So you want to start a business, but don’t know what kind? Sure, you can get a list of franchises or ask the experts what are good businesses to start. That works for some people. Lists of businesses to start are easy to find. My advice, however, is don’t look for a list of good businesses. Don’t ask what the big opportunities are. Get a clue. Go look in the mirror. And as you look in that mirror, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I like to do? How am I different? What is there about me that sets me apart? What excites me? What am I good at?
- What do I like to do that other people (or companies) want to have done? What do I like to do that people will pay for? What do I like to do that I do better or differently from others who do it?
- What value can I add? What’s missing? How can I do something better than what’s now available? What can I see about the future that others can’t see?
- Where can I give value that isn’t there right now?
I’m down on lists because I don’t see the startup process as beginning with some idea that’s on a list, followed by research and putting together a team and developing a plan and starting a business. Instead, I see most good businesses starting with something that the founders believe in, something that they think ought to be done or ought to exist, something that excites them or intrigues them, all of that followed by planning and building a business to make it happen.
Here’s how it goes: you develop the original business plan to establish that your idea is an opportunity. Ideas are a dime a dozen, commonplace, and without any essential value. Opportunities are a subset of ideas. The planning process separates the opportunities from the ideas.
The heart of the business is that trio of identity, market, and focus. A lot of that is about you and what you want to do and what you can do better. And if building the business, I hope you fall in love with the business first. I hope you recognize the need and see how you can fill it. And, I hope you like the vision, know that you want to do it, and discover that you’re excited by it.
Do something you want to do and believe in. That restaurant you’ve always dreamed of, or skiing equipment, or a newsletter … success isn’t based on the idea, it is based on how hard you work at it, how much value you deliver. When somebody close to me wanted to start a graphic arts business, I didn’t say ‘no, don’t, there are a million of them.’ Instead, I said their success would depend on getting customers, providing value, and, in short, working hard.
In the Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki offers a list of ways to generate new business ideas. If nothing else, read his first chapter. Guy talks about getting going, about ideas being generated by impulses like “I want one” and “I can do this better” or “my employer wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do this.” There too, it doesn’t come out of the blue, it starts with you.
To be fair, there are exceptions. Franchise businesses, for example, when they work, are a business formula you pay for and implement, guided and taken by the hand every step of the way. Being a McDonald’s franchisee means you’re a millionaire, it doesn’t mean you like eating or preparing what McDonald’s restaurants serve. You buy a business to run. They tell you how to run it. If it isn’t a set formula and if they don’t give you all you need to know, then it’s a bad deal.
Thanks for asking.
(Note: I posted this on Up and Running several years ago. It’s as valid now as it ever was.)