How to Come Up With an Idea for a Business
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
In their book, Start Your Own Business, the staff of Entrepreneur Media, Inc. guides you through the critical steps to starting a business, then supports you in surviving the first three years as a business owner. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer suggestions for figuring out just what kind of business you'd like to start.
How do you start the business idea process? First, take out a sheet of paper, and across the top, write “Things About Me.” List five to seven things about you—things you like to do or that you’re really good at, personal things (we’ll get to your work life in a minute). Your list might include: “I’m really good with people, I love kids, I love to read, I love computers, I love numbers, I’m a problem solver.” Just write down whatever comes to your mind; it doesn’t need to make sense.
On the other side of the paper, list things you don’t think you’re good at or you don’t like to do. Maybe you don’t like to meet new people or you’re really not that fond of kids or you don’t like public speaking or you don’t want to travel. Don’t overthink it.
When you’re finished, ask yourself: “If there were three to five products or services that would make my personal life better, what would they be?” Determine what products or services would make your life easier or happier, make you more productive or efficient, or simply give you more time.
Next, ask yourself the same set of questions about your business life. Also examine what you like and dislike about your work life as well as what traits people like and dislike about you.
Finally, ask yourself why you’re seeking to start a business in the first place. Then, when you’re done, look for a pattern (i.e., whether there’s a need for a business doing one of the things you like or are good at).
Inspiration can be found anywhere. Getting an idea can be as simple as keeping your eyes peeled for the latest hot businesses; they crop up all the time. Many local entrepreneurs made tons of money bringing the Starbucks coffeehouse concept to their hometowns and then expanding from there. Take Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee. The founders had what they describe as an “aha moment” in 1990 and, two years later, launched what is now the nation’s second-largest corporate-owned gourmet coffeehouse chain. Other coffee entrepreneurs have chosen to stay local.
And don’t overlook the tried and true. Hot businesses often go through cycles. Take gardening. For the past few years, gardening products and supplies have been all the rage, but you wouldn’t consider gardening a 21st century business. The same goes for shoe cobblers and seamstress businesses—with people wanting shoes and clothes to last longer or fit just-so, these businesses are in demand, and supply is short.
In other words, you can take any idea and customize it to the times and your community. Add your own creativity to any concept. In fact, customizing a concept isn’t a choice; it’s a necessity if you want your business to be successful. You can’t just take an idea, plop it down and say, “OK, this is it.” Outside of a McDonald’s, Subway or other major franchise concept, there are very few businesses that work with a one-size-fits-all approach.
One of the best ways to determine whether your idea will succeed in your community is to talk to people you know. If it’s a business idea, talk to co-workers and colleagues. Run personal ideas by your family or neighbors. Don’t be afraid of people stealing your idea. It’s just not likely. Just discuss the general concept; you don’t need to spill all the details.
Hopefully by now, the process of determining what business is right for you has at least been somewhat demystified. Understand that business startup isn’t rocket science. No, it isn’t easy to begin a business, but it’s not as complicated or as scary as many people think, either. It’s a step-by-step, common-sense procedure. So take it a step at a time. First step: Figure out what you want to do. Once you have the idea, talk to people to find out what they think. Ask, “Would you buy and/or use this, and how much would you pay?”
Determining what you want to do is only the first step. You’ve still got a lot of homework to do, a lot of research in front of you. Most important: Do something. Don’t sit back year after year and say, “This is the year I’m going to start my business.” Make this the year you really do it!