From the February 2003 issue of Startups

When thinking of a business idea, the issue isn't finding something so unique, no one has heard of it. It's answering the question "How can I do [such-and-such] better?" or "How can I do it differently than the other guy?" Try these steps to find the answer.

  • Make a list. Sit down and make a list of 10 things that you like to do and are really good at; 10 things you don't like to do or aren't good at; five products or services that would make your personal life better and five that would make your work life better; what you like and dislike about your current job; what other people like and dislike about you; and your reasons for starting a business. Don't overthink; write down the first things that come to mind. When you are done, look for a pattern and ask whether there is a need for a business doing one of the things you like or are good at.
  • Look around you. What products or services are missing from your community? Have you heard or read about interesting businesses in other places that might work in your area? Ask your friends, neighbors, family and co-workers what products or services would make your community better.
  • Go to the source. If a business idea appeals to you, talk to entrepreneurs already doing it in other communities. If they don't directly compete with you, you'll be amazed what they're willing to share. When one of our readers decided to start a bookstore, she contacted other bookstore owners around the country. Not all of them would talk, but one entrepreneur invited her to work in his store for two weeks, during which he told her every step involved in starting and running a bookstore. Our reader came back and successfully launched her own.
  • Try the tried-and-true. Consider locating in a new community that isn't saturated with basic services. Every community needs certain standards such as dry cleaning, ice cream shops, janitorial services and the like.

-Adapted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Nee (Entrepreneur Press)