Behind every great business, there’s a great business idea. It’s often simple, leaving the rest of us scratching our heads and wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
When asked, innovators usually give a vague reply like, “It just came to me.” While that might be true in their cases, it doesn’t help you come up with a business idea. You need to know how they do it.
The answer is that some people look at the world differently, exposing problems and providing solutions. Others know strategies that help them come up with a business idea. You’ll find those in this post.
Plato once said, “Necessity is the mother of all inventions.” I believe Plato was saying when we encounter a problem, it’s the necessity that encourages creative thinking.
The great thing about solving problems is they’re everywhere and come in many shapes and forms, requiring different levels of innovation.
To start a business you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just identify problems we all have or a high-paying demographic of society has—if you solve one of those, you’re in business!
The first place to look for problems is you:
Throughout your day, look for things or problems you find frustrating. You don’t need a world-changing solution on your first attempt; instead, find answers to things that annoy you.
Colin Barceloux, CEO of Bookrenter.com, said it best: “You just look at what frustrates you; there’s your business idea right there.”
You can create solutions to improve upon existing products/services or make something more efficient, more enjoyable, or less expensive.
Begin by identifying a half dozen niggling things (big or small, it doesn’t matter). Then look for your idea online; if you can’t find it, maybe no one’s thought of it yet. And if other people have the same problem, you’ve found your business idea.
In the 1960s, Allen Simon was laying carpets when he noticed pet owners were using old newspapers for puppy pee.
Allen was struck with an ingenious idea and the Wee-Wee Pad was born. Allen Simon became a pet product mogul, earning over $100 million per year all because he solved someone else’s problem.
And how simple his solution was—it’s a diaper laid out flat!
Allen and similar innovators look at things differently; they’re more in tune with the innovative mindset. Here’s how you can tune in, too:
Problem-solving is a process and skill you learn with practice. The more you apply the process, the better you develop your problem-solving skills and lay the groundwork for success.
Start by finding problems and ideas for solutions by looking around your home. Then expand your practice by walking the aisles in stores, reviewing local services, talking with people about their issues, and brainstorming about marketplace opportunities.
Keep practicing until it becomes second nature. Remember, those who are prepared benefit from unexpected business opportunities!
To solve a problem, you must first define it.
Begin by asking yourself, “What bugs me about this product or service?” Don’t rely on your opinion alone because if no one else sees the problem, they might not need your solution. Ask family, friends, or colleagues if they have the same problem and if they define it the same way.
Once you identify and define a problem, find the root cause because it will lead you to your solution.
Allen Simon understood the root cause of the problem was puppy pee soaking into carpets, so the solution was easy.
If a solution is simple, don’t complicate it; go with the obvious. But often, problems can have many alternative solutions. If so, list them, then ask friends and family for their opinion.
With your alternative solutions in place, rank them from 1 to 10. Then explore the pros and cons of each one, including cost.
When choosing a business idea, remember this advice: “Don’t start a business. Find a problem, solve a problem. The business comes second.” – Robert Herjavec.
2. Create Inspiration From Within
You can always use your own experiences to come up with a business idea. Perhaps you have unique skills or knowledge others need to solve a specific problem.
Consider your work skills, experience, and interests; can you combine them to find inspiration?
Emmanuel Nou, Mitchell Spel, and Ward Struwer are founders of the footballer’s lifestyle management group, AmsLux.
3 years ago, Emmanuel worked at a call center and Mitchell Spel and Ward Struwer as personal trainers. They all loved football and high-end fashion (especially rare trainers) and knew how to get them. They used their knowledge, experience working with the public, and interest in fashion to develop an innovative business idea.
Now they provide everything footballers need, such as private jets, yachts, luxurious holidays, event management, and fashion advice. These guys also used the following 2 strategies to come up with their business idea:
You can also come up with a business idea by niching down (narrowing) the skills you use in your current job to provide a specific product or service. The approach comes from the online business saying: “The riches are in the niches.”
It works because the more you define your niche, the easier it is to provide a specific service that solves people’s problems.
For example, suppose you’re working as a general content marketer and have experience in social media. You could narrow your niche and provide a service to businesses requiring Instagram or Facebook marketing.
Branding yourself as a business that provides specific skills can help you connect far quicker with those looking for your service.
Did you know you can use your past and current skills to start a business in a different market?
First, assess your past jobs and the one you’re in now to find what you’re good at and enjoy doing. Consider your industry knowledge, experience, network, and skills. Next, define how your skills could give you an advantage in another market, identify businesses that might need them, then build your business around them. For example, I’ve had several businesses and used my past knowledge to become a freelance writer.
But what if you’re young and lack experience? No worries, you can use other people.
3. Look To Others for Inspiration
Friends, family, your current employer, locality, or global market trends relative to your skills and interests are all places you can find inspiration.
Let’s look closer to home first:
Ask friends and family about any daily challenges they experience. Could your skills or interests provide a solution? Or are they having any problems with products or services? Can you come up with a business idea that resolves them?
Make a list of all their problems relating to business, products, and services, then research each one for opportunities. Inspiration is never far away!
Speaking of distance, the next place to look is local:
Anyone interested in starting a local brick-and-mortar business can use the following strategies to find gaps in the market. Begin by choosing several industries you have skills, previous experience, or an enthusiastic interest in.
Next, research Google business listings for businesses in each market and look for their review ratings and what consumers say. Do any have constant negative reviews, such as lousy service or high prices? Maybe one or 2 of the markets are under-serviced!
If so, can you take advantage of others’ failings and fill those gaps in the market?
Chances are you are or were working for someone else, so why not use that to your advantage?
When you work in the same industry for long periods, you often gain knowledge of long-standing problems. These might be repeat complaints about the same issues, internal HR problems, logistics, etc.
Can you use your experience to identify pain points in your current or past employment and start a business that solves them?
If you’re having problems finding local inspiration, you can always look globally. Compare markets in other countries to those in your own; are there any significant differences? For example, you might find a popular product or service not released in your market; could it cross over?
Endless successful businesses have begun this way. I remember the first time I saw pizza sold by the slice in New York; a few years later, the first franchise opened in Dublin. Or iced coffee, another popular European business idea that made it big in the U.S.
Take Howard Schultz, the owner of Starbucks, for example; a trip to Italy inspired him to buy out the original owners and turn it into today’s global leader.
But no worries if you can’t travel because the world is at your fingertips!
Here’s what I mean:
4. Find Problems in Existing Niches
A proven approach to developing a business idea is finding problems people are having in existing niches. I’m talking about problems consumers have with existing business models. Those are opportunities for starting a business off the back of industry leaders.
But to do it, you must listen. “To launch a business means solving problems. Solving problems means listening,” – Richard Branson. And one thing people love talking about is their problems!
Consumer pain points are specific problems people experience with a business, product, or service.
Successful businesses know how to listen to these pain points and then create solutions that solve them.
You might be asking, “How do I find pain points?” With the internet, it’s straightforward! You can look at industry giants like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy to find people’s problems with products or Google business listings for issues with local services.
Chances are you’ll find all the pain points you need to come up with several business ideas.
But if you don’t, social media could be the source:
People use social media to highlight product, service, and process problems, often complaining online before contacting the business providing them.
Because of this, brands invest vast amounts of time and money listening to their consumer’s grievances. You can use those consumer grievances to gain insights into real people’s problems across a vast range of industries to come up with functional solutions.
Research shows that Facebook Messenger is the number one platform for consumer complaints.
Twitter, MouthShut, Instagram, and Quora are also platforms people use to complain, so they are great for finding business ideas.
Another way to come up with a business idea and make quick sales is by identifying upcoming trending products. Sure, they might not sustain your business long-term, but you could hit the ground running and grow from there.
Look for top trending topics and products on social media sites like Buzzfeed, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, etc. Tap into the conversations other people and businesses are having, and learn all you can to spot upcoming trends yourself.
Then jump onto trending topics and create a sales platform to resell the related products. Do it before others and you could be in business.
5. Improve Upon Existing Business Ideas
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to come up with a business idea. In fact, few ideas are original and most are improvements of existing ones.
You can use existing markets lacking recent innovations to come up with a business idea. Take a look at products and services that you’ve been using for a long time or industries slow to evolve.
While the saying “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is true, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon something. There could be older business models with pain points that a modern approach could solve. Any solutions you find could be the start of a money-spinning business idea.
Many new business owners develop business ideas by bringing a cheaper version of an existing product or service to the market.
Don’t confuse cheaper with inferior—consumers will complain if you provide sub-par products or services even if they buy them for less than the alternative.
The key to providing a cheaper alternative is finding more cost-effective ways to source, produce, and deliver your business idea to your target audience.
Case in point
In 2010, Dave Gilboa, founder of Warby Parker, revolutionized the eyeglass prescription marketplace. He came up with his business idea by identifying a problem. His grad school friend lost his glasses on a field trip and couldn’t afford a new pair, so Dave looked for a solution.
Dave created an alternative to the traditional eyeglass marketplace by buying materials from the source, designing his glasses in-house, and directly engaging his target market. By doing so, he could provide high-quality, great-looking prescription eyewear at a fraction of the traditional market price.
On August 27, 2020, Warby Parker’s valuation was $3 billion!
Cross-pollinating is a strategy that mixes 2 unrelated interests or skills to form a business. Think about this for a minute: Do you have day-job skills you could apply to your interests?
For example, let’s say you work for an event management company and enjoy the art of mixology (making cocktails). You could launch a niche bartender-for-hire cocktail business aimed at high-end clients who want to bring a professional and luxurious feel to their parties. If you do and it works, you owe me 10% or a free party!
Another form of cross-pollination is when you mix and match existing products. It’s a powerful way of coming up with unlikely innovations because mixing designs and thought processes can help reframe old ones and often create new ones.
One tasty innovative example is edible checkers—wacky, yet genius!
Let’s look at another example: Roger Adams, the founder of Heelys INC, changed how kids move. Roger was a lifelong roller skater (actually in The Guinness Book of Worlds Records as the youngest roller skater at 9 months old). He invented Heelys, skate shoes with drop-down wheels on them. He came up with the idea in 1998 while watching kids whizz by on roller skates at Huntington Beach.
Adams said in an interview, “It was like a flash; the hair stood up on the back of my neck.” 14 years later, Roger cashed in his shares for $26.3 million and skated off into the sunset, never to be seen again; seriously, it’s true!
The takeaway is: Connecting and combining nonobvious ideas and products is an excellent way to spark your creative-thinking process and get your innovative engine running.
Solutions are born from necessity, flashes of inspiration, or taking someone else’s idea and making it better. All of them work to help you come up with a business idea.
It doesn’t matter how you do it; what does matter is enjoying the process, being patient, and never giving up. Being an entrepreneurial business owner means not being afraid to try or fail. And the earlier you realize this, the better off you’ll be.
I look forward to using your business one day soon!
This portion of our website is for informational purposes only. Tailor Brands is not a law firm, and none of the information on this website constitutes or is intended to convey legal advice. All statements, opinions, recommendations, and conclusions are solely the expression of the author and provided on an as-is basis. Accordingly, Tailor Brands is not responsible for the information and/or its accuracy or completeness.
Terry is a serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience building businesses across multiple industries – construction, real estate, e-commerce, hotelier, and now digital media. When not working, Terry likes to kick back and relax with family, explore Taoism’s mysteries, or savor the taste of fine Italian red wine.