Thanks to Paul Kitchen for contributing to this article
Back in the summer of 2008, the world was facing the early days of a long recession. The UK company that I worked for was a market leader until our forward bookings dropped by 40% almost overnight.
We didn’t know what was coming but we knew it wasn’t good. Our management teams were tasked to generate ideas to open new revenue streams or ancillary projects that we could run from our own desks. These must require no additional resources and be sustainable for the business for at least 12 months. Here are some of the steps we used when we needed usable ideas fast.
This is one method that can take you from ideas to action, even if that action is not quite what you normally do.
Hold a brainstorming session.
Take thirty minutes of free-thinking. Get everything stuck on a whiteboard with post-it notes. These are not necessarily going to be good ideas, but will show the trends in what you need.
Once you’ve spent thirty minutes, discuss. Review the ideas and identify any themes. If you seem to have a lot touching on the same topic, you’ll know to focus there. Now develop some ideas into workable plans.
We were facing a large challenge like navigating the 2008 recession. But in a single afternoon, we came up with eight workable ideas. Over the next few days we shortlisted six to use immediately.
Use ideas that aren't business as usual.
We normally provided a suite of products showing job seekers to tech recruiters. Job seekers might be registered with us or just browsing our job board. While brainstorming, we decided to extend some of our products to learning providers as well as recruiters.
Instead we connected recruiters to professionals. Instead, we sought ways to help them engage with students or soon-to-be skilled technical professionals at the time that they were seeking to upskill.
Contact five potential partners.
Once you have an idea, you’ll need to sell it to someone.
We had to identify what organizations could use what we were offering, and who were the decision-makers there. For us, this meant calling learning providers. We aimed for colleges with technical course and vendors with a certification program. Today’s students would all be tomorrow’s job seekers.
The first call is an introduction and a discussion of the opportunity. It’s fact-finding as much as it is sales: you find their current situation and determine whether and how your offer helps them. You should write a loose script ahead of time. Use plenty of open questions and leave room for discussion.
After talking to people who might need what you’re offering, share key metrics. Show how you deliver success and how you’ll measure it. Your proposal is new, untested, and outside the box. This both good and bad. It means you’re less reliable than usual, but it can also make people more interested. This project is urgent, new, an immediate solution to their problem.
Be transparent that it’s brand new, and try to play up the urgency. You’re offering a win-win solution to a problem they have. For our partners that meant making sure that even in a recession people kept trying to develop the skills they sold.
Close the deal
If they want what you’re offering, give them a full proposal. What you’ll deliver, cost, information share, and how you’ll monitor results. Your outside-the-box project is new to them too, so give them some time to change their activities if they need to.
We charged a five-figure fee for a 10-week advertising and email campaign. The goal was to get the partner 1,500 new registrations.
Our partner agreed to share their campaign data for our internal use. They knew we planned to use it to launch a new sales channel. It ended up as a win-win: they got 1800 new registrations and we got detailed information and practice running a new project.
The crucial part is the brainstorming. Come up with ideas that you can do with what you have, not just better ways to do what you know.