15 Ways To Find The Next Winning Business Idea

In the last post I talked about what makes a great, profitable idea: for you. Now let’s talk about how to actually find that idea. I’ll also follow this up with how to get inspiration for your ideas. Even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body, that’s fine-read on.

1. Take an existing business model and introduce it in a new location or industry. Instead of coming up with a brand new idea, why not take something that already works and implement it somewhere else? One American entrepreneur I talked to recently introduced the “agency” method of finding and managing professional baseball players to Japan. Before him, a large barrier separated talented players and professional ball clubs. Without inventing anything new, he took a successful business model and implemented it in Japan.

2. Take an existing idea to a related market. Likewise, you can take something that works in one market and introduce it to another.

3. Make an improvement to an existing product. You’re a consumer and have the opportunity to try all sorts of new products. See if you can make them better for yourself or others. Often a good resource for this is looking at customer reviews on such sites as Amazon.com. A useful tip: often times, simply making a better product is not the answer-try to see if you can make a cheaper product with less features to satisfy demand from a customer base that isn’t willing to spend as much and doesn’t need a top quality product (big companies often overlook this area). Read The Innovator’s Dilemma for more detail on this topic.

4. Create a brand new solution to a pain point in an industry. People love to complain. Go to forum boards in your business area of interest, read blog comments, and peruse Amazon.com product reviews. Listen to what people hate and develop a solution to their problems.

5. Pay attention to new trends. Don’t try to create something really cool that no one cares about. Go to where the buzz is and you’ll likely land more customers and investors. “Green technology,” “social networking,” “cloud computing…”- these are the areas that are growing the fastest and the companies within these industries need new solutions to their problems as they grow- just pay attention.

6. Figure out what the government is throwing money at. Governments (at least in the U.S. and Europe) are notorious for throwing away money at concepts they deem important but have no clue about (“climate change mitigation, anyone?”). All it takes is reading the newspaper to find out what kind of hot issues are prevailing so that you can find your niche.

7. Take something existing and put your own spin on it. What does Southwest Airlines do that U.S. Airways can’t? Nothing. If it weren’t for slight differences in service, airlines would be as similar and commoditized as coal. But Southwest chose to brand themselves as an airline that cared about customers, could make their lives less stressful by targeting less congested airports, and allowed them to choose their own seats. If they didn’t do this, they would be competing on price alone, and as a small entrant, they would get smashed by the big airlines.

8. Find out how to do something cheaper. If you can convince a CEO that her company’s spending $X thousand per month on a certain service but you can do the same thing for 50% of that with the same level of quality or better, you’ve got a business.

9. Talk to professors and read academic research on hot topics. Academics are infamous for coming up with brilliant ideas without recognizing or having the time to implement them into practical solutions. Visit some labs and interview some experts on an area of interest to you. Universities are often more than happy to supply you with the people you need to make the business happen (lawyers, VCs, experts).

10. Hobbies and passions. Need I say more? If you enjoy something enough, you probably know exactly what fellow hobbyists want.

11. Buy a business in an area of your expertise/passions. If you want to be in business but can’t come up with an idea, why not acquire an existing business in your area of expertise? You would presumably invest in something that is already proven and generating a cash flow. This offers a few benefits: it teaches you quickly how to operate one (although I would recommend having an industry mentor along the way) and it’s easier to finance because lending banks feel secure that it’s already proven.

12. Find untapped distribution networks. Distribution networks are ways for a company to get its products to its customers. A restaurant, for example, is a way for a wine company to distribute its bottles to paying customers. If you find distribution networks that may be good avenues for a product, however the product isn’t there, you may have found an opportunity to distribute a similar product, especially if demand is high.

13. Identify lazy incumbents. Incumbents are large companies that have sustaining, rather than accelerated growth in a market. Although they seem to set up insurmountable barriers to entry, their large size makes them inflexible and often lazy. They may forgo many new technologies, ignore customers, sacrifice quality, or be slow to capture social and fashion trends. If you can catch on faster and satisfy your customers’ hunger, you win.

14. Identify an existing idea/business that could use better branding, content, or service. It’s a sad thing that many great ideas die because people don’t like them or simply don’t get the opportunity to see them. If your talent is in branding products and making them more attractive, undervalued opportunities abound.

15. Add value to a process. A furniture manufacturer could use the help of a sawmill to take the chopped wood from lumberjacks and turn it into chairs and tables. Sure it could grow and cut its own trees and save money, but they may be better off paying a slight premium for the wood from the sawmill so that it can focus on what it does best-making furniture. Think about ways that you can add value in an industry’s value chain.

Inspiration for your idea

So these are some initial types of ideas, but you may want to brainstorm and drill down to what’s right for you. For that you’re going to need to be in the right state-one that gets you inspired and feeling creative. When are you at your most creative state? I want you to think about what type of setting you need to be in to have positive thought. Is it having water run down your back in a shower? Or are you like me and need the rumbling white-noise in a transatlantic flight to free your mind? Here are some more things/environments that may motivate you and allow the free flow of ideas: reading business books or autobiographies of successful entrepreneurs, brainstorming with other MBAs or entrepreneurs, attending conferences/seminars, taking baths, skiing, driving, free writing, drawing…and the list goes on. Good luck and get inspired!

Business Ideas and How to Manufacture Them

You can not underestimate the importance of a solid business idea when you are starting out in the world of enterprise. The core business concept is the building blocks upon which all else stands, and as such must be solid and carefully constructed. Sometimes incredible ideas just arrive, seemingly by accident; what many people don’t realize is that effective ideas can actually be manufactured by anybody who knows how.

One way to find an excellent business idea is simply to adapt one that is already out there. There are countless products out there that are selling relatively well and yet can still be improved upon in a number ways. Taking this approach to the idea creation process has an inherent advantage in the fact that you already know there is a demand for this sort of product… it takes a large proportion of the guess work out of starting your business.

By overcoming the weaknesses of an existing product (for example, by making it faster or smaller) you are not only coming up with a viable idea for your enterprise, but you are also guaranteeing it a competitive advantage. This is how people create business ideas that are not only coherent but also incredibly profitable.

A different, but equally effective approach to developing your ideas, is to start by researching problems faced by the everyday consumer. If you take a problem-oriented approach to crafting your business idea, you not only increase your scope of creativity but you also improve the chances that your idea will actually be saleable. This is because when customer buy a product or service from you, what they are really buying is the perceived benefit of having that product or service. For example, when someone buys a haircut they are buying the feeling of being attractive; when someone buys an office computer, they are buying increased productivity.

If you begin the process by brainstorming problems, an interesting thing occurs – by solving any of these problems you will be providing a massive benefit. The problem with land telephones is that have to remain stationary… when this problem was solved with the invention of the cellular phone, a benefit was created simultaneously. Everyone knew that the cell phone would sell because the benefit of NOT having to remain stationary was so apparent. If you start with by finding a problem you think you can solve, your business idea could emulate the success of the cellular phone.

Another approach to generating business ideas is to start by listing your areas of interest. You hobbies are a great source of inspiration – if you take the problem-first approach discussed earlier, then you can identify situations that would make your area of interest more fun or easier. For example, if you are a keen swimmer, you may find chlorine in your eyes to be annoying… an excellent idea to pursue would be the development of contact lens that protect the eyes from chlorine.

If you develop ideas that are closely linked to your personal interests, you are automatically meeting two of the requirements of a successful business concept. For starters, it is something that you are probably quite knowledgeable about. This means that you can make intuitive decisions with far less chance of being mistaken. Secondly, it will probably be something that you are passionate about. The passion of the entrepreneur is the number one factor that separates successful enterprises from failures.

The inspiration behind your business is the foundations upon which it is built and the fuel that will propel it to the forefront of your industry. Put on your creativity hat and generate some wealth-building business ideas today!

How Are You Filling Your Idea Pipeline?

I’ve just been reading a terrific new book called High-Profit Prospecting by my friend and colleague Mark Hunter. Mark is a consummate sales professional, and his book is about how to keep your sales pipeline full so that you never run out of valuable prospects.

I’m not a sales professional, but I am an idea professional. And, just like I think it’s vital for people in the sales business to keep their sales pipelines full, I think it’s equally vital for people in the idea business to keep their idea pipelines full.

By the way, as a leader, you are in the idea business.

In his book, Mark talks about the importance of not leaving prospecting to chance, not just waiting (and hoping) for prospects to fall into the pipeline. He says that a true sales professional should have weekly (preferably daily) dedicated prospecting time scheduled on the calendar. Because keeping the pipeline full is that important.

Likewise, leaders should schedule time weekly (preferably daily) to fill their idea pipeline. Because it’s that important.

So, how do you do this? Through four primary sources.

1. What you read.

There’s a reason why Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk read voraciously. They understand the value of keeping their mental pipeline full of new ideas.

“But I’m too busy to read, Bill.”

Really? Busier than Bill Gates? Because he’s pretty busy. And pretty rich. And he reads 50 books a year. I don’t think these are unrelated. So, I’m sorry-what’s your excuse again?

Schedule time to read. Every day, if possible. (And it is possible.) I’m not talking about Grisham and Patterson. They’re fine for the beach. Read about ideas. Read about things you don’t already know.

2. What you listen to.

To those of you who have horrendous commutes, congratulations! You’ve got a great opportunity to fill your idea pipeline! Instead of listening to the news (depressing), or the generic pop music station (mindless), why not try out one of the literally hundreds of great podcasts available? My guess is that there are at least a few podcasts out there for your particular field. Or, try one of my favorites, the TED Radio Hour podcast.

3. What you watch.

Although this probably won’t help you with your commute, there’s plenty to watch online-and some of it doesn’t involve kittens. For example, in addition to listening to the TED Radio Hour podcast, you can watch actual TED Talks Or, if you want something more in-depth and academic, Stanford University (among others) puts many of their courses online, absolutely free.

4. Who you meet.

I’ve saved the best for last. There are actual people out there, freely roaming the earth, who have knowledge, experiences, and ideas that you don’t have. They can be found in your town, in your workplace, sitting next to you on the plane or train. But here’s the caveat: if you only hang out with the same people you always hang out with, you’ll never meet these others. And that’s to your detriment, as a leader, and as a human being.

So fill your pipeline! Feed your brain continuously with new ideas. It’s the highest profit prospecting you can do.

Do You Need A Business Plan If Your Idea Is New, Untested, or Unproven?

Who Should Read This Article?

Anyone nursing a new (especially untested and unproven) – idea for a business, and/or who is at a loss as to whether or not it will be beneficial to undertake a formal business plan preparation process. The ideas presented in this article are just that – ideas. You are expected — and strongly encouraged – to apply your discretion in assessing their usefulness or relevance to your situation.

“Market research does not work. One cannot do market research on something that does not exist.” – Peter Drucker

Entrepreneurs are often dreamers

They are typically people who start businesses in new areas, that previously did not exist. Their ideas can therefore sometimes be met with resistance especially from people called “experts” who are famous for challenging the practicality or logic (from the expert’s perspectives) of any new, unproven or unusual idea.

Business Plans Versus New/Uncharted Markets

Most of us have heard or read about the importance of going through the motions of preparing business plans before starting a new business. However, what few people take note of is the fact that some of those who have succeeded in business did not have business plans when they started their FIRST businesses – even though, they probably never intended for it to be so.

This is especially true for those entrepreneurs who had to enter an uncharted market i.e. who set out to do what had not been done before. Their new product or service could therefore not be compared with any known standard, since nothing like it existed at the time. If that sounds anything like the kind of business idea you have in mind as a first-time startup, you may have to contend with at least two challenges.

Two Challenges:

1. A business plan might not be as good an instrument to convince your potential investors(banks, venture capitalists etc), as the personal conviction, enthusiasm, charisma and passion you demonstrate for what you want to do! For instance, the “experts” among them, who the rest might look up to for assessment of the viability of your proposed venture, may not reckon with your idea if it is new or unusual. David Sarnoff certainly would have understood this point!

Sarnoff, who invented the radio, had to endure what must have been heart-breaking rejection from those he approached to invest in it’s production. Among other things they could not see THE radio(!) as commercially viable, arguing that no one would pay to have a message sent to no specific recipient!

If only they could see us use that same radio now! 🙂 Sarnoff’s associates could not – at the time – see what he was seeing! And that’s what a first-time startup with a new idea needs to keep in mind. People may not see what you see – at first. That will not mean you are wrong, and they are right – no matter how many they are! If it was so obvious in the first place, you probably would not have been the first to discover it!

2. You might just find that the market is not exactly ready for what you have – even if the idea is quite sound. Again it would be up to you, to “create the demand” for your new product or service idea in the market.

For instance, incredible as it might sound, the telephone that is such an essential requirement for our existence today, was described as having “too many shortcomings to be considered as a means of communication” in a Western Union Internal Memo.The memo concluded that the telephone was of no value to the organisation. But that was way back in 1876! We all know that no business that desires to succeed today will operate without a telephone number.

It’s all about vision. Entrepreneurs are people who apply their creative thinking skills to explore what can be, instead of dwelling on what is, as most others do. That tends to make them see far beyond what people around them can – sometimes causing them problems with others. I believe it was Robert Schuller who said “If you want to be a pace setting thinker, you can expect problems with people – especially those trapped by tradition.” A first-time startup with an unproven business idea is most likely to experience this.

“If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”
– Anatole France

Two Case Studies

Below is a description of two first-time startups who were so closely driven by their circumstances, that they could find no use for a business plan in starting up what eventually turned out to be successful ground-breaking ventures.

a). Henry Ford’s “Horseless Carriage”

When Henry Ford conceived the idea of a “horseless carriage”, people told him pointedly it would not work. Those capable of providing the money for production of the automobile refused to even consider it a commercial possibility for one moment! A business plan would have done Ford little good back then! So he and his wife put all their savings together and went ahead alone. But think for a minute – AFTER Ford had succeeded with the automobile, how the same people would have reacted if he had offered them a business plan for a similar kind of notion? By then, he would no longer be a first time startup, nor would his idea be new or unproven!

b).The Train Chartering Company

Simon Pielow (Founder, the Train Chartering Company, USA) didn’t use a business plan when he started off. In a report published at Allbusiness.com he admitted that his decision to proceed without a formal plan was probably not a wise one. However, as the report writer rightly observed, Pielow had no choice but to do this because he was breaking new ground, and had nothing to work with in the way of existing competitors, models or market analysis.

Pielow himself added that he believed a business plan becomes critical to starting up a business when you’re in a competitive market in which many people are offering products or services similar to what you intend to offer. He ended the interview on a humorous note by saying that had he chosen to do a formal plan, he would probably have been too scared to go ahead, and as such never have achieved the success he eventually did!(Good one to keep in mind, this).

Crucial Considerations For A First Time Startup With A New Business Idea

Bill Byrne in his book “111 Proven Strategies That Will Change The Way You Do Business Forever” explains that if you have a business idea that may be ahead of it’s time, you might have to consider these issues:

1. Can you time your entry into the marketplace perfectly to ensure success?

2. If not, would it be better for you to start up too early or too late?

You need to give these queries deep thought, and possibly engage a trusted associate with genuine understanding of, and empathy for your unproven business idea, to help you through the process. Byrne’s queries are based on the need for a person with a business idea that is ahead of it’s time to increase her chances of success by tempering the aggressive drive to enter into the market, with realism of the dangers inherent in arriving there too early – or earlier than others.

“Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.” — Bertrand Russell

What You Can Do

1. Be Patient and Painstaking:

Take your time to develop and refine your concept or idea to the point you can be certain it will work as you intend to tell your target audience it will. This warning should be particularly instructive if you do not have the capital to :

a. recover quickly and fully enough if anything goes wrong after you enter the market(because you failed to correct any outstanding defects or problems).

b. wait for the market to build up adequate demand for your product or service, to keep you going till you break even or start recording profits.

If you fail to manage this properly, you could suffer fatal setbacks from lack of sustained initial patronage. What could then happen is that others, learning from your mistakes, would polish up your idea and re-present it to the same market, which, by your pioneering efforts have become more receptive, and THEY would have a “profits-fest”!

2. Use Intelligent Niched Marketing:

You will need a well conceived niched marketing campaign, taking advantage of today’s powerful yet highly cost-effective business marketing tools(automated email and website marketing/surveys etc) and strategies, in order to maximise the chances of success while minimising operating expenses.

3. Don’t let experts “confuse” or “scare” you!

Cynthia Kersey(Author of “UNSTOPPABLE: 45 Powerful Stories of Perseverance and Triumph from People Just Like You”), described experts as having an “ego investment” in the very thing that they are considered “expert”. Note that an expert could even be someone who once had to struggle – in the past – to secure marketplace acceptance(for what was then an unproven idea), and is now successful, plus a respected authority in his/her field. The irony is however that such a person may not always maintain an entrepreneurial mode of thinking or could develop what I call an “expert’s mindset”. A good example of this is probably seen in the quote below:

“640K ought to be enough for anybody” – Bill Gates, 1981

4. Draw Courage From Your Convictions!

Each of us probably has a tendency to become an “expert ” in one-way or the other. The best way to guard against falling into this mindset is to always ask “Why not?” when confronted with the possibility, or suggestion, of a new idea or new way of doing things. For the new idea start-up, you will need to keep in mind that others who were told by “experts” that their business ideas had no merit, drew courage from their convictions and forged ahead in the face of great discouragement/rejection, and suffering. In the end, they proved the “experts” wrong and got more people to believe in their dreams.

You can do the same – even if you do not have a business plan. I know this because I passed through the same road in starting up my own business as a Multipreneur in a society where it was frowned on.

Final Word: Note that I have NOT said business plans are unnecessary – only that they may not always be relevant to a startup’s needs, in which case their absence would not be a fatal handicap.