A Simple Way to Search For Your First Business Ideas

(This post is the fourth in a series covering the eight stages of solopreneurship.)  

The entrepreneur is essentially a visualizer and actualizer. He can visualize something, and when he visualizes it he sees exactly how to make it happen. — Robert L. Schwartz

 I meet solopreneurs every day who have found a business idea.  Most of the time their inspiration came from their daily personal experiences.   In this post, I’ll describe a simple way solopreneurs find business ideas that you can try on your own.

Making Ideas Visible

 Recall in the last post that I talked about the challenges solopreneurs encounters looking for business ideas.  The main obstacle is that they do not know what a business idea represents, giving them no way to look for one. 

  One way to address this challenge is to represent business ideas as value exchanges.   If you have found a solution to a problem, others may be willing to pay you to solve theirs too.  Once we have a sense of the type of conditions we are looking for, the next step is to try to find situations where value exchanges might be possible.

Finding The Missing Piece

  As I mentioned above, the inspiration for most solopreneur ideas come from their daily experiences.  When I listen to their descriptions of what triggered their idea, they had encountered a problem situation and imagined a better way to deal with it.  Sounds simple, right? 

  Not quite.  A challenge to seeing a given situation in a different way is that we create habits and routines, so we don’t have to think about the situation at all. Habits and routines work to economize our mental energy and make surviving easier.   When we want to look for business ideas, we need to switch off the autopilot and work to find a fresh perspective. 

  Here is an example of what I mean.  I love to make fires in my fireplace in the winter. The feeling of wood heat is better than electric or gas in my experience. This particular type of fireplace that I own can get extremely hot and on one day I burned my hand touching one of the knobs on the door.  Frustrated, I imagined a circular patch that I had seen at the supermarket the turns blue when it’s freezing outside.   Why couldn’t there be something similar, alerting me that the door on the fireplace is hot?  Within a few seconds, I had imagined an idea for a product.  

  Sound familiar?

 Here are a few more examples of frustrations leading to business ideas.  Look closely at the stories about Marcus Simpson and Anthony Lau. Notice how each of them describe their personal experiences and how they solved a problem that they each understood. In each case, they perceived a situation that left something to be desired.  They used their imagination to fill in the missing piece.  As it turned out, that missing piece (their solution to the problem) was desired by others as well. This is the same kind of the thinking that started Strapworks in the previous blog post.  

 And therein lies a simple way to find business ideas: 

1.    Be alert to problematic situations

2.    Identify what is needed to improve the situation

3.    Imagine the missing piece as a product or service.

What Should Be There?

 I encourage solopreneurs looking for business ideas to begin noticing situations where problems come up in the personal or work life.  The goal of the exercise is to begin to train their mind to see what should be there to improve the situation and use their imagination to create the missing product or service. 

 Think about some of the activities you did today.  In what circumstances did you find yourself frustrated?  Did you imagine a fix? Did you wish that someone would invent the solution to that? What didn’t work and why?  What was missing that would have improved the situation?  

 Find a way of looking at everyday experiences with fresh eyes.  Having a few questions in the back of your mind can help you to do this. 

•    What happened today that should not have happened?

•    How could you prevent it from happening again?

•    What products or services did you use today?  

•    Did it take a long time to find or receive the product or service what you wanted?

•    What other ways could you have solved the problem? 

•    How good of a solution was the problem or service you used today?  How could you improve it?

•    What alternative actions could you have taken in this situation?

•    How are others addressing the situation?

•    What problems did your family or friends tell you about today that you could imagine a better outcome? What should they have been doing?

A Few Tips

 First, strive to write down both your insights and your imagined solutions.  New ways of seeing things are fragile and forgotten quickly. Writing them down can help you to preserve your knowledge of situations and related ideas that otherwise might disappear.

 Second, don’t judge your ideas.  Finding the missing piece requires creativity and nothing can kill your creativity faster than criticism.  While you are training yourself to look for the missing piece, suspend any judgment on your ideas.  It doesn’t matter if someone else has already thought of that or not.  Just write them down.  

 Third, treat this as a skill you are developing that can be remarkably valuable of your life.  One of my favorite insights into this skill can come from a master entrepreneur himself, Steve Jobs.  Check it out!

 “You can build your own things that other people can use.”  Think about that.  

Test Your Business Idea

 Once the flow of business Ideas begins, we are met with our next challenge:  What do we do with them?   Many solopreneurs will latch on to the first seemingly good idea they find and immediately try starting a business with it.  Others may let the idea stir in their imagination for years, but never take action on it.  These are pitfalls that must be avoided. 

 Once you have a business idea that you see potential as a value exchange, you must test your idea.  This will be the subject of the next blog post in this series.

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