Hot . . . Or Not?

Is that "hot" start-up concept all it's cracked up to be? How to test your idea and start the business that's right for you

If you've ever felt that you have the ideas but not the skills, backing or know-how to make things happen, you know what the search for the perfect start-up is like. You think you've found a promising idea. You can just see that business running along successfully, with plenty of orders rolling in.

But then you try to get started. And it's like putting on a sweater and getting your head caught in the arm hole. You're thrashing about, going nowhere. You can't get in-or out.

And that's my point. I've seen too many entrepreneurs get hogtied like this. They find an idea that sounds really interesting, but somewhere along the way, it gets stuck. That stinks, because these people usually have terrific skills and accomplishments to draw from. They're super workers, with solid dreams. If they'd tweak their plans, they could build a business that fits them like a pair of comfortable shoes.

So let's break that curse right now. Stop getting stuck on business concepts that don't match you-because there's a better way. It's time to discover your "hot zone." The business you were born to start. The concept that has your name written all over it. The start-up that will make you sizzle.

Hot zones are business areas that dovetail with your natural strengths. Maybe your hot zone is "selling products for young mothers." Maybe it's "brokering information on the Internet." Whatever it is, your "hot zone" is the place where your skills, contacts and personality make a sweet collision, with a real marketplace need.

And once you know your hot zone, it becomes very easy to launch a great business. That "What's my next step?" feeling disappears. No more trouble finding customers-or selling them. Stay in your hot zone, and you'll get peak results from all your entrepreneurial efforts. And those frustrating business concepts? The ones that never work out? You'll leave those ideas out in the cold.

You can find your hot zone by taking our convenient, heat-seeking "hot zone" quiz. Discover if your latest idea is hot, or not. Or take the biz you've already started up to full burn. No ideas? No problem. Do the quiz-and feel the heat.

You'll rank each idea you test from 10 (scorching) to 1 (leaves me cold), in eight categories. The hotter your overall score, the faster that business will likely succeed for you. Just scribble out your answers, or swap them with friends. We can have fun with this. Now let's cook.

Whew! That's eight burning questions, all about you, your motivation, your experience and your life. More than enough to discover if any business holds the spark.

But whether you're steamy hot or Arctic cold during your first time through, the real key to this exercise is using this test on every business idea you hatch. Do that, and a funny thing will happen. You'll see your highest scores all clustering around a "zone" (or zones) of businesses and industries. Maybe it's around the Net. Or great coffee. Or people who love to snowboard. Or a restaurant in a rusty old thimble mill. Whatever it is, you've found your hot zone-the business that will cook for you.

So rake those coals, because you can always make a hot idea hotter. Hit the trade shows, cultivate new contacts, and collect the new experiences you need. That will push those tepid fours up to steaming sevens and move chilly prospects into hotter contention.

Keep it hot with a promise that you'll never go back. And those hype ideas? The ones that promise everything but never seem to catch fire? Give them all the cold shoulder. Stay warm in your hot zone. And when opportunity knocks, you'll already be opening the door.

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hot . . . Or Not?.

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