A Step-by-Step Recipe for a Virtual Business Model Canvas

How a mix of free tools and open minds can help businesses make smart pivots

The ingredients for a perfect scramble | Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

I appreciate the practicality of a good recipe. One that doesn’t bury the list of ingredients at the bottom of the page or hide the tactical How-Tos behind dozens of advertisements and 2 pages of emotional table-setting—is it obvious I have been doing A LOT of home cooking over these last few months at home?

The ‘Mise en Place’ for this post:

When I haven’t been cooking at home, I’ve been working with my team at Highland to identify ways we can assist companies to navigate the necessary shifts in business during the current pandemic. After talking to a handful of small business owners and leaders who were struggling to pivot in the wake of COVID-19, there seemed to be a mantra clouding their visions:

“I’m not creative enough for COVID.”

The following recipe was developed through a series of Highland-led, pro-bono, one-on-one business model canvas workshops where we conducted fantastic, albeit sometimes difficult, conversations with small business owners and their closest allies. We aimed to take the wiggliness out of “creativity,” and instead think tactically about their offerings, their missions, and their existing resources to uncover real opportunities that can help shape a viable pivot.

RECIPE FOR A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MODEL CANVAS

TIME 2.5 hours

YIELD An accomplished team & satisfied customers

INGREDIENT LIST:

  • 1 MURAL account 
    MURAL is a visual workspace that helps you design together. There is zero cost to join at www.mural.co/
  • 1 team
    This team should include presidents, owners, and the people who understand your business.
  • 1 pair of eyes and ears
    Someone you can trust with the specifics of your business, who’s not afraid to ask questions & poke holes.

COOK TIME:

  • 2 hours + 30 minutes 
    We recommend setting aside two and a half hours for this workshop. Our sessions were slotted for 2 hours but did not include the Prioritization mapping portion as described at the end of this article.

PREPARATION:

  • Here’s how we set up the MURAL Canvas: Note that all of the below is tailored to provide insight on the process, and does not contain information specific to any of the companies we engaged with during these one-on-one sessions. I’ll break out each of these elements below so you can read them more easily, but here’s the complete picture:

How to set up your MURAL Canvas | Highland Solutions


  • With help from Strategyzer, we employed their Business Model Canvas. This is rife with questions that get to the core of who you are and what your business does. You’ll want to fill out this section before your workshop, so you can spend most of your time analyzing, questioning, and coming up with a number of How Might We statements:

Assess your business model with your team | Highland Solutions


  • To the Stratagyzer model, we added a section to include How Might We & a Voting Dots sections:

How Might We… and Voting Dots | Highland Solutions

  • Followed by a section for the highest voted items and a Prioritization Matrix:

Prioritization | Highland Solutions


COOKING INSTRUCTIONS: 
Grab a blazer and your finest pair of sweatpants, here’s how you run this workshop remotely:

  1. Analyzing the Business Model Canvas (45m-1hr)
  • Pull up your MURAL Canvas.
  • The most valuable player in the room is that outside set of eyes and ears:

Make sure the tone you set for this conversation is ripe for questions and curiosity. Get your team talking: what’s missing? what’s surprising? Allow the outsider to ask -seemingly obvious- questions. “And you don’t do that today because..?”

  • Spend time really scrutinizing Key Partners and Resources.

In one example we found surprisingly deep insight in key relationships with boutique manufacturers, who are also looking for ways to pivot. What are they doing during this time? How easily could you get them on the phone to brainstorm? What’s their following like on Facebook or Instagram? Who might you reach if you launched a collaborative campaign?

  • With all your questions answered and your curiosities explored, even the outsider should have a deeper understanding of how you’re operating. You should be able to identify what is feasible and what isn’t, which assets and which relationships might provide value, and come out with some newfound excitement to explore fresh ideas.

2. How Might We… (45m-1hr)

Note that we usually recommend a little 5–10 minute break here before diving into this next hour of exploration.

  • What’s taking your attention?

Is it a partner relationship you didn’t realize you had? A CRM workflow you didn’t know your team had created? A backlog of content to engage your customers?

  • Time to take those lingering curiosities one step further and create some How Might We Statements.
  • Creating How Might We statements begs for some “alone-together” time.

We suggest setting a timer for roughly 10–15 minutes. Use the time to create new MURAL sticky notes and further those curiositys that you want to explore.

  • After 10–15 minutes, have someone read their statement aloud and designate someone in the group to begin to bucket these ideas into themes on the MURAL canvas.
  • Once everyone has shared their How Might We statements, it’s time to vote.

3. Vote (15m-20m)

  • Everyone gets 2 to 3 votes (we recommend 2 for larger groups)
  • Give everyone roughly 5 minutes to look at all the HMW statements, now categorized by theme. As them to silently pick their favorites, BUT DON’T have them vote just yet.

We realized that moving the “voting dots” tends to cause favorites, and easily sways others to vote for the popular idea.

  • Once everyone has their favorites in mind, move your Voting Dots to your individually chosen ideas all at once.
  • Then, have each person give a little explanation as to why they voted for their chosen statements.

4. Prioritization Matrix (30–45m)

  • Move all of the statements with the most votes to the bottom of the canvas, just above the Prioritization matrix.
  • The purpose of this section is to help prioritize all the new ideas that have been explored throughout this workshop.
  • This matrix helps to assess ideas through feasibility and impact. In the example illustrated above, ‘HMW gets into non-office environments,’ is positioned to have the highest impact for the customer and your business coupled with the easiest feasibility. Statements that fall into this quadrant are your no-brainers: if there is High Impact + High Feasibility, they are very likely to be done.
  • Contrary to this, you may have items that fall into High Impact, but Low Feasibility. Simply put “this would be great, but we don’t have the means to do it right now,” or the converse, low impact but high feasibility: “we could do this today, but it won’t likely add much value.”

From here, development and implementation is under your control. You know your business best and hopefully this recipe provided some new insight, and ways to expand or add value you had not considered before.

Are you a small business owner who is losing revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic? Highland is here to help.

We’re offering a free two-hour consultation session to small business owners. We’ll connect one-on-one to help you think through how to adapt your business, identifying new ways to generate revenue using your existing resources. Get in touch with us.