Some people are born entrepreneurs. Some are natural businessmen/women. These people love the idea of walking into a big office in a smart suit and knowing that they’re the top dog. They love keeping multiple balls in the air and gaining the satisfaction that comes from that responsibility. Others want to join the elite group of entrepreneurs that have gotten rich from business ideas they had while still in college.
But just because someone loves the idea of running a company, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll also be great at coming up with new business ideas. History has shown us that “ideas people” don’t always make the best executives, and vice versa!
So if you’re eager to start a new business but lack the inspiration, what can you do? Read on and we’ll look at some solutions.
Scratch your itch
One of the most commonly recommended methods for brainstorming business ideas is to “scratch your itch.” This you look for the idea that you need personally.
I managed to do this myself when I created the app “Multiscreen Multitasking.” This app was designed to allow for multitasking in separate windows on Android before that feature was innately baked into the operating system. I got around the inherent limitations of Android by creating a note app, a browser, a file manager, and more, all inside one app. These could then be viewed side-by-side or arranged however you wanted.
This was the app I needed at the time, as I wanted to be able to write on the move using a folding keyboard but I needed to be able to glance across the screen at a website for reference. I built the app for myself first, and it ended up being something a lot of other people wanted too. Check out my article about it over at Android Authority.
This is an excellent way to find a niche in the market. And if lightning doesn’t strike all on its own, ask yourself what jobs you find yourself repeating every day at work, and how you might be able to automate them with an app, piece of software, or service. This can yield some surprisingly insightful business ideas.
This also works for consumer products and creative works. Can’t find the computer game you wish existed? Feel your fitness tracker is lacking cool features? You know the solution!
Verify your business ideas
That said, Harvard Business Review is keen to point out that scratching your itch doesn’t always lead to the best business ideas, and that this can be bad advice. Just because you want or need something, that doesn’t mean enough other people will want it. Your idea could be extremely niche, or you might just be an oddball with unique tastes that aren’t shared by anyone else!
That’s why it’s so important to always “verify” your business idea. In other words, you need to test that people do want it.
You can do this by accepting pre-orders, or by creating a minimum viable product (MVP). Either way, you need to create something and start charging for it as soon as possible (with minimum investment) to ensure there’s a real market there for it that is willing to pay.
You can conduct market research and surveys, but this isn’t quite the same as actually getting someone to pay for the exact product that you put out. That’s the only real way to test if the idea has legs.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between good ideas and good business ideas. Your idea for a product or service needs to be something you can provide profitably. Likewise, this might be a great business idea, but not one that you are personally positioned to bring to fruition.
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But once you’ve tested the idea and seen that it works, that’s when you go all-in!
The “step-back technique”
This is a trick I came up with myself and is what led to my breakthrough with Multiscreen Multitasking. Essentially, the step-back technique involves thinking about the most amazing idea you can come up with, with zero limitations. If you had the power to will anything into existence, what product or service would you create? Chances are this is something that a lot of people would love.
The trick then is to take a step back (hence the name) and ask yourself what the closest similar thing is that you could make. In my case, I couldn’t change the way Android worked to support multiscreen multitasking, but I could create a single app with multiple mini-apps built-in.
Occam’s razor tells us that the simplest answer is often the right one. This is true in scientific research, but it is also certainly true for the first stab at business ideas. If you want to become an entrepreneur, then you need to start small and build up: walk before you can run.
If you’re going to build an app, make it something simple like a calculator. If you want to run a service, then do something straightforward like writing. And if you plan on selling physical products, then start with something affordable and commonplace that you can buy in a small quantity. Don’t set out to create the next Google until you’ve tried a few of these simpler business models.
Copy the work of others
Something a lot of people fail to recognize when it comes to entrepreneurship and business ideas is that you don’t always need to break new ground. That is to say that you don’t necessarily need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg!
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For every exciting story about a ground-breaking new social media platform, there are hundreds of less-interesting stories about new hairdressers, web design agencies, accounting firms, corner shops, and the like. These businesses might not get the same media coverage, but they are tried and true and they provide a ready-made blueprint for you to follow.
Consider starting a “normal” business!
Ideation for business ideas
Coming up with business ideas is no different from coming up with ideas for anything else. I wrote a whole blog post over at my website, discussing the “ideation” methods used by some of history’s greatest thinkers.
To summarise that post, what I essentially found was that you could not force an idea. Most of these breakthroughs and epiphanies came while the progenitors were at rest (and sometimes even sleeping). When we relax, we activate a network of brain regions known as the “default mode network,” which appears to be responsible for sorting and organizing ideas and memories. This is also sometimes called the “imagination network,” and it’s what we subjectively experience as daydreaming. It was in this state that Einstein discovered his theories of special relativity and relativity respectively, and the same goes for Archimedes, Poincare, and many others.
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The key is to immerse yourself in the subject/industry that you wish to disrupt, and to read and absorb as much information as you can (this is your input). Then find a time to actively relax: such as on a long walk. With any luck, something amazing will come to you!
A mood board is essentially a collage of things that inspire you, and this can be extremely useful when coming up with business names, logos, web designs, product ideas, and more.
Simply scour the web and the physical world for anything that inspires you. Each time you come across something, be it a word that describes your mission statement, be it a competitor’s website that you think looks great, or be it a photo with a great color palette, stick it to the board. Now, when it’s time to come up with a name and logo, you can try combining these influences in creative ways to come up with something that speaks to your values.
Start with why
Another tip is to start with your “why” when sourcing business ideas. This comes from author and TED speaker Simon Sinek, who explains that the most successful and influential businesses need to know this first.
Your “why” is essentially your mission statement. This is the thing you want your business to offer the world, and it is the change you want to see in the world. It’s what motivates you to get up in the morning, and it’s what gives your business a real purpose other than just making money.
The question is less about what you do as a business and more about why you do it. Perhaps you want to provide the world with healthier, better quality food. Or maybe you want to see stylish clothing made sustainably. You want to make the world healthier, better dressed, fairer, more fun… Whatever the case, this should be what motivates your business and what permeates it. It’s from there that you will then think about the how and the what.
This is important because it allows the right audience to connect with your business and to respond to your USP. When you manage that, you can create fans, rather than just customers.
Discuss with the group
Another tip is to hash your business ideas out with other people. This is a great way to sense check those ideas, but what’s more, is that it can help you to come up with ideas you otherwise couldn’t have. According to TED speaker Steven Johnson, most of the best ideas do not appear to us out of the blue but are rather the result of long gestation periods and group discussions. In a group discussion, each participant acts as a node in a neural network, allowing new influences, experiences, perspectives, and business ideas to enter the pot.
If you’ve found anything in this post useful, then there are hundreds of amazing books written by extremely smart people that you will get much more from. There’s no need to go it alone when so many trailblazers are happy to share their tips with us.
Some great books to get you started to include:
- The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- The E Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber
- Start With Why by Simon Sinek
- Crush it! By Gary Vaynerchuk
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
Absorb what is useful, reject what is not, and you might just come up with some amazing business ideas. Now you just have to pick the one you feel passionately about, and turn that idea into a reality!