Startup Tip 36: Capture new business ideas & make them work for you

What difference would it make to your business, if you could tap into a never-ending source of new business ideas? What if I told you that you already had such a source that is always throwing new ideas at you? All of us have a phenomenal gift – our brains. Our brains will come up with an answer to any question we ask of them. They are always creating new ideas (business ones included!) but often we either don’t pay attention to them or dismiss them.

In addition, we can train our brains to notice and and create more ideas, but that’s a topic for another post. The trick is to capture as much of the information our brain is throwing us as we can.

A great way I have found to do this is to keep an Opportunity Journal. All this is, is a notebook where you can record ideas that come to you. This works for coming up with ideas for new businesses as well as generating ideas for your current business. You can record your ideas in whatever way works for you (although I have found, having done this with hundreds of university Entrepreneurship students, that handwritten seems to work best.)

An opportunity journal works for several reasons:

  • You have a written record of your ideas so you don’t forget them. This has the added advantage of getting them ‘off your chest’ and freeing your brain to think about other things
  • You get what you measure. If you are looking out for things to write down, your brain will automatically come up with new ideas for you.
  • Your ideas are often synergistic. I find that I will have an idea that keeps coming back in different guises (time to pay attention!). Or that an idea I had 3 months ago can tie in with and improve an idea I am developing now.
  • You can look back through the journal and it will remind you of ideas you wanted to implement instead of forgetting about them.

Action: Start an Opportunity Journal to capture your new business ideas

So, how are you going to do this? I suggest buying an unlined notebook (I like A4 visual diaries – lots of room. Coloured pens or textas are good too.) This isn’t for show so don’t worry about making it pretty. You can record new business ideas however you like:

  • photos
  • cutouts from magazines or newspapers
  • sketches for product ideas
  • flowcharts
  • mind maps
  • and of course text
And what kind of content?
  • New business ideas you have
  • cool stuff you see
  • advertising or marketing you think works well
  • interesting things other businesses are doing that you might want to use
  • analysis of new business ideas
  • develop new business ideas
  • notes from great how-to articles you read
  • journal how you are feeling about your business right now
  • statistics and market research
  • whatever else you like

Join the Conversation

How do you keep track of your ideas? What medium works best for you? Have your say in the comments – or use them to create a little bit of extra motivation and accountability to get your action task for today done. Or join us on Facebook  or Twitter.

If you’ve found this helpful, you’ll love my video series on how to use my proven process to create great business ideas that give you an unfair advantage. Click on the banner below to get access.

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Image used under Creative Commons license courtesy of  jah~



  1. Thnx for writing these details on your site.

  2. Virginia Tyree says:

    Dear Susan, Great post.
    Cordailly, Virginia Tyree

  3. Thank you Susan for yet another awesome post! I really like the “Action” section that you include in each post.

    Starting an opportunity journal has been one of my first steps in starting my own creative business. I have started writing down all my ideas and I find myself getting more and more ideas when I look back on them. Another thing I started doing is keeping an idea folder where I stash my ideas that I have down on scraps of paper / magazine cuttings etc. I also use to save cool products or blog posts that I like and want to find later.

    I have realized the importance of writing down “wild” ideas or “impossible” ideas beacuse sometime situations change and opportunities arise and the impossible becomes achievable. But I have often lost countless oportunities like this just because I dismissed it in my brain and forgot about it.

    Have a great day!

    • Thanks Sarah,
      I haven’t played with Pinterest yet but it sounds like it would be a good way to collect stuff. Evernote is apparently another service that is good for this. I like paper because it’s really flexible and tangible – but that’s just me.

      Totally agree about writing down impossible ideas. They can often be turned into something feasible OR some aspect of them can influence and add to another idea. Besides many of the great advances in technology have come from those who dared to entertain the impossible!

      • I like paper for its familiarity and I am more comfortable writing down my ideas on paper than on my computer. I am trying to write down my “wild” ideas too…What you said about one idea influencing a part of another idea is so right – I am experiencing that recently after I started writing down everything. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Great summary on how to keep our brains under control, Susan. I must say it was hard for me to take notes, I was one of the people saying my brain is my notebook anyway, yet with the notebook on my hand I have a chance to go back and criticize my notes to be silly or to be awesome (luckily). Good post, I enjoyed it as others you have been writing,
    @temlay on Twitter

    • Hi Volkan. Thanks for your comment. If you don’t find taking notes in a linear style works for you, try mind mapping. I have found it a really useful tool for all sorts of things: organising myself, taking notes on what I read and also for sorting through my ideas. It just seems to work the same way as my brain (which is not very linear! 🙂 )

  5. Thank you for this article.

    I keep a journal by my bed because I’m often up for awhile thinking of ideas staring at the dark ceiling.
    I also record voice logs on my phone when I’m driving.
    I used to use post it’s a lot

  6. Wow, what a great article. It’s the best way to remind people that they forget so much more than they remember. It’s in that creative moment that we need to make sure we capture that moment.


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