last updated 24/05/2022

How to come up with a business idea

Coming up with a business idea can take a lot of time and focus or it could come to you easy at the time when you least expect it. Let’s talk about how you can put yourself in the best position to have these ideas come rushing to you.

The mind is a wonderful thing – if you give it a task, it will work away at it even when you are not paying conscious attention to the matter.

If you need to come up with a business idea, the first step is to be actively conscious of it all the time: when you go grocery shopping, when you’re out for a walk, at the bar, in a friend’s backyard, on holiday, in the doctor’s rooms.

No matter where you are, or planning to be, tell your brain its job is to be on the lookout for a business idea. Sooner or later, something will pop into your head. Probably when you least expect it.

Now that you have laid the groundwork, here are some methods others have used to come up with a business ideas

  1. Look at what frustrates you

The great thing about this approach is that the seeds for your success lie in your frustration, since chances are pretty good that others are experiencing the same frustration and would likely be prepared to pay money for your solution.

So what is it? A service that never hits the mark, a product that always packs up after the first few uses, rude customer service?

MailChimp was started by Ben Chestnut in 2,000 because he was frustrated with having to design newsletters from scratch for every client. He created newsletter templates to streamline the process and today the business is worth $400 million.

2. Watch the news with an open mind

If one watches the news regularly, one starts spotting trends or hears of laws that will change or a particular problem that some community is experiencing.

If you are listening with the conscious intent to come up with a business idea, you’ll immediately see the business possibilities created by news events.

For instance, when the 2018 Farm Bill was proclaimed legalizing CBD products, hundreds of businesses opened selling all manner of CBD products, creating a new industry and work for thousands of people.

3. Find a niche market

This is a great idea for someone who wants to offer a specialized service or product. Selling to a niche market helps your product or service to stand out and you don’t need a huge client base, just one that comes to you because you give them what they can’t get anywhere else.

In the early days of vegetarianism offering vegetarian cooking classes became a big hit. Today, it might be vegan cooking classes.

To spot an opportunity to deliver something unique to a select group of individuals, pay attention at social gatherings to find out what people are looking for. If you have a special interest, the group you belong to may need a specialized service or product. You can later expand it to similar groups, but still keep it niche.

I know of a young woman who made a killing producing handbags made from striking cotton fabric covered in sheer plastic. She saw one while visiting a friend, made one for herself that all her friends admired and also wanted, and the rest is history.

4. Leverage your skills

What are your skills and talents?

Could you apply any of it in a business of your own? Could you write a manual for others to follow? Do you have any specialized knowledge that you could develop a course about? There are loads of platforms online that make it easy to make money from selling courses.

Or maybe you are an inventive cook? What about starting cooking lessons? People don’t want to spend hours cooking – what about providing meals for working folks?

Think about what you can do well, and consider whether you can turn it into a business.

5. Improve an existing product or service

How many products do you know of that come in two basic categories: hugely expensive and affordable but poor quality? I know loads of them. Could you pick one and improve it?

Same with services. Is there a service that you need but you hate going to the business because you know that the service is substandard? Could you do a better job?

We all live with poor products that we pay too much for and services that leave a lot to be. Talk to your friends and family and other customers to find out if an improvement would be something they would pay for.

6. Do some market research

To know what people need, talk to them. Find them in shops and on online forums. Ask a few well-thought-out questions and see what you learn.

You could do a fun survey with one or two pertinent questions to learn what people think about a certain product or service. Ask people what they are looking for and if they are happy with what’s on offer. You could also consider how a product or service you use could be improved.  

7. Invent a new product or service

The key to coming up with a business idea for a new product or service is to identify a market need that’s not being met. Ask yourself: what has not been done yet?

One way to come up with completely new product ideas is doing something ridiculous like walking down the aisles of a supermarket and trying to match the products on opposite sides of the isle: could they be combined in some way to create something completely new?

You probably won’t end up combining any of those products, but the exercise may spark other ideas.

8. Learn from other markets

Next time you go on vacation, especially on an overseas trip, look out for products there that are not available in your area.

Maybe you can come up with a version for the local market. Also, consider what you could deliver to that market – maybe a product they don’t have, or you could introduce a fruit or vegetable those consumers are unfamiliar with.

9. Solve societal problems

All communities are faced with societal issues that make life hard for portions of society.

Think of older adults living on their own, single mothers, veterans struggling to adjust to society, the homeless, food waste, unemployment, and more.

Apply your intelligence to turn helping people into a viable business. One way would be to offer training to the unemployed and charge a fee when they get employed. Or train people for a specific purpose, with the aim to start a business with those you trained as employees.

10. Find a use for something that’s usually discarded

Beekeepers sit with beeswax as a by-product left over from the honey. Instead of letting it go to waste, beekeeper Burt Shavitz started a business with candlemaker Roxanne Quimby making and selling beeswax candles at a local craft fair.

That business eventually became Burt’s Bees which was sold for $970 million years later.

Many farms and industries have by-products that can be turned into a revenue stream. The sawdust produced in the lumber industry is another example that has spawned many businesses.

11. Spot a gap in the market

Many a successful business was started by entrepreneurs who spotted a gap in the market.

Tinus le Roux from Cape Town, founder of Fancam, saw a way to take the selfie a step further. Instead of taking selfies at events, fans can use Fancam to make high-resolution recordings of a celebrity or idol performing at an event. This invention serves the need of fans to feel a sense of community with each other, the event and the artist they admire.

Ideas for starting a small business

Ideas for businesses are everywhere. Here follows a list that might trigger your interest and spark the entrepreneur in you.

  • Sustainable diaper service

Many people are concerned about the huge environmental impact of disposable nappies and the use of cloth diapers as a solution is growing.

However, most modern parents are too busy to wash a dozen or so nappies every day. You can offer a complete diaper service or just provide a pickup and delivery service, transporting cloth diapers to and from a commercial cleaning service.

This business benefits from the current interest in sustainability.

  • Computer training for the elderly

The elderly have a real need for the possibilities that computers offer, for instance, the ability to keep in touch with children and grandchildren dispersed worldwide.

Many also appreciate the opportunity to trace long-lost friends via Facebook. You can start a business training older people on the basics of computer use. It should be easy to establish a sustainable business in an area where there are many retirement complexes.

  • Specialty cooking lessons

There are loads of different diets doing the rounds.

People are vegetarians and vegans, some must avoid gluten, and others avoid carbs altogether. Paleo and keto are all the rage. It’s just about impossible to walk into a restaurant and order a meal in your diet choice. In addition, many people who are keen to follow one of these diets, don’t necessarily like cooking, so interest wanes quickly, with the potential of the diet going to waste.

This is a golden opportunity for entrepreneurs to offer cooking classes for the different diets. You can specialize in two or three diets and work out weekly meal plans for all of them.

This will be hugely helpful to those who have to follow a special diet but run out of ideas easily.

  • Voiceover service

There is a huge demand for voiceover services due to streaming services needing to dub foreign- language movies and TV series.

If you enjoy using your voice, acting and reading out aloud, you can break into the industry by starting a voiceover company in your home.

It’s possible to set up a home studio with reasonably priced equipment, and you can do electronic transfers of your recordings. You can also make money by renting out your studio to other voiceover artists.

  • Self-storage units

There is a growing demand for self-storage units.

The pandemic has caused a rise in demand for storage units and industry observers expect hybrid working conditions to help sustain that demand.

Running a self-storage facility is a good business opportunity because of the relatively low operating costs, requiring minimum maintenance and labor. Apart from earning rental income, the business can earn additional income from selling related products like locks, cardboard boxes, packing tape, and offering packing and loading services.

  • Start a mushroom farm

Gourmet mushrooms keep growing in popularity and they are relatively easy to grow.

You don’t need a huge space to grow them, but you need to control the temperature, the humidity, and the light. The best part is, they’re ready to be harvested in six weeks, and it’s easy to get buyers for them.

You can sell your mushrooms to restaurants, grocery stores, and at local markets. And if you don’t sell them immediately, you can dry them or freeze them to sell at a later date.

  • Grow bamboo for profit

Provided you live in a suitable climate for bamboo growing, you can start a bamboo farm. Bamboo is the ultimate sustainable plant, growing fast and not requiring a lot of attention.

And the range of commercial applications is legion. Bamboo can be used to make furniture and flooring, and the fiber can be used to create textiles, clothing, paper, and kitchen utensils.

And of course, you can also sell the plants. Bamboo is fast-growing, tough, relatively easy to grow, and growing in popularity.

  • Start your own social media business

These days no business, no matter how small, can thrive without a social media presence.

However, many business owners don’t have the time to devote to social media and many others don’t know enough about it to do it well and benefit from it.

As a social media manager, you can manage the social media accounts of companies and certain individuals and do their marketing on social media platforms.

Social media expertise is in high demand; if you have the skills, you’ll know how to promote your services on your social media accounts to get clients and start a lucrative business.

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