How To Find New Business Ideas

by Tom Egelhoff

In the late 1800's, the director of the U.S. Office of Patents expressed his concern that the office would probably be closing soon. Why? Because he was convinced that over the past 1900 years all the ideas that were humanly possible had already been thought of. He was sure life was not going to get any better than it was in 1900.
As we approach a new millennium we have just one question to ask, "What will they think of next?" New ideas hit the marketplace at an overwhelming rate. Every time we open a newspaper or turn on the radio we see and hear of new industries that will change our lives. Where do the ideas come from? Can you create new ideas within your own business? The answer is yes. Is it easy? The answer is NO.



Ideas Come From Knowledge

If I wanted to learn to play golf would I go out to the local course and grab the first person I see and ask them to teach me? No. I would locate the "golf pro" and take some lessons. The pro has the expertise to make my golf education go quicker and smoother. Each pro has developed the knowledge of the game and procedures necessary to teach me the game of golf. They are students of their industry.

When large companies need ideas and assistance they call on "consultants." These consultants have become students of the industry. They have amassed the knowledge necessary to assist the company with new product development or problem solving. Most small town business owners don't have a budget to justify these folks. They must take a different route.



Find A Need, Or Create A Need, And Fill It

Many successful money making ideas are born out of a need by your customer. Sometimes companies develop a product and a need must be generated. Most of us had no idea we needed a VCR or a microwave oven until we were told and shown that we did.



How To Generate New Ideas For Your Business

There are two ways that I use. The easiest way is to let someone else do it for you for free. That sounds good, how does that work?

Suppose you own a hardware store. There are thousands of other hardware store owners across the country and around the world. They are all trying to come up with money making ideas for their businesses just like you are. When one of them comes up with a good idea, it usually makes news. You won't find articles about their ideas in the local papers but you will find them in the industry trade magazines and industry association newsletters. You are then free to steal...uhh...acquire these ideas for your own business.



Finding New Ideas Within A Business

The second way is to either find a need or create a need for the customer within your own business and be the one written about. If you feel you need to take this path then you truly must become a dedicated student of your industry.

How do you do that? You read. I don't care what sacrifices you must make, but you must read something about your business or industry at least 20 minutes every day. More than 20 minutes is preferred. Within one year you will know more about your business or industry than 75% of the people in it.



Checklist For Finding New Business Ideas

One of the hardest things for most business owners to do is look at their business the way a customer would.

Here are some areas of your business to look at during the idea creation process.

Your experience: Do you have experience you are not using in the current business? Can this unused experience help or benefit your customer in some way? Can you adapt it to your current business?

Are you too close to the business? Business owners fall into habits of doing things to the point that they become automatic. Opportunities can often be missed. If you normally do something A-B-C-D, try doing it B-D-A-C and see what happens.

Industry trends: What is your reading telling you about where your industry is headed? How is the Internet going to affect your business? The Presidential Race? The Olympics? Y2K? Stock market? Local government?

Your expert image: What is the image of your business? Is there expertise you have that the customer is not receiving in some way? Is additional training available to develop new profit centers?

Ask customers: "If there was one thing you would add or change about our business, what would that be?"

Ask employees: "If you were in charge, what would you add or change and why?"



"I Thought Of A Great Business Idea. Now what?"

Congratulations. See it wasn't so hard. Now you need to find out if your idea will fly. Here is another checklist of things you will need to know before you can launch your new idea.

Is it compatible with current business philosophy?
You have spent a lot of time and money positioning your company image, you don't want to undo all that hard work by going in a different direction.

"If you build it, will they come?"
Is there a demonstrated market for your idea. Will you need to educate them?
What is the cost of that education?

Features and benefits:
What will be the benefits to the customer in relation to the cost of the new idea?

Is the Product Unique?
Does the idea require start-up costs? Can the budget support these additional costs?

How fast can the competition react to this new idea?
What is the window of opportunity?

Is the price in line with similar products and/or services?

Can the new idea be packaged with current products and/or services?
Can the new idea increase current sales on other goods/services?



The Last Word On Finding Business Ideas

Living in small towns we sometimes feel that what's going on outside our city limits isn't really important. However, it never hurts to keep up with what's going on in our global community.

Your local newspaper is probably adequate for local news but it's also a good idea to subscribe to the nearest major city paper.

There are government agencies that can provide helpful information on trends and business direction. Two sites are:

http://www.stats.bis.gov/ - Bureau of Labor Statistics, economy at a glance, time series statistics.

http://www.census.gov/ - Up to the minute population estimates along with census data, current population profiles of the U.S.

Last but not least, what are other people reading? What's on the New York Times non-fiction best seller list? It's a good way to gauge the pulse of the country.


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