When I first started trying to come up with ideas for creating a business, I was really, really scared.
I had spent the previous months reading books and blogs, talking with successful entrepreneurs, and doing everything I could to feel like I was “prepared” to start a business.
But then in January I made a public commitment on Facebook, clearly stating that I would create a business this year, and that’s when things got real.
I was terrified.
Three months later, I realize that I was right to be scared.
Coming up with good business ideas that have real money making potential is often one of the hardest parts of getting started.
You need to find an idea that solves a problem for a group of people, that is significant enough that people will pay you for a solution, and is something you care about (at least a little) if you’re going to stick with it long-term.
And you have to be careful when getting feedback along the way.
Your friends and family might be well-intentioned, but if they’re not in the target market related to your idea then they likely don’t understand why someone would pay for it.
The good news is that this fear goes away after awhile.
After generating hundreds of ideas, filtering out countless bad ones, and making plenty of mistakes along the way, I’ve uncovered a few tips that I’d recommend to any entrepreneur looking to up their idea generation game.
Here are some of these hard-learned lessons for generating new business ideas.
How to Generate New Business Ideas From Scratch
1) Create a list of your strengths, skills, and interests
As the owner of your business, you’re going to be your company’s #1 supporter, promoter, fan, salesperson and evangelist.
By starting with what you’re good at, you may find something that would be easier for you to commercialize and work hard on.
Whatever idea you end up running with will require serious commitment and effort on your part, so an idea that is aligned with your strengths, skills, or interests will make it easier to keep pushing forward even when the going gets tough (which is inevitable).
Think about hobbies, activities, passions… what do you do for fun?
If you are employed, what skills do you use for your job?
Try to translate your activities into skills.
Surfing Reddit isn’t a skill, but the ability to consistently find engaging content that you know will get a good response on Reddit is.
2) Reach out to friends and family to get their perspective
Even the best entrepreneurs get stuck when thinking of new ideas.
You list out a handful of things you think you’re good at and then… nothing.
It’s easy to miss potential strengths and skills when you’re living them day-in, day-out.
But your friends and family don’t have that problem.
They’re focused on their lives 99% of the time, so when something you do stands out, it gets remembered.
That thing you did (helping them correct their yoga posture) could have been easily lost in your memory since it’s not an isolated incident for you (you’ve helped multiple people this way) or because you do a variety of things and this one thing got lost in the mix.
Send an email to friends and family members with something like the following:
I’m working on creating a business and I could really use your help. Right now I’m exploring my strengths and trying to identify knowledge and experiences that I have that others might benefit from.
If you would take just a couple minutes, I’d really appreciate your thoughts on the following:
- What skills do I have?
- What knowledge do I possess?
- What challenges have I overcome?
I’d really appreciate any feedback you have.
Thanks in advance,
As you begin to collect responses, put them in a Google doc or spreadsheet and tally up related pieces of feedback to seek out a pattern in the data.
3) Search Craigslist to see what services people will pay for
There’s a great deal of information readily available online that shows customer demand for various products and services, you just need to go find it.
Craigslist is the go-to marketplace for many goods and services, and what’s more, it allows the buyer (the person who might end up being your customer one day) to post a request for a particular service.
Go to Craigslist and click on the “wanted” link under the “for sale” section. Here you’ll find a plethora of desired products.
This can be overwhelming at first glance, but you don’t need to analyze every single post. Just skim through to get a sense of the types of products desired.
It’s also worth checking out the “services” section to see what services people are trying to sell.
You might find you have skills that could be translated into similar services. Don’t worry about competition at this time, just focus on getting as many ideas as possible.
Don’t forget to check out my personal favorite, the “gigs” area of Craigslist. There are tons of gigs offered that require all different types of skill sets.
Again, look for patterns. If you keep finding the same type of gig being offered, you might have uncovered an unmet demand in the market.
4) Use Google’s “related searches” to get new ideas around a topic
Take one of your existing ideas (for example, I put in “debt”) and search for it on Google.
Ignore the results for now and scroll to the bottom of the screen.
In the picture above, you can see that while my search query was “debt”.
Google has revealed a number of related topics that I might consider besides my search term.
Apparently people are searching for debt consolidation and debt settlement in addition to simply wanting to “get out of debt.”
You can use this approach with all of your existing ideas to see if there are adjacent or similar topics that you might want to focus on instead.
5) Start writing down every frustration, problem, and inconvenience you encounter
This is by far the hardest step out of the five we’re talking about today.
To effectively do this, you’ll need to take a step back from your day to day life to uncover frustrations that might lead to a new product or service.
Unfortunately, you are living your life.
It’s not easy to objectively observe your every day interactions and activities and it’ll take time to get accustomed to this new mindset.
You can start by creating a note on your phone (or even using a small physical notepad if you prefer) for collecting notes as you go about your daily life.
Every time you encounter something that causes you pain, frustration, anguish, disappointment – any unpleasant experience really – add it to your list.
I keep all of the ideas I generate in a Trello board and I use the Trello app for quickly adding new notes on the go.
Here are some of mine.
See my post on use case entrepreneurship for more info on how to uncover problems in daily life.
As you generate new business ideas, I recommend you don’t censure yourself in any way.
For now just focus on brainstorming new ideas.
You can narrow them down later, but for your sanity and the sake of your (potentially great) ideas, let the narrowing process be a separate one.
Generating ideas engages the creative parts of your brain and by trying to edit or censure yourself now you’ll stem the flow and short-circuit the whole process.
How do you generate new business ideas?