Editor's Note: Entrepreneur Richard Branson regularly shares his business experience and advice with readers. Ask him a question and your query might be the inspiration for a future column.
Q: I have been told many times over the years, “You have a great attitude and drive, and an excellent mind. You should be an entrepreneur.” But what the heck should I do? I have limited funds and resources. Everything that looks like promising, someone else is doing or has done. I am unsure how to make an idea new or improved, which is frustrating. So what the heck should I do? -- Daniel Armstrong
“What the heck should I do?” is a question every entrepreneur asks themselves at one point or another. If you tackle the problem with an open mind and a can-do attitude, it is also the question that will launch your career.
Let’s get started. Grab a pen and paper (always have your notebook handy -- you never know when the next great idea will come to you, and if you don’t write it down, it may soon be gone forever), then answer these two questions:
Question No. 1: What Do You Love?
Make a list of all the things you are passionate about or that interest you. It doesn’t matter if these items seem trivial or random -- something on your list could spark a great entrepreneurial idea.
Now look at your list, and think about the industries and markets it touches on. Are any of them ripe for innovation? Think about the companies in those areas whose products and services you like. Most established businesses have some shortcomings -- their customers are just waiting for a better alternative to arrive. Whether the businesses involved are small local operations, online superbrands or global corporate giants, if they’ve stopped innovating, you have an opportunity to seize the initiative. Sectors where companies have gotten too comfortable and have stopped putting customers first are particularly ripe for disruption.
Also look into starting up a related business. In hotspots like Silicon Valley, each successful startup seems to spawn other enterprising ventures that make the initial idea even better. A great creation like Twitter can lead to dozens of other good products, such as the video tool Vine and the scheduling service Hootsuite.
So rather than being discouraged when you find that someone is already acting on an idea similar to yours, welcome the competition. Pick specific examples of what you think their enterprise is doing brilliantly and try to learn why it works so well. Crucially, also look for areas where the business is performing less well, and work out how your startup could improve on things.
Get in contact with the business’s founders and ask plenty of questions. You’ll be surprised to find how many successful entrepreneurs are willing to give advice and guidance -- they were all running startups once!
Question No. 2: What Do You Hate?
Next, think about things that annoy, confuse or even anger you. If you ran the world, what changes would you like to make? Again, do not censor your thoughts: Just write!
Especially think about moments when you’ve experienced frustration. Whenever I see something that doesn’t make sense, like shoddy service on an airline, I start to think about how it could be improved upon. Many Virgin Group businesses have been sparked by our exasperation that another company wasn’t doing something well.
As a customer, you have sometimes been disappointed when businesses didn’t deliver on their promises. Now, as an entrepreneur, you are in a position to build a business that fixes some of those problems. The company that results will make people’s lives better, and you are more likely to be passionate about its purpose.
Now look at your lists. If nothing immediately comes to mind, take some time out from your day to lie on your hammock and think about how you can act on those items and make the world a little bit better.
Next it’s time to start testing your ideas. You need to be brave and must accept that there are a lot of risks. Even the most carefully laid out plans don’t always meet with success, so it’s often better to put your product or service out there and let some prospective customers try it out.
While you’re in the testing and planning phase, go back to all those people who suggested that you become an entrepreneur and ask them for specifics about what they see as your strengths. Tell them about your ideas and ask for honest, raw feedback about your next steps. I do this too -- I have always discussed new business ideas with my friends and family before turning them over to lawyers and investment experts.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones for support -- you’ll need it, and they’ll gladly give it. With their help, I’m sure you’ll be able to call yourself an entrepreneur very soon. Good luck!