It's easy to think that good business ideas come in a blinding flash of inspiration to some lucky entrepreneur (probably in his/her garage somewhere), but this is almost never the case.
A great idea is generally a destination - a series of interrelated steps that take you from where you are to running a profitable enterprise.
Now, most articles you read will tell you that a great business idea meets a demand. That you have to look around you to see what problems can be solved, then find a way to solve that problem in a way that generates profits.
That's right. But I don't think it's the whole story, which is why this article is going to give you a few handy tips and pointers about how to find the right problems - without driving yourself mad trying to force a moment of blinding inspiration.
Here's what Steven Johnson says about where good ideas come from:
1. Understand what makes a good business idea
Think of a great business idea as a jigsaw puzzle. It's one idea, but it is created from many different parts. Those parts are everything from the bits of information and knowledge/skills you have, to literal parts like a car, garage, tools, Internet, and so on.
How you construct a business idea depends entirely on the parts you have available, and more importantly, the parts you know about. It's pretty difficult to complete a jigsaw puzzle when you only have half the pieces, right?
What makes a good idea then, is something that meets a demand or solves a problem elegantly using readily available stuff. Coming up with an idea for a faster than light spaceship is fantastic - but essentially useless because we probably can't manufacture the parts we need to build it right now.
Often, a good idea isn't completely new. It's something that has been done before. But, you may come up with a slightly different, cheaper or better way to do it.
Come up with your idea yet? If not, keep reading...
2. Gather more puzzle pieces
What do you have to offer the world in terms of providing a product or service? If you don't know the answer to this, you're probably not ready to get started just yet. After all, if you don't know what value you bring how will anyone else?
The way to discover what you can offer, and where and how to offer it, is to escape your comfort zone.
Get out of routines. Do different things. It can be anything you like - but preferably stuff you love.
Don't feel guilty about pursuing things you enjoy. It is often those things that you are most passionate about that will reveal great new opportunities (most likely because you are simply more observant when it comes to stuff you love).
Spend a bit of time pushing the envelope. Go to networking events. Force yourself to meet new people, and find out what they do. Find out what drives and motivates them. What problems and obstacles did they have to overcome (or are still experiencing).
Every new person you meet can, amongst other things:
provide knowledge & skills
introduce you to someone who may change everything for you
expose you to completely new information & ideas
There is incredible value in seeking out productive, like-minded people. This brings with it the chance to learn new things and find new opportunities. You might find that your ideas come half-way through chatting with someone interesting.
There are also some great online resources for gathering new ideas and inspiration - especially when they're packed full of pictures and video clips showing how other entrepreneurs are converting ideas into profits.
3. Combine resources, network and creativity
Let's say that when you first wanted to come up with a new idea you had 20 distinct puzzles pieces - some family members willing to help, a PC, Internet connection, etc. After spending some time in step 2, you might have doubled or tripled the number of puzzle pieces available to play with.
Now's the time to lay them all out on the table and start playing around to see what type of picture you can make. Perhaps several people you spoke to mentioned problems they were experiencing. Others talked about cool new things they had heard about. Whatever you have, try combine and recycle what's there to come up with a viable idea.
Don't do everything in your own head. Often, speaking to other people will enhance your own creativity.
Reach out to family and friends, colleagues, or go and speak to established business owners or industry experts. It's amazing what insight and advice you can glean for the price of a cup of coffee.
4. Properly formulate your idea
An idea, when it first occurs to you, is almost never "complete". Often, with a bit of research and applying some creative thinking, there are alternative ideas that are better.
For example, I once decided to start a company that placed vending machines for beer in bars and clubs - for no other reason than I was sick of waiting for barmen to create complicated cocktails instead of bringing me a simple round of beers.
A beer vending machine would save customers time, increase the establishment's points of sale, and boost their earnings by alleviating queues at the bar (i.e. increase turnover). In fact, the idea evolved into something far more sophisticated once I had researched things fully...
By approaching the large breweries, and offering them dedicated, branded points of sale in all the major bars and clubs, I could get them to pay far more for the "advertising" than I could make charging the bars and clubs (who weren't interested in paying rental on vending machines).
The breweries would pay me a profitable monthly advertising fee, on the vending machines I placed in clubs to help alleviate congestion at the bar. Brilliant idea, because the breweries got a dedicated point of sale of their own products, clubs and bars got higher turnovers, and patrons got served quicker.
My point is that your idea might have far more potential than you realize at first. Take some time to think about why people would need it, who would use it, what other organizations would be interested, and so on.
5. Rinse & repeat
Here's the nice part. If you can't seem to come up with a great idea that shows real promise, it's not because you can't do it. It's because you don't have enough pieces of the puzzle. Go back to step 2 and gather more pieces before trying again.
Eventually, you will know everyone and everything about what's going on. And when that happens, you'll be able to see opportunities you never dreamed about.
The alternative is to work alone and not expose yourself to all the great possibilities that are floating all around. I tried that. It didn't work well.
If you're looking for inspiration to help come up with an idea of your own, it's worth checking out our small business ideas resource page, which has plenty of unique and interesting ideas over a range of categories, complete with picture and clips of how other entrepreneurs are making things happen. You can also help others and make new connections by sharing your own ideas there.
So what do you think about this strategy for developing new ideas? What would you do differently?
Sometimes the difference between success and failure can be that one thing, that special something, that secret sauce. No-one can quite tell you what it is because your business is unique (you know it best) and, ultimately, the responsibility for finding that secret sauce lies with you.
What's right for your business might be any number of things - a simple change in procedures or approach might work. Secret sauce doesn't have to be a killer sales team or a huge marketing budget.
Running an online business, whether it is an eCommerce site or a blog, means that you rely to some extent on income derived from Google organic search traffic.
Until Google pulls the plug, that is.
SME Pals did really well on the back of organic traffic right up until the Hummingbird update in 2013. At that point, over 95% of our traffic disappeared overnight in some sort of algorithmic snafu - most likely Panda.
Dealing with customers (regardless of whether it is tech support, after sales follow-ups, or whatever) can often be a trying ordeal that ruins an otherwise pleasant day at the office.
At times it can almost seem like people are being difficult for the sake of it. Others seem perfectly happy right up to the moment they cancel their account. And being online doesn't help because there is little to no face-time.
Amazon prices fluctuate, for most products, on an hourly basis making it important to use an hourly price tracker in order to catch the big price drops (and sometimes increases) and really save (and earn) money.
Whether you are a small business trying to cut costs on office supplies, or a shopper trying to find great deals and discounts in order to stretch your dollars to the max, the difference between a free price tracking service that gathers one or two data points a day and one that collects prices hourly can be massive.
Imagine there was a genie who could tell you with 100% percent certainty whether or not your business startup/idea will become successful or not - he would say either 'yes' or 'no', but not explain why. The catch is that you would have to pay a huge amount of money for that information (say, two years worth of operating expenses upfront).
Currently, the majority of water saving devices in the U.S. allow cold water to escape and shut off when the hot water arrives - preventing the loss of water heat energy, but not water itself. It's incredibly wasteful - especially in areas like California that are water stressed.
Design & sell a device that redirects (or saves) cold water until the hot water arrives. Saved cold water can then be used to cool the hot shower water.
An Australian product called Cullector already does this - perhaps they need a distributor in your region?
I run a small eCommerce business and it's proving extremely hard to get any visitors to the site. Of the few that...
An SME (Small & Medium Enterprise), sometimes called an SMB (Small & Medium Business), is any business under a certain size. With so many differing definitions, we focus on the people responsible. Smart Modern Entrepreneurs.