Step Two: Peruse the Options
Perhaps Step One already generated your perfect business, but more likely, it only helped you identify key attributes of that business. Now it's time to scan actual business ideas. Look for those that match the factors you identified in Step One, but don't be afraid to pick something that mainly just mainly feels right. A good business choice usually appeals to both head and heart. Here are quick ways to expose yourself to thousands of business ideas:
- Look in the index of your Yellow Pages or Business-to-Business Yellow Pages. It lists practically every kind of business out there. Any you might like to run? Swiss career counselor, Daniel Porot, suggests you can devise a unique business by combining two Yellow Pages categories. For example, combine accounting and psychology to be an accountant for psychologists.
- Check out our Low-Cost Business Center.
- Peruse books that profile home businesses, including Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century by Paul and Sarah Edwards, Working Solo by Terri Lonier, and the book I co-wrote with Paul and Sarah Edwards, Cool Careers for Dummies. It profiles 512 great careers and self-employment opportunities, including many that are little-known but rewarding. (Restaurant menu designer, anyone?)
- Once you've picked out a possible business, find Web sites for such businesses using your favorite search engines. That Web search can provide an instant education about the range of such businesses and perhaps some features you'd like to incorporate into your own.
A bit of reassurance: Don't make the mistake of thinking that your business idea needs to be original. In fact, it's risky to be original--that makes you a guinea pig. Better to take a proven business concept, combine the best features of your competitors into your business and open up shop on the Net or in your home. Of course, you needn't forego all creativity. Perhaps, add a new service to a business's roster of proven services, target a new audience in addition to the traditional one, or somehow just tweak the concept.
Step Three: Put Your Toe in the Water Before Diving
A business idea may sound great in theory, yet flop in practice. Sometimes it may, indeed, be a great idea--but you may not have the skills to make it succeed. To reduce the risk of that happening to you, watch someone in your prospective business in action. For example, if you're thinking about being a Web designer, watch one for a few hours. Could you see yourself, with training, doing that 40 hours or more each week? If so, try to learn the first piece of necessary software on your own or with a tutor. Are you catching on quickly? If so, chances are, you'll develop the skills needed to succeed.
Other times, a business succeeds only because of Herculean effort--an owner willing to work 90 hours a week or invest a fortune to ensure its success. Are you willing to work that hard to bring your dream to fruition? Very few people are equipped to handle that kind of commitment. And more than likely, you don't have a fortune to invest either.
Still other times, the idea is good but its heyday is over. Open the umpteenth balloon-delivery service in your city and you'll face a double whammy--a market that's already saturated and a fad that's fading. Risk-reducer: a survey. Before deciding to start a business, talk to 25 people in your target market--catch 'em in front of a store, call people out of the phone book, arrange a get-together of friends of friends of friends, whatever. Describe your product or service and ask them how likely they would be to buy it. Beg them to be brutally honest--"Better to know now than after I've opened the business." Ask them what's the most they'd comfortably pay for your product or service. How could you enhance the product or service so they'd pay more?
Most Important of All
Most aspiring entrepreneurs put a lot of effort into choosing their business. But the fact is, just as important as the right idea is the smart, nose-to-the-grindstone implementation of that idea. I'd sooner bet on a smart, hard-working balloon-delivery business owner than on a dimwitted, lazy Internet security business owner.
Dr. Marty Nemko is a small business consultant, host of "Work with Marty Nemko," a radio show that's broadcast on an NPR affiliate in San Francisco, and co-author of Cool Careers for Dummies. He speaks frequently to organizations and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.