Being an entrepreneur comes with some great perks: you set your own hours, take as many tea breaks as you want, and can work from anywhere—wearing anything. But it also needs to pay the bills.
That means you have to think carefully before you step out of a cubicle and start your own business. Starting with the most basic question of them all: how do you decide what business to start?
This article explores some ways to come up with new business ideas and develop them into a concrete business.
Think about yourself
It sounds cliché but it’s true: finding something you love doing will mean you will excel at doing it. Sean Rad, the co-founder of Tinder, came up with the idea because he was a shy man who was scared of talking to strangers.
But he realized that, if he knew beforehand that the stranger liked him, then his fear of communicating would disappear. And thus, Tinder was born.
The first thing you can do to find what suits you, is to think about yourself. Take time to contemplate what you like: think of hobbies, passions, and interests.
It can something be as mainstream as sports blogging or something as unusual as restoring Ming-period Chinese ceramics or digitizing Medieval manuscripts.
Writing down your interests will give you a perspective of what kind of a person you are. It will also offer clues as to the possible direction of finding a business idea.
Keep a broad perspective
Once you find something you like, scan it with a broad perspective in mind. You may like it, but are you also good at it? Pencil down what you are good at. You can be good at numbers or writing. Or maybe you are excellent with your hands and know how to fix things, mend broken objects, or carve wood and marble.
Don’t focus exclusively on subjects or items; think about relationships as well. Are you good with children, older people, or animals? Are you a good listener or a doer? Are you intuitive and can grasp ideas fast, or are you a methodical, step-by-step kind of person?
Writing down such ideas will help you understand who you are and what your business idea could focus around. You can also match and combine different strengths. Are you good in accounting and have a passion for sports? Maybe you could specialise in finance and investment for sports clubs. Architecture and cooking? How about designing kitchens that are perfect for amateur chefs?
Dig a little deeper
Once you have written down what you like, dig deeper to find a niche market that could combine your preferences with a profitable business.
For instance, if you like gardening, think of everything that is linked to gardening: advice, plants, soil tests, pesticides (or lack of), fruit and vegetables, winter gardening, shade gardening, and so on.
Associate your knowledge and passion with something that can offer a good living.
Don’t forget to write down what you are good at, at your current job. Finding a good idea for a new business could start with what you are currently doing. Give it a twist and maybe you have your own business idea that suits your needs and your personality.
It’s not just about what you’re good at…
Business ideas are not only about what we are good at; they are also about what we do not like.
From the most childish pet hate, like waking up early in the morning, to the most complex ones, like having to travel a lot or working closely with colleagues, there are certainly some things that you dislike… or even hate with a passion.
Finding a business idea that involves something you decidedly do not like will take away a big portion of the pleasure and anticipation you have about your new business.
If you really don’t have any patience for children, becoming a nanny will probably be a chore rather than a pleasure, no matter how much in demand nannies may be where you live.
On the other hand, even if you dislike children but love management, you might be able to set up a nanny service, helping bring together nannies and families interested in hiring them.
Think about the world around you
Once you have figured out your preferences and dislikes, start looking around you. Consider your life and what could make it easier, better, or happier.
Obviously, a time machine offering 36-hour-long naps would be awesome (certainly a project that would get a lot of funding!), but think realistically about how you would like to improve your life.
Walk around your house and take a look at everything. Try to look at things like a child: observe things for the first time.
The kitchen, an overcrowded bathroom, a forgotten garden, or a closet swamped with children’s toys might give you pointers. Listen to yourself and your own annoyances: “I wish this closet was better,” or “I’m fed up with all the sand from the sandbox in the garden”.
Now, take a virtual tour around your job and, once again, scribble down what you feel would make it better: organization, software, communication, hardware, connections, colleagues, management.
Listen to yourself and remember all the times you mentioned how you could improve things. Next, take the same tour as if you were a different person; one with no preconceptions and no former experience from that job. Look around and see things through the eyes of a newcomer.
Use your local neighbourhood
The next step is to take a glance at your locality. Take a walk and talk to neighbours, friends, colleagues, and shopkeepers. Ask them if there is anything that they feel is missing from the place or anything that needs to be amended.
You may be surprised by how many things people will mention. Evan Spiegel, the co-founder of SnapChat came with the idea when a friend of his regretted sending a photo. No app existed to make photos, texts, or messages already sent disappear, so there was an opportunity.
Don’t forget to consider people with different needs than yours: people with pets, older people with disabilities, single people, or families with children. Talk to them about their passions, fears, and frustrations: maybe one of the things they mention will give you ideas.
Consider the British car insurance company Ingenie. They developed a box which is fitted in new drivers’ cars and monitors their driving style. If you are a good driver, your insurance premium falls, despite your young age. Ingenie’s founders listened to people, friends, and colleagues. They heard new drivers complaining about how car insurance premiums were too expensive and did something about it.
Similarly, think of all the meal delivery kits available in the UK such as HelloFresh, Gousto or Mindful Chef. Their founders heard busy people talk about their lack of time or limited knowledge when it came to cooking, but also about their desire and determination to prepare home-cooked meals. Successful business owners looked around, spotted a problem and found an innovative solution.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. That is why most business owners have partners. Talking to a friend, relative, or colleague could give you a business idea which would combine your respective strengths. Strengths, preferences, and passions can match each other and create something unique.
For example, you might have a friend who is a top programmer, while you excel at marketing. You could come up with new apps or online plugins that your friend will create and you will market. This would take advantage of your corresponding strong points and complement each other’s abilities.
Partnering up could mean sharing a dream and making a team that can really work.
The founders of Airbnb were two unemployed friends who realized they could not pay their rent in San Francisco. But they spotted an opportunity when they realized that a conference happening at that time in the area would mean that accommodation would be scarce. They organised their website, booked their flat to visitors and thus managed to pay their rent.
Think … differently
You have probably heard it a thousand times: “think outside the box.” Or this one: “you need to disrupt an industry to create something new and innovative.” While true, just how can you do this?
You can start by doing small things differently. Take a walk in the park, go to a museum, visit an exhibition. Explore an open-air market or take a holiday.
All these activities will open up a unique and novel point of view. Inspiration can come at the most unexpected time and the most astonishing place. The inspiration for the GoPro camera company came to its founder, Nick Woodman, while on a trip to Indonesia.
He was an avid surfer and wanted to take action pictures of himself surfing but could not find an affordable camera that would do that. Hence the inspiration for a camera that will go in the water, air, or travel with you anywhere.
Learn from others
Also, read. Don’t focus exclusively on your area of expertise but read books, magazines, and newspapers that cover diverse areas of interest.
Something could ‘click’ with something you already have in mind and give you a brilliant business idea. Read, listen, examine, and analyse information from your industry of interest but also the world at large.
Watch TedX talks. The TedX website has various categories of interest and an endless array of talks. Again, don’t limit yourself to categories that match your interests or experience. Experiment with new ideas, new approaches, and new challenges.
If you have found an area that interests you, talk to experts or professionals. People usually like talking about their job and they could be useful in giving you tips, clues, and warnings about their profession.
Finally, browse the Internet. Go to social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and see what’s trending. Try a few search words in search engines.
If you are looking for something that is not bringing the right results in the search engine, then maybe there is a business idea somewhere there.
Visit crowdfunding websites such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Crowdfunder: you will see numerous ideas, projects, experiments, and designs that could give you pointers about your own business ideas.
Although it might sound very matter-of-fact, visit one of the many websites that list jobs in high demand. Perhaps you can match a business idea that is in the back of your mind with a job that is in high demand.
This leads us to the next section: the future.
Think of the future
Elon Musk has thought of the future and the challenges it already presents. For instance, ecological upheaval means that we should divest from fossil fuels.
Electric cars like Tesla could be the answer to our future transportation problems. Batteries will be needed to fuel these cars. And people will want to fly, perhaps even to space. Thinking way outside the proverbial box means that Elon Musk started SpaceX to make traveling in space more affordable and faster.
Becoming the next Elon Musk would be really amazing, but your business idea doesn’t need to be big. It has to be better, more efficient, and cheaper than what presently available and it has to cater to problems that we can already foresee for the future.
Think of environmental challenges and protection from ecological disasters. If you are into insurance, this could be an interesting niche market. Maybe there’s an untapped demand for areas in danger of flooding due to climate change.
Examine any issues already arising: energy production, agricultural needs, or population ageing. Think of transportation and how driverless cars could be the answer to many problems. Again, there is no need to actually devise a driverless car. But think, for example, of the implications a driverless car could have in insurance, city planning, or mobility for older people.
Before you jump on your adventure
Finding a business idea that ignites your passion is wonderful. Before jumping on this extraordinary adventure, however, take into account a few suggestions:
If you are making a business out of your hobby, think hard what this means to you
The circumstances of a hobby are widely different from a job. Your hobby will become something that you will be doing every day of the week; you won’t have the choice of not doing it.
Will you enjoy making money out of your hobby or is this something that will actually destroy it for you? That’s why converting a hobby into a business is not always advisable.
You can teach your hobby, write about your hobby, or give speeches about your hobby. But sometimes a hobby needs to remain just that: something you do to unwind. Turning your hobby into a business runs the risk of sucking the pleasure out of it and turning it into yet another chore.
Think of the risks
Risk and failure are part of the job. Don’t be afraid of it, because it is through failure—unfortunately—that we learn the most valuable lessons. Again, cliché but very true.
If you are afraid of risk, perhaps set up your business alongside your current job. Running both will be tiring and complicated, but it will mean that any failure of your new business will not have severe repercussions on your finances.
Determine what sort of company you want
Sole trader or Limited; what kind of company would best suit your needs? Find out the best company setup for your business. Establish whether you want a local business geared to a local market or a global virtual one. This will make a huge difference in your company setup and business model.
Once you have come up with your brilliant business idea, the next step is to come up with a catchy business name, create a company website, and learn about bookkeeping. Keep reading for some more great tips on starting up your new company!