At a Loss?

Look Inside

A perfect business is whatever's perfect for you.

So you'd like to start your own business, but you're not sure what kind of business to start. How do you get an idea? Begin by assessing yourself.

Get out a piece of paper and list five to seven things you enjoy doing and are good at-anything from "I'm good at computer spreadsheets" to "I love kids." Then list five to seven things you dislike doing or aren't good at. Next, ask yourself, "If there were three to five products or services that would make my personal life better, what would they be?" Ask the same question about your work life. Then consider what you liked and disliked about your former job. Finally, ask yourself what you expect to gain by starting a business. (Are you looking for lots of money? Freedom to set your hours? A chance to express your creativity?)

When you're done, look at your notes and try to find a pattern. Is there a need for a business doing one of the things you like or are good at?

You need to look outside as well as inside to come up with a good idea. Books, magazines, newspapers and Web sites are excellent sources of ideas. In addition to business magazines, look at other types of publications for trends that could suggest good business ideas.

Need more ideas? Our Start-Up Kits offer market overviews of some of today's hottest businesses.

Get opinions from other people. Ask your friends and neighbors what products or services would make their lives easier. Think about your neighborhood and the neighborhoods where your friends and family live and work. Chances are, you'll find a need for a product or service you could provide. For example, one office worker noticed there were very few restaurants near his office park, so it was hard for employees to find food on their lunch hours. He started a company delivering restaurant food to offices in the area.

When you've got what you think is a great idea, carefully assess its potential in your city. Note what kinds of businesses already exist in your area and what kinds of people live there. You may have a fantastic idea for an upscale catering business, for example, but if most residents in your city are retired people on a budget, you won't find many customers.

As you ponder your business idea, keep in mind that you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Starting a successful business is a matter not of coming up with something completely new, but of asking, "How can I do something better?" or "How can I do it differently than the other person?" By assessing your abilities and your market, you'll be able to answer that question profitably.

"Look Inside" is adapted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need (Entrepreneur Press) by Rieva Lesonsky and the staff of Entrepreneur magazine.

Barry Farber is the author of 11 books on sales, management and peak performance. His latest release, "Diamond in the Rough" CD program, is based on his book, radio and television show. Visit him at, or email him at

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This article was originally published in the July 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: At a Loss?.

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