Social Innovation

Brainstorming 101 for entrepreneurs going it alone

© Vanessa Sanyauke/GirlsTalk London
Conquer the creative challenges of solopreneurship. Three successful social entrepreneurs share their top techniques to help you access creativity anywhere and at any time.
Written by Ally KoehlerPublished on
Two heads may be better than one, but with more and more social enterprises starting out as solo ventures, sometimes one is all you've got. We asked successful social entrepreneurs Sarah Jordan, Andrew Tollinton and Vanessa Sanyauke how they overcome roadblocks to creativity when working in isolation. Read on for great advice to get inspired.

1. Read and listen widely

Sirv software cofounder and pitch consultant Andrew Tollinton often finds himself on the hunt for new ideas, both for his own business and external clients. "If you're stuck for inspiration, it's a signal that you"re undernourished," he says. "Working alone means you won't get stimulation from fellow humans. Your output is the sum of your input. Look to consume different experiences and information to change your view of the world."
It’s a sentiment echoed by GirlsTalk London founder and CEO Vanessa Sanyauke, whose organisation connects women with senior leaders in FTSE 100 businesses to develop skills and confidence.
"I listen to podcasts, read books, watch YouTube and read blogs," Sanyauke says. "These are all great, when I'm a bit stuck for ideas. I've often listened to or watched something that's given me an a-ha moment."

2. Spend time in nature

Though the Internet is a great source of inspiration and information, sometimes you need to step away. At least, that's the advice from Y.O.U Underwear cofounder Sarah Jordan, whose buy-one-give-one business model supports women and children in need.
"I've been a solopreneur and freelancer for many years, so I totally get the challenge of being creative and coming up with new ideas on your own," Jordan says. "My top tips would be to get outside, get away from your laptop or any other screen, and spend some time in nature.
"We all need time to decompress, and I've found my best thoughts and ideas come when I'm actively not thinking about the business. For me it's wild swimming or running – or a well-earned holiday somewhere I can really switch off."
Y.O.U Underwear founder Sarah Jordan reading on a sofa.
Y.O.U Underwear's Sarah Jordan

3. Go for pizza

You might be working on your own day-to-day, but even those who know nothing about your work can be helpful when it comes to new ideas. In fact, Jordan says people who know nothing about your business or area of work can be really helpful. They're likely to think more laterally about the challenge you face, as they're not constrained in the same way.
"Make the brainstorming or problem solving itself a fun activity. Get some friends together over a pizza and some wine, and let your creative juices flow. The more fun you're having, the more likely you are to come up with new ideas as well."

4. Make a mind map

When your thoughts feel a bit chaotic, it often helps to write it down. Sanyauke says she relies heavily on mind maps as a way to turn jumbled ideas into concrete actions.
"I get a big sheet of A3 paper and different coloured markers, and map out ideas for programmes, services and products. When I do this, I just start to write down ideas, what they would look like, who do I need to reach out to, what I need to do to make it happen, costs, staffing and more. I write it all down alongside anything else I can think of. Mind mapping like this helps me to get all my thoughts and ideas down on paper. I then use this to make a detailed action plan."

5. Don't force your thoughts

Lastly, Tollinton says there's no need to rush. "All good thoughts are slept on," he says. "I'll often write speeches and I know the first idea will be far improved if I use time to help me. Overnight our brain rearranges our thoughts. Just like a computer when it's switched off and then on again, our brain needs time to 'defragment' and put ideas into suitable folders and directories."
There's enough pressure in the world without forcing yourself to be creative.
"Allow yourself time for thoughts to simmer and then bubble up into your conscious," Tollinton continues. "Let them percolate and watch how they come to you at the strangest of times."