You want to start a business, to gain that independence that comes with being your own boss. Maybe you want to be able to set your own hours and want the sky to truly be your limit, or maybe you’re simply sick of your coworkers. Regardless of your reason why, you’re here.
You see successful businesses everywhere and find yourself wondering how you can be like them. But there’s one problem: you don’t know what kind of business you want to start.
If you want to start a business but you have no ideas, then you’re in the right place. In this article, I’m not just going to hand you a list of business ideas (although we’ll point you toward some great resources for some if you stick around til the end) – I’m going to equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to come up with them on your own.
Let’s get started.
Things NOT Required For Starting a Business With No Ideas
Misconceptions about what makes a great business idea
There are some misconceptions about entrepreneurship and owning a business, and I want to straighten them out right now. Here are 3 things that you actually DON’T need in order to come up with a great business idea:
1. Grand Inspiration
Creativity is a great skill, and there are many benefits to having an active imagination capable of developing new ideas. But you don’t have to wait around for that magical spark of inspiration in order to come up with a business idea. There are other factors that go into business-building.
For example, a custom print shop is not a new business idea, but there may be many areas where there isn’t one around for several miles. Or, maybe there is a print shop in the area, but they can’t keep up with demand or they only provide clothing when there’s a need for signs and stickers.
To reiterate, you don’t have to be creative, or even innovative. You don’t even have to come up with something new!
2. The Unknown
If you want to start a business, you don’t have to venture into the unknown. You can start up without taking risks. In other words, your ideas don’t have to be big.
You don’t have to be ready to buy a giant building and hire 20 people on Day 1. You can start simple, keep your current job, and not invest your life savings into a business that may or may not work out.
For example, a business idea such as dog walking requires ~maybe~ $50 for buying leashes, doggie bags, and treats (assuming you don’t already own these things). No risk required! This method of spending as little as possible to startup is what we call bootstrapping.
A good rule of thumb to stick with is to never spend more than $5,000 to start up. That gives some wiggle room but keeps investments at a reasonable amount.
In a perfect world, we would all do what we’re passionate about for a living. But oftentimes, the reality is that our passions aren’t the thing that will make us money. I’m passionate about woodworking, but because I didn’t pick it up until later in life, my skills aren’t good enough to make a living doing it full-time. Instead, my businesses are what allow me to afford to maintain my hobby.
Many believe that because they’re not passionate about the business idea they have, they shouldn’t pursue it. But you can start a junk removal business for example, not be passionate about cleaning up other people’s messes, and still have a successful business! Your passion for wanting a successful startup is absolutely enough.
Where to Put Your Focus if You Want to Start a Business but Have No Ideas
Now that you know what you DON’T need to worry about when coming up with business ideas, I’m going to tell you what you SHOULD do.
The answer if you want to start a business but have no ideas is simple – focus on solving problems.
The core ingredient to every successful business is that they solve some sort of problem. They make life easier in some way. Think of some of the most popular companies and see if you can identify the problems they solve. The Apple iPhone makes communication fast, easy, and intuitive. Mcdonald’s makes meals cheap and available for on-the-go. Google makes information easily accessible. See what other ones you can list.
Now it’s your turn to identify problems. If you follow these 5 steps below, you’ll have so many great business ideas that you won’t know which one to start with first.
As you go about your day, take note of any problems you run across. It can be anything. Maybe you notice that the line at the bagel shop is really long, or someone is falling asleep during a business meeting. There are no wrong observations here.
See if there are any problems you experience throughout the day. This is similar to step one, except more personal to you. Perhaps your legs are sore after yesterday’s workout, or you forgot to pack your lunch.
3. Write it Down
As you notice problems around you and affecting you, write them down. Continue observing and experiencing until you have a list of at least 100 problems. This will go by much faster than you think!
4. Pare it Down
Once you have your list, go through it and circle the problems that you can actually fix with a new business. For example, if one of the problems listed is someone tripping over their shoelaces, it may be hard to start a new shoe business that features a velcro-only shoe concept. But if you wrote down that windows were dirty and hard to see out of, there’s a great opportunity for a window-washing business!
Narrow down your list to just 5 or 10 things, choosing ones that you can do and would be most interested in.
Next, determine the ways in which you can solve the problems that you’ve circled. There’s always more than one solution, but some may be better than others.
For example, let’s say you noticed that your friend is struggling because he recently became a stay-at-home dad and doesn’t know a thing about preparing meals.
There are a lot of ways that a new business could solve this problem. For example, you could write a cookbook tailored to his particular demographic, develop a meal delivery service targeted toward families, create an online cooking class, or even design a subscription-based meal-planning app. I’m sure there are even more ideas out there, but these are just a few.
So, write down business ideas for solving the problems that you’ve circled.
How to Know if You Have a Great Business Idea
It’s true that some business ideas are certainly better than others. Here are a few ways you can test whether you have a great business idea on your hands.
Can You Make a Profit With It?
This one seems obvious, yet it’s also the main reason why most businesses fail. You have to take into consideration your expenses and how much you’ll be bringing in after all costs are accounted for. In other words, you need to make sure you know your net profit in comparison with your gross profit. This comparison will give you your profit margin.
Some business models can get by selling at cheap rates, but they rely on selling a lot in order to really turn a profit. Others do the opposite and sell at an expensive price, but don’t make sales very often. But the most profitable businesses are those that can sell for a large amount of money, and at a high quantity. The higher your sale price and your quantity, the better your business will do.
Can You Bootstrap It?
If your business idea requires a big investment upfront, then it’s a high-risk decision and has more potential to fail. Instead, see if you can modify your idea so that you only have to spend $5,000 or less.
Can You Walk Away From It?
When deciding to start a business, you should think about the long-term game, not just the short-term. How involved do you want to be with the day-to-day? What is your ideal situation in how the business will be run 1, 5, and 10 years from now? Will you spend all of your time running the business or do you want to be able to take your hands off of it and still be bringing in a profit?
Most want to be able to eventually walk away, either selling the business for a hefty sum of money or leaving it to generate revenue essentially on its own. The planning required to build up to this is called your exit strategy.
Some business models are more designed for this, whereas with others, it’s practically impossible. If you want to eventually walk away or be more hands-off, then make sure your business idea gives you room to be able to do so.
Remember, you don’t have to be creative, risk-taking, or passionate about a business idea to develop a good one. Instead, you need to focus on solving problems. A solution to a problem that gives you the most profit, doesn’t require a lot of upfront costs, and can be self-sufficient is the ideal business idea.
If you want to start a business and you’ve made it this far but still have no ideas, you can check out some of our additional blogs below for inspiration: