What’s The Secret To Thinking Up A Great Business Idea?

I don’t believe there’s any secret formula to thinking up a great business idea. You could stumble upon it, or drill deep to uncover it. You could start out doing one thing, and evolve it into something totally different. Every great business has a unique journey; a story to tell.

What I do believe is that there’s similarities between those successful business ideas, and ones which ultimately fall flat. To put it simply: it’s the entrepreneurs who manage to differentiate themselves in a crowded market that go farthest.

I can’t begin to feed you ideas for a truly unique business. It doesn’t work like that. But here’s some suggestions of mine. Hopefully they’ll give you some optimism — because you’re probably nearer, or more capable, of finding your niche than you thought.

1. Stop Being Dismissive 

It’s surprising what business ideas turn out to be successful.

In fact, there’s been a couple of occasions where business opportunities presented themselves, and I elected to stay out. They just didn’t align to what I believed to be possible, at the time. But I was wrong.

What's The Secret To Thinking Up A Great Business Idea? - How To Generate Business Ideas
Keep your eyes open. Talk to people. Listen to ideas.

I’ve Been Too Pessimistic in the Past

It wasn’t due to the amount of work involved, or investment required. It was this:

  • “Too difficult”: On one occasion, I’d simply assumed that it would be too difficult to break into the market because “other people are already doing it”. Yet I was wrong: there was ample space for competition, and I failed to see it.
  • “Too easy”: On another occasion i looked at a business proposal and thought “if it’s really that easy, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?”. I’d once again over-estimated our public’s ability to capitalise on any loose opportunity. As a result, i missed the chance to be first to market.

Thankfully, my judgment was better on other occasions.

The moral?

Do your homework: being inquisitive about a new business idea is a positive thing. But being pessimistic, dismissive or presumptuous without seeking validation, is not.

2. Size Up Competitors… But Not Too Much

It would be foolish to ignore the presence of competitors as if they didn’t exist. But when analysing them and gathering ideas, be careful to preserve the elements that make your business idea stand out. Keep your originality.

Believe In Your Own Vision

I must admit, as a writer, I’ve found myself reading other people’s content. I convince myself it’s “market research”, when really I’m trying to compare quality, and the overall ‘message’. As a result, I start to second guess myself, and feel the temptation to alter my stance on something.

I always have to snap out of it and trust my own views: even when I think there’s a good chance people will disagree. Why?

Because I’ll lose my originality. It’s detrimental to my own vision if I’m too heavily influenced by competitors.

3. Treat Courses as a Guideline Only

Absorb whatever valuable information you can, but don’t hinge your entire business around something that’s been sold to you.

Entrepreneurship, self-help, and anything which involves learning how you can “make your dreams come true” attracts many vultures, looking to capitalise. You’ll have to be selective in what courses you take.

Learn from successful people. Just know that doing so doesn’t substitute your own ingenuity.

Paid Business Courses & Seminars

I think there’s value in paying to learn practical skills — like SEO, PPC, writing, branding, web development, photoshop, social media campaigns — that will get you to the place you need to be. Identifying your weaknesses and working at them is investing in yourself.

However, those who are willing to part with £1,000’s on a business course under the assumption it’ll immediately transform them into successful entrepreneurs are likely to meet a harsh reality down the line:

  • It’s still going to take the same amount of hard work
  • It doesn’t alter the competition.

With that in mind, I personally think it’s unwise to spend huge sums on hearing someone else’s success story, purely for the motivational benefit. While it might be interesting and insightful, after that initial buzz you’ll still need to do something practical.

Importantly, entrepreneurship education doesn’t guarantee students success. It doesn’t gift-wrap everything in a box. There’s no cutting out all the steps — the market research, analysis and all other processes.

You cant expect to succeed by basing your entire business idea around information someone has sold to you — otherwise why would they sell it to begin with?

4. Be Independent

The views of our previous generations were shaped by limited sources of information — books and papers, mainly. Nowadays we have Google, YouTube, blogs, social media, independent news sources, and forums from all over the world.

Can We Find Business Ideas Online?

We ought to be more enlightened by having so much information at our fingertips. Yet when we research a business idea — or anything else for that matter — we’re not immune to reaching biased conclusions:

  • Tunnel-vision. It’s human nature to seek the information we want to find. We selectively decide what we want to see — and gravitate to what supports suits our own views. Thus we don’t always acknowledge the flip-side.
  • Flocking. When you go online looking for answers you’ll often find the same content presented in a different format, over and over. We, as humans are influenced by others, and try to blend in. We copy each other’s content. As a result, a lot of opinions lack independence.

What's The Secret To Thinking Up A Great Business Idea? - How To Generate Business Ideas
Brexit: British people only read and watched what they wanted to see, and what aligned with their viewpoint. The winning ‘leave’ vote, to exit the EU, came as a shock to many .

The point is, don’t forget to think for yourself and reach your own opinion on what business idea has the potential to succeed. Recognise the shortcomings of online publications. Realise that your potential doesn’t hinge on what people say you can and can’t do.

Do Your Research, But Don’t Go Against Your Intuition

Strangely, I think there’s something to be said for being ever-so-slightly ignorant in starting a business. It’s good to be open-minded enough to listen, but ignorant enough to remain focused on your goals, independent in your thoughts, and confident in your vision.

You don’t want to feel totally shackled by pessimism or the biased views of other people.

For example, would you really want to wholeheartedly believe that you have a 10% chance of success? That (lack of) belief alone reduces your chances. After all, you’re unlikely to take the plunge if you think you have a 90% chance of failure.

Selectively discarding information that hinders your vision is healthy in my eyes.

5. Remember that You Don’t Have To be The Best

We live in a world where a TV personality is the President of the United States, and Nicholas Cage is an Oscar Winning actor. That’s sufficient evidence, beyond any doubt, that just about anyone can make it.

A successful business idea is not dictated by who’s the best at something. It’s who dares to take part while others lack belief and impetus. It’s who differentiates their approach while others aren’t single-minded enough to do so themselves.

Conclusion — Different Is Better Than Better

If you’re praying for a new million dollar business idea to come down and strike you from the heavens, then you could be waiting around a long time. Perhaps, instead, focus on what you can do to bring something different to an industry.

Set Realistic Targets

Most business opportunities exist because something hasn’t been done already, hasn’t been done well enough — or hasn’t yet been done with a unique spin.

With that in mind, i’d personally avoid trying to replicate any business that’s:

  • Currently selling products/services on an enormous scale, where margins are tough to compete against
  • Leading the market, and has the resources to fend away competition
  • Highly reputable, meaning customers are unlikely to go elsewhere
  • Cornered various sales channels, making it difficult to find fertile ground.

Your business idea doesn’t have to be ground breaking; you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. To succeed, you may only need to come up with something slightly different to what exists already — because being different is often enough.

Making Your Business ‘Different’

Originality, in some way or another, is vital. So how might your business be different to competitors?

  • Improved product. This is the big one. If you improve a product/service, and help to solve a problem in the industry, then you’ve carved the perfect opportunity to take the upper hand.
  • Better branding. Some brands are off-key, to say the least. If you create a competing brand that strikes the right chord, then that alone could be your differentiator.
  • More accessibility. Products and services are sold in certain places (e.g. a private website, Amazon/eBay/Etsy, a physical shop, specific countries, etc.). If you’re able to find an untapped marketplace, then that could leave you with an open goal. Plus you’ll be first to the punch there.
  • Alternative marketing methods. If you believe that some marketing techniques are over-used, and you determine more innovative ways to generate sales, then you can capture a share of the market.

Competing on price helps — but be aware that your competitors could have bigger margins than you. If they drop their price, your model is finished. That’s one more reason to create a unique product, where you can justify keeping the price high.

So think to yourself: is there a missed opportunity in an industry you know about? What can you add?

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