Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

What’s the difference between an idea, a product and a business?

“I’ve got an idea for…”

As a writer, I hear this a lot.

You know what?

I’ve got a verruca.

It’s about as useful as your idea. I expect you to be no more nor less excited by it than I am about your contribution to the world.

That idea, if you do nothing about it, is worthless. It’s great that your brain is showing signs of life but, without the life support system of action, it’s barely registering on the world’s heart monitor.

So, write that story/script/poem. Make that app. Submit that proposal.

Once you’ve done that, you have a product. That’s a step along the way but, unfortunately, you’ve got almost the same problem as before:

No-one gives a sh*t about that either.

However, a product, as opposed to an idea, is at least something tangible. You’ve just shown anyone who cares (though that’s about 0.000000000001% of the population at large and only about 2% of your friends and family) that you can apply your ideas and work to achieve them. Well done, seriously. Not many people can.

Now you have your product you might be able to take it somewhere. Maybe even make money off it. Ah, no wait…

You missed a step.

If you didn’t have a business plan behind your product, you might just have turned an idea into a pastime. A fun (or soul stripping, heartbreaking, savings draining, time-sink) hobby you had for a while. If you still don’t have a business plan behind your product, it might not be too late, but it probably means seriously rethinking your original idea and maybe totally redesigning your product.

So, depending on which of the three stages you’re at, what can you do to make it to the next one?

From idea to product


If it’s fiction, you just have to write it. Unless you’re a massively successful author no publisher of any kind is interested in your story/poem/script/novel unless it’s finished. And proofread. And put away for few weeks and mercilessly edited into a final draft. There is no point at all pitching it to an agent or outlet before this. Occasionally there are novel writing competitions that don’t require a finished book. These are rare and anyway, there’s only one winner so the odds are not likely that winner will be you.

If it’s non-fiction, you can pitch it without it being finished. In fact, for articles for magazines this is often what they prefer as the editor might have ideas how they want it shaped. For non-fiction books, you need to establish the credentials that make you the person to write it, outline the chapters and write some sample material. Publishers’ websites will tell you how much detail to go into and who to send it to.


Are you a developer? If not, your idea isn’t going anywhere without external input. You could teach yourself with an online course, pay a developer or find one who’s willing to go into partnership with you. Paying one is likely to cost more than your app will ever make, although it will save you masses of time.

Before parting with cash or wasting time, wireframe the entire app and think about hiring or finding a designer and/or UX designer. All those really amateur looking apps you skip in the app stores? They didn’t bother doing any of that. If you have a knack for Photoshop, you might be able to do the design yourself. If you research other similar apps on the market and think about what makes the UX good or not, you might be able to come up with something pleasing to use at worst and highly addictive at best.

Research. What else is out there? How much does it cost? What are the reviews like? If there’s nothing out there, the chances that no-one needs or wants an app that does what yours will are as high, if not higher, as those of you formulating the app equivalent of the Dyson.

If you’re thinking about looking for funding before taking all this on, you’ll need to do more research, not less. Talking someone else into handing over cash for your idea is a lot harder than talking yourself into its brilliance.

From product to business


You might not think of creative writing as a business and that’s fine if you don’t want or need to earn a living off it. But if you think just self-publishing your oeuvre and tweeting about it a bit will sell it, you’re wrong. Even most of your fiends and family won’t get round to reading it, nor sharing it with anyone they know, nor writing reviews for it on Amazon. Tragistat: I have more books out (4) than I have friends/family members who’ve read them all.

People share meaningless crap on Facebook without hesitation. However meaningless or crap your book happens to be, the fact they know you makes it all too weighty and most people won’t share it. This also, conversely, applies if it’s good. Social proximity only helps promote things that have been picked up first by strangers for some reason.

So, find out who your target readers are and where they hang out online. Befriend book bloggers but don’t expect much from it as they are mostly followed by other book bloggers and writers. Buy books and articles about book marketing with the loan you’ve taken out against the money you’ll make selling your soul and promote, promote, promote.

Or, get a good query letter together and find agents and publishers to pitch to. You”ll be ignored by 90% of these and rejected by another 9.9%. If you’re lucky. Otherwise that 0.01% will reject you too.

For articles, be ready to follow up the query you sent at the last stage as it’s most likely been ignored. Track all your submissions in a spread sheet and have the next potential taker ready for when it’s rejected, or you withdraw it because no-one got back to you. Make sure you invoice and follow whether you’ve been paid or not. I’ve gone unpaid from articles, and even books from major publishers, and would never have realised without a spreadsheet to track it.


Ideally, you did this earlier before spending too much time and any money at all, but you need to draw up a business model for your app. A good one is here. If you don’t do this, or ignore what its trying to tell you, you will fail with almost 100% certainty. I’ll stress this again: It doesn’t matter how amazing your idea/product is, if there’s no way to make money off it, it’s not and never will be a business.

When your idea is finally worth something

There is a point where people start caring about your idea.

When it’s a proven success.

Then you’ll get asked how you got the idea, when you knew it would be big, what you’re working on next. You can totally bask in the wondrousness of your ideas then. Perversely people will be more interested in your idea now that it’s a successful business than they ever were when it was just an idea and they’ll not be that interested in your business.

The also be dying to tell you about this great idea they’ve got for…


6 comments on “What’s the difference between an idea, a product and a business?

  1. eflfocus
    January 1, 2015

    You are one of the few people I read whose writing exudes sarcasm.

    • Nicola
      January 1, 2015

      I am taking that as a compliment 🙂

  2. Marcos Benevides
    January 1, 2015

    Regarding the idea itself being worthless, there’s a certain type that tends to approach publishers sometimes. First, there’s the cloak and dagger hand-off, with a swearing to secrecy and then the passing of a manuscript with “Confidential” and “Intellectual property of” written all over it. Then it’s basically a one-paragraph summary that goes, “In this story, several friends are stranded on a small island and have to try to survive using the resources on the island.” It then ends with “Please contact me right away if you like this idea, as another publisher has already expressed interest. COPYRIGHT 2014 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED OHMYGERHD.”

    Great, yeah, thanks. Your “idea” is Gilligan’s Island. Plus you didn’t even include a writing sample. Plus you’ve proven yourself to be a weirdo that no one wants to work with. Plus it really makes me want to put out a castaway story by someone else, just to screw with you. But other than that, yeah, keep putting out those ideas! 😉

    • Nicola
      January 2, 2015

      This is brilliant! I bet you get loads of ridiculous pitches and think you should compile them into a post for someone’s blog…”Dear publisher, I deeply mistrust you but please can we work together as I’m sure if you can resist the temptation to screw me over now, you’ll pay me my royalties later.” Having said that, I have had to sign confidentiality agreements with publishers promising not to say anything about their revolutionary same-old product.

  3. Sandy Millin
    January 2, 2015

    Brilliant timing, Nicola, as I’ve just had this idea…

    • Nicola
      January 2, 2015


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This entry was posted on January 1, 2015 by in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , .
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