Last Updated on March 7, 2023 by Bert-Jan Schilthuis-Ihrig
Do you have it too? That lingering feeling that you have a good idea for a business but you’re not entirely sure what to do with it? That vague idea in the back of your head, that question that starts with “wouldn’t it be great if…”
Perhaps you’ve been getting a lot of compliments on how you do something and you’ve been thinking, or dare I say dreaming, about turning that skill into a business. Maybe even a business that lets you live the digital nomad lifestyle.
Let’s walk through the process of how to develop an idea for a service-based business.
Some of the most well-known businesses all started in a similar way: someone had the “wouldn’t it be great if…” itch and acted upon it. One of the most famous examples of this took place in 1997. Two software engineers were wondering why DVD rental companies charged people per item instead of offering a flat rate. They decided to act and the result was Netflix, one of the most successful companies in the world.
It seems the world has never been more welcoming to new businesses; this is even particularly true of service-based businesses.
In 2020, we all saw before our eyes how quick and accommodating the online world is for services to go virtual. The opportunity and motivation to finally go for it have never been greater.
For many people, the very thought of acting and developing their somewhat vague service-based business idea is intimidating. Sadly, for most people, this alone is reason enough not to go for it. You don’t need all of the answers up front. It’s actually very normal to figure out your online business idea on the fly.
In this post, let’s talk about the steps you can take to develop an idea into a product and eventually into a successful online service-based business.
Psst: This is actually a really beefy blog post on how to develop an idea for a service-based business, so it’s wise to pause now and save this for later!
📌 Save for later! 📌
How To Develop An Idea Into A Product In 3 Steps
The “accountant” TikTok audio didn’t go rival for nothin’ in 2020. Remember the one?
*dancing* “When people ask me what I do I say that I’m an accountant.”
Yes, answering the “what do you do” question is so collectively dreaded that people evasively lie about being accountants in the hopes that no one will ask any follow-up questions!
I felt this big-time when I first started blogging and working as a Pinterest manager. The conversation would usually come to an end after (what felt like) 30 minutes of me trying to explain what I did for a living.
The outcome was always the same; they would be confused and I would be annoyed. I would mentally shake my fists at the sky that more people didn’t understand the curious depths of online work and see it as valid.
Although having to answer this question over and over can be annoying, it’s actually an excellent exercise, not to mention a necessary step you must take to develop an idea into a product.
I mean, your eventual customers deserve to know what they get when they pay you! In one sentence, not one hour.
This can be so difficult because your idea for a service-based business probably began as a tingling feeling, not a fully evolved business model.
Most service-based businesses usually start with someone realizing that they are pretty good at a certain thing. One day, they might think “hey, can you believe people PAY for X, Y, Z?”
This brings to mind the woman who loved being a bridesmaid so much that she became a bridesmaid for hire.
You read that correctly! That service-based business model didn’t just appear one day. The idea needed to be discovered and refined, which is exactly where you need to start, too. The first step in developing an idea is to refine it.
You might have a fantastic idea for a product or service right this moment but there’s a very good chance it’s not ready for the market yet. There is quite the gap between idea and sellable product and developing one into the other requires some work. Let’s get crackin’!
1. Make It As Specific As Possible
What exactly are your customers getting when they buy your product or services? It may sound like stating the obvious, but having an idea does not mean that you have a product.
This question can be a tough one to answer, especially for service-based businesses. Basically, the better you can answer this question, the closer you are to a sellable product.
When designing your service, start the end.
- What problem will you have helped them with?
- Will they have learned a particular skill?
- What will your customers walk away with after consuming your service?
Be as specific as possible: the better you know, the clearer your message will be! It’s worth spending some time on this one.
Once you have a clear vision of the end result, break the process down into small steps. For every step, ask the same question: how will your customers have progressed after using the service you offer?
Let’s say you have an idea for blog coaching. Through your services, you provide clients with all the tools they need to run their blogs successfully. After completing the program, you want your clients to walk away with a clear understanding of both the basics, how to set up a blog and how to find their style, and of more advanced concepts such as SEO.
It goes without saying that a topic like SEO is too big to cover in a single session. In order to design a good product, break every topic up into manageable chunks of information. For example, the SEO part of your blog coaching program might have several modules, each covering one of the topics that make up seo.
There will be one on how to how to do keyword research, one on back-end SEO, one on front-end SEO, etc. For every module, keep the end in mind and, once again, try to be as specific as possible. Break it down into smaller steps if you need to.
2. Talk To Your Friends About It
Developing an idea is hard, especially if you choose to shape it from a lump of clay into a ceramic opossum (or whatever YOU’D make it pottery class) by yourself.
Openly discussing your amazing ideas might be scary but you will *have to* run it by others eventually. If you’re worried about your people stealing your unique idea, just talk to people you trust like your friends or family at home!
But remember to not share your idea with the wrong people, or the resulting conversation could be a total dream killer.
Although I just said talk to friends, there is really not a whole lot of talking to do here. Instead, your job here is to listen and observe. First, if you have to spend a lot of time explaining your service-product, you know it’s not clear enough (back to step 1!). It is your responsibility to explain your services to them. Don’t blame them for not understanding your idea.
In addition, don’t argue when your friends give you their feedback. It may be tempting to ‘correct’ them but you’re missing the point when you do so. Instead, try asking follow up questions to make your friends explain why they feel the way they do about your idea.
Once you have a clear and specific idea for a marketable service, asking your friends for their opinions is the next step. Remember, you’re doing this so you can see how your idea comes across to other people.
3. Use Your Competitors For Inspiration
So after a few hours of designing and feedback, you have come up with a polished, refined product. Pop some bubbly! Now it’s time to take the next step. It is time to go online and take a look at what some of your competitors are offering.
Now, “competitors” is almost the wrong word to use here, but bear with me. By competitors, I really mean the people who are already doing what you want to do successfully online. There’s no real competition because there’s enough food to go around. Use them as inspiration and learn from them!
Don’t feel discouraged by what you see when looking at competitors’ websites. Keep in mind here that you are not in the same stage that they are. They have already fully refined their products and have improved them over the course of months or (more likely) years.
This is a learning opportunity. Pay special attention to the packaging in which their services come. One of the biggest hurdles for a new service-based business is making your offer crystal clear. Looking at the way other people achieve this can help you tremendously.
But, never, ever copy or try to mimic someone. This is about learning and being inspired, not trying to be the same as the people you’re looking at online.
Additionally, it can be helpful to look at your competitors to get an idea for a reasonable price you can charge for your services once you’re established. Determining how much to charge can be tricky for obvious reasons; you can either be written off because you’re too expensive or not taken seriously because you’re too cheap.
After you have some information here, close out your competitors’ websites and never look at them again. Continually peeping at the people who you want to be like will almost inevitably lead to some form of copycatting. Don’t go near it.
3 Steps To Develop An Idea For Your Brand
So, you arrived at a fully developed product that is ready to be unleashed onto the world. Pop some bubbly! Starting an online business is a mammoth process that will completely change your life, so you bet we’re going to celebrate *thoroughly.*
After the buzz has worn off, it’s time to really start thinking about how to make sure that people choose your product over someone else’s.
One of the biggest mistakes many online business owners make is thinking that somehow people will find them just because their product is good. We’ve all been there, publishing awesome content and then realizing that no one is reading it.
The truth is, that’s not how starting a brand works. You have to really think on how to attract people and have your brand stand out from the rest (also known as differentiating).
Once again, this is where we look at what other people are doing for inspiration. Find parallels in your industry (for example, if you’re a photographer seek out videographer websites) and browse on their websites.
For example, let’s look at two sites for a photography business in Pittsburgh, PA. This site has a professional, matter-of-fact presentation that a specific group of people will find appealing. Now, look at a second one for the same type of business. This one even says that they are ‘all about colorful, happy, bright, fun vibes’, very different from the first one.
Can you see the differences in how they make you feel? This is because each has been designed to target a different group of people.
We have come to the point where you need to do the same. The most important step in building a profitable service business is really making your brand resonate with *your* group of people. This stage is all about finding ways to make your personal touch or angle resonate with people so they pick you.
1. Identify Your Ideal Customer
Although it might seem counterintuitive, coming up with a product for everyone is not the way to go. Don’t you prefer shopping for clothes in a shop that you feel specializes in what you need? People will always prefer the option that they think best matches their specific needs over a more general option. The old business adage is true: the riches are in the niches.
It goes without saying that the better you know what your customer needs, the better you can develop an idea and offer that is tailored to them. Therefore, you need to come up with an ideal customer profile.
Who is this for? Who is this not for? Who are they? Male or female? Old or young? What are their interests? Are they single? In which part of the world do they live? What problems do they have that you can solve?
It is almost impossible to be too specific here. Some people even come up with a name for their ideal buyer in order to better visualize their customer as they develop an idea perfect for them.
Developing your ideal client avatar takes time but is an absolutely essential step to develop an idea for your service-based business. Besides making your message more appealing to your chosen group of people, you also attract people with a buying intent. Now that your ideal client avatar is fully formed, it is time to start customizing your brand.
2. Design Your Brand With Them In Mind
Ideally, your brand reflects the target demographic that you decided on earlier. When designing your brand, keep in mind that every aspect can, and should, be customized to further target your people. The aim is to try to see your services through their eyes.
Let’s start with the most obvious one: images.
The way you use visual aids can have a huge impact on the kind of people you attract. Think about the colors you use, the pictures etc. If you want to attract women, don’t choose stock photos of men. If your target audience is young people, use young people in your images. If you sell a dream, use dreamy images. If you sell … Well, you get the idea. By choosing the right colors, fonts and images you can create the vibe that you want.
The second factor is language. You want people to click with your brand and to your unique take on a given service. Word choice and speaking style matter a lot; even the way you describe your services makes a huge difference.
For example, let’s say you want to start a cleaning service. Choosing to describe it as a professional cleaning service instead of a budget cleaning service will have an effect on the type of audience I attract.
Finally, it’s extremely important to think about the tone you choose. Remember that people want to connect with you. As an entrepreneur, do you envision your brand as strictly professional, casual or even friendly? Consequently, your tone could be matter-of-fact, casual or even have an unprofessional chattiness (like this brand!). Your target audience should be reflected in the tone you use for your brand. Do not aim for eloquence and grammatical perfection unless your brand calls for it.
There is a lot more that can be said about developing your brand’s personality, but these are the first steps. The way you present your services matters a lot. Think carefully before launching and remember to always be on the lookout for ways to tweak and refine.
3. Develop Your Idea From A Service Into A Product
Setting up a service-based business is easy; growing it is not, since the only way you can grow your income is by taking on more clients. For many of us, starting a service-based business was supposed to be our way of getting out of the rat race, not getting back into it.
The solution, and final step in developing your idea, is to develop an idea for turning your service into a product.
Although our earlier example of a blogging coaching business may sound like a good idea at first, it is very difficult to scale. Since the idea was to coach every client through the process of learning how to write, optimize and eventually monetize their blog, that income is still directly tied to the amount of time spent, which is the enemy.
Time *can* equal money, but there’s no reason for it with an online business. Why give live, one-on-one yoga lessons when you could record the lesson and sell it worldwide, 24/7 for years to come?
Eventually, you will want to break away from the one-on-one approach and find ways to serve more people at once. Even something as simple as setting up webinars and coaching groups instead of individuals can grow your income.
Ultimately, the goal is to scale your income by slowly building passive income. For example, our blog coaching service could turn into a blogging course while actual one-on-one coaching stays available as an up-selling alternative.
You don’t need to have this figured out in the beginning, but you will want to develop an idea for a product version of your service-based business (also called productizing).
Learn How To Connect With Your Audience
Coming up with ways to connect with your target demographic is the final but most important step as you’re ready to launch your idea into the great blue ocean ahead. Once you have a product and a group of people to target, it’s time to start casting lines to catch them!
AKA, decide which ways you’re going to market your services. Do not expect people to just (1) show up and (2) deem you worthy of their money; you have to lure them in.
People only buy from other people that they know, like and trust; it’s a well-known business principle known as the (hold onto your hat) know-like-trust factor. In order to create an audience, you have to somehow make people know, like and trust you.
Besides running ads, content marketing is the way to go. Just as with anything else in business, you have to factor in some time to build up an audience.
1. Start A Website
This is a step that you should complete with a timeframe. Decide that you’ll give yourself 1 week to launch your website, and then proceed with your to-do list. You can (and will) come back to edit things later, but this is a pit of quicksand that is easy to get stuck in and not emerge for 4 months.
Keep moving through the process at a quick jog. If you hate your website in a month, then just redo it! But if you wait for things to be perfect, you’ll set yourself back months or maybe even more than a year.
2. Include A Blog On Your Site To Promote Your Services
People buy from people they know, like and trust. Starting a blog is by far the best way to establish the relationship you need with your audience. By designing a blog with your ideal client in mind, you can give your audience the feeling that they need both you and your services.
A blog that’s been optimized for SEO allows you to fully showcase your brand. By choosing the right style, tone and images, you can make your target audience feel at home and sit down on the couch. At the same time, you make sure that the people you don’t want to work with move on.
Building and maintaining an effective blog takes time and effort. At first, you might struggle a little with what to write about, but that will fade as you continue to provide value and increase your hireability. Even though it will probably take some time before you get your writing chops up to speed, the results will be worth it!
Starting a blog is a great way to increase your brand’s visibility online. After all, the more posts you have on your blog, the greater your visibility. Consequently, the more you show up in Google, the more traffic you’ll get.
Make sure your content provide the answer to the questions your audience has and you’re golden. The closer you get to being the exact solution people are searching for, the easier it will be to outrank your competition on Google.
By regularly publishing content, you provide people with the opportunity to get to know you and your brand. In addition, having a blog gives you a platform on which you can display your expertise.
Remember, people have to know and like you but they also have to trust in your ability to help them. By showing over and over that you understand their problem and by sharing bits of knowledge, you slowly build that trust factor that will ultimately turn your audience into customers.
Want to see an example of this in action? Check out my blog post on 30 quick Pinterest marketing tips, which is value-packed but ultimately sells my services as a Pinterest coach.
Finally, a blog can turn into another income stream all on its own if you do it correctly. Having multiple streams of income provides stability. Many bloggers make steady money through different forms of monetization. Whether you make money through displaying ads or through affiliate sales, the results really add up.
3. Drive Traffic To Your Blog
Although Google will move mountains for your website traffic down the road, growing your Google traffic is generally a slow process. Until you get to the first page, you might see zero traffic.
Let’s be fair here: how long has it been since you clicked to page two on Google? This is because people usually change their search term unless they find what they’re looking for on page one.
Google takes time, but it’s absolutely *essential* for any service-based business. When done correctly, it will bring visitors to your website day and night. If you need help learning SEO as a beginner, use my checklist:
Luckily, Google is not the only search engine to provide traffic to your website. Pinterest, a visual search engine, is one of the best alternatives to Google. On this platform, you can grow your audience both with static pins or with the new idea pins.
With an average of 2 billion searches a month, the potential of getting some serious traffic is there. Because it’s visual, people tend to scroll more which makes it easier to show up in searches.
When you look to Pinterest for traffic, keep in mind that Pinterest is different. People normally go on there in order to find ideas and be inspired. They may not yet know exactly what they’re looking for but they want to see something with a specific vibe that resonates with them.
On the other hand, Google serves people that know exactly what they want. Search queries are usually quite specific. It goes without saying that it is easier to cast a wider net on Pinterest.
Besides depending on people finding your services, you can also use social media to actively show your services to people. You can even use your existing following by regularly posting on Instagram or Facebook. As an added bonus, did you know you can easily publish your Instagram content on Pinterest as well?
Final Thoughts On How To Develop An Idea Into A Service-Based Business
Do you have an idea for a new business? Well, my friend, you are not alone! Sadly though, having an idea for a business is common, but following through is not.
Develop your idea for a service-based business by refining your product before you start selling. After that, develop your brand and come up with a plan to let your target audience know that you’re out there and that you can help them.
It’s completely possible to launch your own online business this year, and completely worth it. Where will your idea be this time next year?