll need the tools or a space for a workshop, put those details in there too! Again, include as many details as possible. Ask yourself questions like: how much will each of these essential items cost you? What is the absolute cheapest, rock bottom price you can get them for? Better yet, is there an alternative material that’s even cheaper?

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Advanced Tip: Business icon Elon Musk made it his vision to make space travel affordable and did so by using a similar thinking process as the one outlined in this step; breaking down the necessary parts for a rocket and finding alternative materials!


6. Enter Player 2

Teaming up to make your business even bigger


Very few people can make it alone in this world, and building up a network is vital. Whether that network includes larger companies who buy, resell and market your product, a killer web marketing and PR team, or simply a partner that makes a portion of your product for you (in this case, say you have a partner that creates the filaments and bases).

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Odds are, you’re going to have to reach out to other people in your journey, so make a list of possible partners in the second box. Google is definitely your friend when thinking of content for this box. Write up some snazzy introduction letters for when you are ready to reach out to these potential partners. Here’s an example of a template that works well:


Advanced Tip: Partners aren’t just for those starting out. Established businesses need partnerships too! Maybe it’s time to forge a new one, or re-examine existing ones.


7. Boil ‘em, Mash ‘em, Stick ‘Em in a Stew

Combining your key ingredients to make other products

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

Maybe you’ve been at this business for a while and you’re looking to expand, or maybe you’re just starting out and looking to make a big splash. It’s time to look at your vital ingredients and see if there are other possibilities. If you make soap, then maybe it’s not a far cry for you to make candles, or add expand your soap selection with more scents! If you make those artisan lightbulbs, maybe you could make multiple types, or expand to making your own night lights.

Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines

The point is, if you look through your key ingredients, you’ll likely find you can make other things with very little out of pocket cost, and that means more happy customers AND more revenue for your business.


8. The Bottom Line


Using Idea Frames to Create Effective Business Outlines


Now that you’ve done all that work, it’s time to calculate your expenses vs your potential revenue. Add everything up, and if you can still turn a reasonable profit, you’re doing great. Now put that plan into action and make your dream a reality. 

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Nathan Phelps

Nathan Phelps

Nathan Phelps is the Brand Advocate at 12South Marketing and is our Quincy Jones to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

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