Developing an idea for a business

Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash
Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash

Often wanna-be entrepreneurs place too much emphasis on the idea and not enough on the hard work that follows. However the idea is not to be discounted. It is the zygote that grows into your business.

I specifically used the word “developing” in the title of this post rather than “finding”, “thinking of”, or “creating”. Rarely does inspiration for a business arrive with a flash of lightning. Rather you notice something and think that you can fix it or do better. You further refine and develop that idea as you think about the market and marketing, about creating and accounting, and about failure and success.

Often an idea is pivoted on many times before an entrepreneur deems it ready to start a business. It continues to evolve based on the obstacles presented up to, and after, getting their product or service in front of customers.

Before looking for business ideas it is important to remember that a great business is one that provides a solution to a problem.

Here are a few places to search for inspiration:

Your place of work

Every single company has inefficiencies


Every. Single. Company. Has. Inefficiencies.

Every problem is an opportunity

Every problem is an opportunity so when you or a co-worker complain about a process that is broken what you really have is something that needs a solution. You can be the one to provide that solution.

Paper forms are a classic place where there is an inefficiency that either need not exist or can be lessened through technology.

Pretty much any tool of bureaucracy (including more modern ones such as email and CRM systems) is as much of a problem as it is a solution. Fertile ground for a dedicated individual or group of individuals to disrupt.

There are many advantages to creating solutions for problems in your workplace with the two main ones being your industry expertise (often referred to as your unfair advantage) and the fact that businesses are willing to pay for solutions (whereas consumers are often not). Even seemingly small things such as industry-specific Excel templates or Powerpoint consulting can yield big bucks.

Other industries

Many times, particularly when it comes to technology, advances in other industries will eventually reach yours. Examples that come to mind are CRM systems for contractors and ordering from restaurants on the web or phone apps.

Ask your friends about new things that happening in their industries and see if you have ideas about how to apply it to yours.

Other countries

Due to technology, language, and culture many businesses start in one country and take time to cross borders. After eBay started up entrepreneurs around the world created auction sites for their own country and in their own language. eBay ended up competing with or buying many of them but some are still around today. A more recent example is local car-sharing companies starting up in cities around the world before Uber entered them.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to technology. There is a Japanese-style cat cafe coming to a city near you.

Your hobbies

Passion is the most important trait for an entrepreneur.

This method of finding business ideas is better than any other for one reason. If you do something as a hobby the chances are that you are passionate about it and passion is the most important trait for an entrepreneur.

The catch to monetizing a hobby is finding a way to present it as a solution that somebody would pay for. It is much easier said than done as many craft-lovers have found out. (Luckily sites like Etsy have made it easier for people to find buyers for their goods.) The challenges of turning a hobby into a business have soured many would-be entrepreneurs on both their business and their hobby.
If you go this routes then taking baby steps while you still work full-time is often a prudent approach.

The news

Keeping abreast of macro changes to industries and the economy can yield a wealth of business ideas. When something fundamental changes it opens up opportunities that didn’t previously exist. You’re reading this on the biggest fundamental change of our lifetimes: the Internet.

Legislation can create opportunities as new laws, or the repeal of old laws, open or level markets. Subprime loans created many opportunities to make a lot of money in the run up to the housing crisis and the fallout opened up other opportunities.

Keep an objective and open mind when you read a news article and ask yourself these two questions:

  • What are ways that somebody can make money off of this?
  • Is this something I would want to spend the next ten years of my life doing?

Your idea is not unique

You are not the first person to have you idea. No matter what somebody else, somewhere, has had the same idea. Maybe the acted on it and maybe they didn’t. If you think your idea is truly unique then that is a cause for concern because if nobody else has done it then maybe there is no market for it.

Part of developing your idea is creating a business plan (even a basic one) which forces you to think objectively about the prospects and challenges for your business. You’re going to be way too optimistic the first time around so have somebody you respect read it and let them poke holes in it. The process will hurt but not as much as failing farther down the line when a lot more is at stake.

Eventually you will have developed your business idea enough that you cannot do anything else but move forward. Starting a business is both very exciting and very scary. Remember that you cannot fail unless you quit trying.