You know you want to start a business, but what do you do next? Here’s how to find the perfect idea for your business.
Many people believe starting a business is a mysterious process. They know they want to start a business, but they don’t know the first steps to take. In this chapter, you’re going to find out how to get an idea for a business–how you figure out exactly what it is you want to do and then how to take action on it.
But before we get started, let’s clear up one point: People always wonder if this is a good time to start their business idea. The fact is, there’s really never a bad time to launch a business. It’s obvious why it’s smart to launch in strong economic times. People have money and are looking for ways to spend it. But launching in tough or uncertain economic times can be just as smart. If you do your homework, presumably there’s a need for the business you’re starting. Because many people are reluctant to launch in tough times, your new business has a better chance of getting noticed. And, depending on your idea, in a down economy there is often equipment (or even entire businesses!) for sale at bargain prices.
Estimates vary, but generally more than 600,000 businesses are started each year in the United States. Yet for every American who actually starts a business, there are likely millions more who begin each year saying “OK, this is the year I am going to start a business,” and then don’t.
Everyone has his or her own roadblock, something that prevents them from taking that crucial first step. Most people are afraid to start; they may fear the unknown or failure, or even success. Others find starting something overwhelming in the mistaken belief they have to start from scratch. They think they have to come up with something that no one has ever done before–a new invention, a unique service. In other words, they think they have to reinvent the wheel.
But unless you’re a technological genius–another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs–trying to reinvent the wheel is a big waste of time. For most people starting a business, the issue should not be coming up with something so unique that no one has ever heard of it but instead answering the questions: “How can I improve on this?” or “Can I do this better or differently from the other guy doing it over there?” Or simply, “Is there market share not being served that makes room for another business in this category?”
Get the Juices Flowing
How do you start the idea process? First, take out a sheet of paper and across the top write “Things About Me.” List five to seven things about yourself–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 good at coming up with marketing concepts, I’m a problem solver.” Just write down whatever comes to your mind; it doesn’t need to make sense. Once you have your list, number the items down one side of the paper.
On the other side of the paper, list things that you don’t think you’re good at or you don’t like to do. Maybe you’re really good at marketing concepts, but you don’t like to meet people or you’re really not that fond of kids or you don’t like to do public speaking or you don’t want to travel. Don’t overthink it; just write down your thoughts. 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?” This is your personal life as a man, woman, father, husband, mother, wife, parent, grandparent–whatever your situation may 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 question about your business life. 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 to emerge (i.e., whether there’s a need for a business doing one of the things you like or are good at).
Here’s a business startup story that’s a great example of seeing a need and filling it. Entrepreneur magazine is located in Irvine, California, a planned community. Many years ago, there weren’t many fast-food restaurants in the business area. Most were across town, where the neighborhoods were. Two young men in Irvine found this lunch situation very frustrating. There weren’t many affordable choices. Sure, there were some food courts located in strip centers, but the parking lots were really small and the wait was horrendous.