Business ideas

6 brainstorming techniques for coming up with small business ideas

Brainstorming for a new business can be difficult, but there are ways to let your creativity run free. (Credit: Unsplash)

I sat and talked with many women who were tired of their jobs and wanted to get out or had several hobbies they thought they could make money from but couldn’t decide which one to choose . They often heard “follow your passion” or “find a problem and solve it”.

While sometimes “passion” and “problem” work, there are methods to explore and generate new ideas. The brainstorming process helps you discover new ideas, encourages critical thinking, and gets all the creative ideas out of your head and onto paper.

So, there are a few different techniques I’ve used with my clients to move them from a cluttered headspace to a clear mind.

[Related: How saying no to big-name cosmetics gave this woman entrepreneur a creative business idea]

1. Mind mapping

It’s one of my favorites. There are plenty of programs online that will help you with the process, but you absolutely can do this with pencil and paper. You start with a keyword, issue, or question, then use lines derived from your topic that are key ideas. Write a keyword on each line, then add ideas that may trigger new thoughts or ideas. Warning! This card could last forever but that’s okay. Let the ideas flow. I have a client who joked that his mind map looked like an electrocardiogram.

2. 3…3…3

I’ve used it with adults and youngsters, and it’s great fun. Start by writing down three hobbies and three skills. Create a chart with your three hobbies on each individual row and the skills at the top of the columns. Consider what kind of ideas you can create based on your listed hobbies and skills. For example, your hobbies might be sewing, writing, and yoga, and your skills might be organization, business acumen, and communication. You can start a business as a yoga consultant, designing yoga clothing, or writing a book on yoga techniques. You should have at least 3 ideas from this brainstorming technique.

[Related: The best CEOs embrace this leadership skill]

3. IF

This technique is similar to simply solving a problem. Again, start with a sheet of paper and a pencil and answer the following statements:

It would be great if:

Things would be easier if:

What I can do is:

List at least 6-8 “IFs” and see how many ideas you can create in the “What I can do about it” section.

4. Funnel of ideas

Start with a general topic and narrow it down to a one-sentence concept. Visually, it looks like an inverted triangle or a funnel. The steps you need to follow are:

  • write an idea
  • reduce it
  • squeeze it
  • to specify
  • state the facts
  • find a concept in one sentence

An example of this would be

  • a restaurant
  • a vegan restaurant
  • vegan fast food
  • a quick service vegan restaurant
  • a quick-service vegan restaurant serving breakfast and lunch
  • a quick-service vegan restaurant serving breakfast and lunch for customers on the go.

[Related: The 1 must-have item for letting investors know your idea is the big one]

5. Reverse the storm

It sounds really crazy, but it actually works for coming up with creative ideas. Start by listing the problems. Instead of trying to come up with ideas for solutions, reverse this process and think of ways to cause the problem or make it worse. Once you have a list, spend some time flipping each of these ideas. Don’t be analytical or critical. Just let the ideas flow.

6. Rebound

This technique is one of my favorites if there are at least three people involved. One person must be the scribe. You start with a keyword and the person next to you says the next word that comes to mind. It then moves on to the next person and you continue to bounce ideas off each other. The scribe writes the words and after about five minutes pause and look at the written words to see if a business idea has been created. If not, restart the session with the word you left OR use one of the written words to start a new brainstorming session.

The main thing with business brainstorming is that you have fun with it. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming. Every thought can lead to a brilliant idea if you take your time and keep challenging yourself. Sure, you want an idea that can be monetized, but many profitable ideas are born from a crazy idea written on a napkin. Start pitching your ideas and see what sticks.

Stacey Banks Houston is the Founder of Banks Int’l Group and Chief Launch Coach of RSVP Consultants. She has been committed to launching and growing entrepreneurs for the past 23 years. Stacey is the author of The Passion Plan: Journaling Your Business from Passion to Position to Profit and Seasons of Wholiness: Inspiration for the Seasons in a Woman’s Life. For more information, visit