How to get good ideas for your business blog: lessons from industry

Many people imagine that good ideas for a business blog post appear by magic, like those cartoon lightbulbs that switch themselves on over a character’s head with a caption that reads “Eureka!” The bad news is, they don’t; the good news is, there are ways of generating enough electricity to light up that bulb yourself!

Okay, inspiration can happen spontaneously. But what most people don’t realise is that there are thought processes and mind-triggers you can use to feed and nurture your imagination … ways to ensure you spot opportunities and make sure that inspiration happens. In the case of many, many businesses and non-business activities, creative inspiration comes about through method – not madness.

Nowhere does this apply more vigorously than in my own background as an advertising copywriter. In that business, you need to have good ideas on demand. Multi-million spend advertising clients do not expect to wait around until light bulbs switch on over the “creatives'” heads. Ideas, and damned good ones, are required on schedule. It’s “I want a new campaign by Monday morning – or else.” Happily you’re unlikely to find yourself under this kind of pressure, which in some ways is a shame … it’s surprising how well that pressure can work!

Opportunity spotting

A key trigger for creative inspiration is opportunity spotting – to see where there are gaps in your readers’ knowledge about your topic, your niche, etc. and fill them with inspired new thinking. Let’s look at some examples in the business world…

Think Dyson vacuum cleaners: paper bags were fiddly, dirty to handle and tended to break. Solution? Bagless vacuum cleaner.

Think no-frills airlines: all this paraphernalia of fancy meals, drinks, snacks and lavish pampering by a large group of grinning cabin crew was a hangover not only from 1950s and 1960s commercial air travel, but also from ocean liner travel even before that. It made modern air travel too expensive. Solution? Get rid of all but the essentials and make airfares more affordable.

Think sushi bars: people – especially in the USA – grew to love Japanese food, and hey presto, it just so happened that it could be made quickly and theatrically. Solution? Combine the concept of that entertainment element with the popular fast-food culture.

– and so-on. The people behind these good ideas followed processes to gain inspiration and use it profitably – from entrepreneurs to engineers, from scientists to artists, from writers to inventors.

There is the potential for expensive mistakes here, though:

Avoid solutions that are looking for problems

The sadly pot-holed roads of many developing countries could be repaired and paved successfully with solutions to problems that don’t add up to a row of beans in real life. In your blog you want to grab readers’ attention by addressing an issue or problem they know they have – not have to persuade they have a problem in the first place.

For an example of how that works we should look at the IT industry in the 1970s and 1980s. This was in the era when techies swanned about in white coats working in air-conditioned buildings closed to anyone without a PhD in wizardry. They were paid to come up with great ideas for magic boxes which would then be sent over to the sales and marketing wallahs with a message saying, “here’s an M-9-24 Version X. It does this, this, and this. Now go and sell it.”

In those days when most of us were in awe of technology, the method worked; businesses and other organisations didn’t have very much at all in terms of information technology to make things run more efficiently so in a sense, anything was better than nothing. However once IT had become more common, customers became increasingly picky until one day the MD or CEO of some relatively important organisation turned around to their IT suppliers and said this:

“I don’t care how the box works or how many gadgets it has; what will it do to improve my bottom line? And I want the damned thing to speak English, not computer gibberish, so you had better translate all that cr*p that appears on the screens. I want to understand what it’s achieving for us, and pronto.”

Shock, horror!  For the first time in history, the IT industry was obliged to become “customer-focused.” No longer could the IT giants of the era come up with magic boxes that achieved what their engineers thought was a cool performance and then expect their customers to find something useful to do with them. No longer would customers buy solutions that were looking for problems.  And those of you who are old enough to remember the way the IT industry went through a throat-grabbing culture change in and around the 1980s will know what – and who – I’m talking about.

Reality checks – worth their weight in gold

I think it’s a cruel truth to say that no matter how good you think your idea is, you need to conduct some sort of reality check before developing it beyond a single thought. Some people worry that if they discuss their ideas openly someone else might steal it and do it themselves. Sadly this is true; it happens. That’s a hard fact of life and we have to get over it. But 99 percent of the time your ideas will not get pinched and even if they do, whoever pinches them won’t have your unique expertise and slant on the subject.

A reality check conducted with people whose views you trust and respect is only a very small risk, and it’s well worth taking. It doesn’t have to be a major research exercise, either; all it might take is a question to your closest Google Plus circle or Facebook group, to find out if they think you blog idea will be of interest. Good luck!

Now, let’s get you writing that business blog – beautifully:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

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