Have you ever been right in the middle of a project when ‘wham’, an idea hits you over the head? It usually comes after a moment when you can’t make something work or you can’t find what you need, and the light bulb goes on inside your brain and says “I wish I could find something to do this” … whatever this may be.

That’s how virtually all of those great inventions you find at the store are developed. Yes, those little things they charge $19.95 for that you find ingenious and say to yourself “I could have thought of that”.

How do you know if you have a great idea?

And not just a great idea that you fall in love with; but an idea that everyone around you falls in love with and wants to invest in too?

As I had several “a-ha” moments in the past month, it got me to thinking about what it takes to not only have a great idea, but to also know if you have a great idea that you can bring to market and work into a profitable business model.

I think for an idea to be a great one, it must have:

There must be a need

This is usually the easy one. This is the one that is covered when you get those “a-ha” moments late at night. This is where you’re doing something ordinary, and all of a sudden something hits you over the head and has you saying things like “I wish I had this thing…” or “Why can’t I find something that lets me do this …”. If you have a need that is unmet by the marketplace, chances are others would find value in it too.

It must be workable

When you come up with a great idea, is it something you can easily put together? In some cases, it may take a lot of research and a lot of hard work. But it’s still doable. You don’t need technology that hasn’t been invented yet, or knowledge that is only available to one or two people in the world. To make it a great idea that you can work with, you have to have something that you can put together with available resources around you.

It must be something you are passionate about

Have you ever gotten angry or upset about something that doesn’t work right, and countered with a statement like “why doesn’t someone invent a way to make this better?” It would be a great invention and an idea that potentially could make millions. But if it’s completely out of your passion level, would you ever enjoy putting in the time necessary to make it a reality? Probably not. Which means you should only focus in on potential ideas that you can readily spend every waking hour on for the next decade or two.

It must be likable

Yes, I’ll agree that every single person has different likes and dislikes. And because of that, its fairly easy to find a group of people that would buy your great idea. But a likable idea is a whole lot easier to carry forward than an unlikeable idea. I remember a while back a company created a line of t-shirts with some of the rudest comments ever. Yes, they were funny … if you liked that sort of humor. And they did very well and even got quite a bit of publicity. But in the end, their humor was so objectionable; the only thing it got them was bad press and people trying to shut them down. Sure, they made a few bucks. But in the end their company was short lived because it wasn’t something that a large enough group liked well enough to carry them forward. Likable … at least by a large enough population to sustain your business … is always better than not.

It must be spreadable

Yes, social media is here to stay. And if you have an idea that people are willing to share with their friends, it makes your idea all that much more valuable. While your idea may be for a product or a service, its important to look at the characteristics of it to see how you can stand out above others in your field. How can you build things that are shareable into your original concept? By thinking of this early, in many cases you can build in added features to make it stand out.

It must have advantages over other things

If you have an iPhone, you know that along with buying the phone, you also had to search for the right case as well. And with thousands of choices available to you, the case can be a much more difficult decision than the phone. When we bought our daughter an iPhone for her birthday, I found a unique case that had a holder on the back of it for up to three cards – perfect for her drivers license, credit card, and school idea. I loved it – I could definitely see the advantages for someone like her that loves to grab her phone and keys and head out the door. And now she admits its something she couldn’t live without. That was its advantage; that’s the feature that made the biggest impact on me, and what sold me over all the others I considered. In order to have your ideas standout, you have to easily be able to define your advantages and how you standout from the crowd. Do that and you’ll create a fan base for life.

It must be measurable

There are many ways an idea can be measurable; the important part is to determine how it applies to your market. For instance, you might be able to distinguish your potential customer base by finding out how many people love your niche – i.e. 7.3 million vegetarians in the U.S. Or you might look at how many products exist around your idea – pet food is a $21 billion industry. While any idea may be great, the only way to build your confidence in its potential is to take a look at what’s happening in the market around it.

It must have a story

Why did you develop this product? How did you come up with this idea? Everything always originates with a story. And the more original, the more meaningful that story is, the more others will by into it as well. While many products and services are sold with simple missions – “to help improve human life” – it’s the ideas with a fully developed story around them that become some of the biggest ideas of our time.

Every small business starts out as an idea; the more time you spend making sure your idea is a good one, the more chance of success you’ll likely find. I love coming up with ideas and developing them into products and services. But I’m also increasingly careful on understanding which ones stand out above the rest, and have the most potential.

The key is to not get consumed with ideas – too many ideas can be just as bad as none. But when you find a good one, if you can latch on and build it into as much as possible, you’ll find the big idea you’ve been looking for.