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Choosing the Best Business Idea

How to evaluate several ideas and decide which business would be right for you.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I have some great business ideas and want to start my own business, but I don't know which idea to use. How do I know which would make the best business?

A: The bad news about starting a business is that good ideas aren't really that hard to come by. Every business you see when you open the Yellow Pages began as someone's great inspiration. But what did it take to turn that great idea into a successful business? How much time, effort and money was involved? You can bet the entrepreneur who started that business on page 1101 probably had little idea how difficult it would be to turn his or her vision into a successful business.

So finding a good idea is just the beginning; in fact, it's the easy part. The trick is being able to successfully implement that idea. That's much more difficult. As Einstein said, genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. That's as true in business as it is in science. So, not only must you come up with a good idea, but it must be a good idea that you can move on.

Let me give you an example. One of the very first ideas I ever had for a business was for an international treasure hunt whereby my customers-the contestants-would be given clues that would lead the winner to a stash of hidden diamonds in some exotic country. Along the way, the contestants would have a great vacation. While certainly a big and interesting idea, I didn't have either the money or the resources to carry out my grand vision. Yet I wasted plenty of both before figuring that out. I don't want you to make the same mistake.

Look around. Are there any similar businesses to the ones you want to create? If not, that should tell you something. Maybe your ideas are so cutting-edge that no one else has thought of them. That may be good later on, once you know how to start and run a new business, but the beginning of your journey isn't a good place to boldly go where no entrepreneur has gone before. Now is not the time to lead; it's the time to learn.

My advice is to pick an idea that others have also successfully used. Let's say you have an interest in flowers and want to start some kind of business around that. Great! Books have been written on how to start a florist shop. Books haven't been written on how to export daffodils to China. For a first business, it is smarter to pick the tried and true.

Another advantage of being a follower instead of a leader is that you should be able to find plenty of information that can be of great help to you. In our florist example, you could go to SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and find some retired florists to give you some tips. You could join a florist's association. You could read trade magazines. None of these resources would be available to you if you choose to invest your efforts in an obscure, albeit possibly fascinating, business.

The important thing is that you choose a business that fits your personality and can be successfully implemented using whatever resources are available to you. If that means scaling your idea back a bit in the beginning, that's fine. Once you get your baby off the ground, you can grow it as much as you're able. Take inspiration from Richard Branson, who began with a single record shop before growing it into Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines, Virgin Cola, etc. That should be your model.

Steven D. Strauss is a nationally recognized lawyer, author and commentator. He is the author of theAsk a Lawyer(W.W. Norton & Co.) series of legal advice books geared toward the layman. He is also the author of The Unofficial Guide to Home-Based Businesses and is a business columnist for USA

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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