How to come up with a business idea

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So you know you want to be your own boss... but you've got no ideas about what business to start. Don't worry. You're already making progress!

You've shaken off the shackles of thinking like an employee and you're working out how to become an entrepreneur. That's more than a lot of people achieve.

The next step is to come up with some business ideas to explore. Some ideas start with a flash of inspiration, others lead naturally from your experience or passions, and the rest come through pragmatic and practical thinking.

Remember, what's right for someone else might not be right for you. So put on your thinking cap and picture YOUR dream business. That's the first step to making it a reality.

Look at yourself

1. What skills do you have?

If you've already spent time building up skills and contacts in a certain industry, this could be a natural way to become your own boss. If you've got skills that you can offer in a freelance capacity, it is one of the easiest ways to start a business.

2. What are you passionate about?

What floats your boat, boils your blood or keeps you awake at night? If there's something you feel passionate about - either positive or negative - that could be the basis of your new business? Whether that's baking cakes and starting a cafe or fighting injustice via a CIC, following your passion is a great basis for a business.

3. What jobs have you hated?

Think about aspects of jobs that you've not enjoyed. Was it the industry? The type of work? The people? Working out what made you miserable can help you identify what will make you happy.

4. What are you good at?

Often we don't realise that we're absolutely brilliant at something. It might be worth asking friends and colleagues what they think you excel at. Things you find easy might actually be highly marketable skills.

5. What does success look like?

Try starting at the end and working backwards. What does your dream business look like? Are you at home or in an office? Do you work flexible hours to fit around the kids? Do you travel? Start to work out what's important to you.

6. Sound it out.

Don't be scared to talk to friends and family. Bouncing ideas off other people can help you realise new opportunities, applications and markets you might not have thought about.

Look around you

7. Find inspiration in existing businesses.

There's nothing wrong with taking inspiration from someone else's idea (unless, of course, it's protected by copyright law!) What could you business do differently or better?

8. What's missing?

What have other areas got, that yours has not? Do your relatives in another part of the world have access to services or products that aren't available here? Maybe you're the person to launch them in your area?

9. Solve a problem.

Hundreds of good business ideas have come when their creators have looked for a solution to an everyday problem. You only need to look at the Lakeland Catalogue or online to see how many of life's little problems can be solved fairly easily and ingeniously.

10. What are people complaining about?

Ah the internet... a source of constant grumbles and complaints. From Amazon reviews to local social media groups, there's no shortage of people complain about products and services that need improvements. Can you do better than the businesses they're complaining about?

11. Ask an expert.

Wondering what it's like to be a bookkeeper, a restaurateur or a business coach? Speak to people in the sector and find out all about it, warts and all. Ask about the highs and lows, the skills required and whether there's strong demand.

12. Be prepared.

Ideas tend to occur when we're relaxed so keep a pen and paper beside the bed, the toilet and the sofa! Early mornings or sleepless nights are often the times when ideas can emerge from the mists of your mind. If inspiration strikes when you're on social media, bookmark the post or take a screengrab so you don't forget it.

Let your mind wander

Sometimes, the best way to get creative is to allow your mind to wander. If you're having difficulties coming up with an idea, take a break. Go for a walk, watch television or browse the internet. The great thing about this stage of starting a business is everything you do could provide you with inspiration.

While creativity and optimism are great at this stage, make sure you know your limits.

If you trained as an accountant, developing an interest in arborology is good but you won't be able to run a business as a tree surgeon after you've read one book about it. Take into account your experience and qualifications - and if you're really enthusiastic about your idea, get some training.

50 places to find inspiration

  1. Social media -  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok...

  2. Read magazines, newspapers, books and websites

  3. Improve on other people's ideas

  4. Go for a long drive

  5. Read catalogues - Lakeland, Ikea, Matalan and Argos all have the potential to be deeply inspiring

  6. Go to the supermarket and browse the shelves

  7. Read ideas blogs such as Springwise

  8. Listen to Radio 4 - it always has programmes about unusual businesses or pursuits

  9. Go to the toilet - the best ideas can happen on the can!

  10. Speak to children - their imagination is unlimited

  11. Get your pens and paper out and draw a mind map

  12. Have a conversation with a stranger about their life

  13. Read the user comments on a blog post or online newspaper article

  14. Check out the reviews on Amazon, Feefo or even JustEat!

  15. Switch off your computer for the day and just think

  16. The British Library Business IP Centre contains hundreds of case studies

  17. Watch television

  18. Talk to friends - what gets their goat or floats their boat?

  19. Get lost in Google - read blogs and look at pictures and follow long, random link paths

  20. Get lost on Flickr

  21. Read or watch sci-fi - did you know the inventor of the phone card was inspired by A Space Oddysey?

  22. Visit another city on Google's Street View - do they have anything we don't?

  23. Trigger memories by reading old letters and emails

  24. Think about 10-year-old you - what did you always want to be or do?

  25. Create a discussion group on internet forums

  26. Attend networking events and meet new business people

  27. Do some reverse brainstorming - what would be the worst business idea ever? And what's the opposite?

  28. Visit tourist attractions in your own city

  29. Go to a trade show or exhibition

  30. Go to a seminar

  31. Take an evening course

  32. Set limits - try to come up with an idea which doesn't use artificial products, create a carbon footprint or use orange dye

  33. Go to a flea market or car boot sale

  34. Think about 'better' ways to do things - greener, healthier, dementia-friendly

  35. Contact old friends and family you've lost touch with

  36. Combine weird ingredients - chilli chocolate may have seemed strange two years ago, but it's popular now

  37. Go through old photographs - retro is all the rage

  38. Watch a play

  39. Visit a university's website - what new courses are they offered? What's the next big thing?

  40. Learn a new skill

  41. Look at Government grants - what are their priority areas in the next ten years?

  42. Do some volunteer work - what would make a charity worker's life easier?

  43. Wander around a city at night (safely, of course!)

  44. Go on holiday - what do other cultures have and do and value

  45. Think with your stomach. What foods do you love?

  46. Explore Wikipedia

  47. Make a list of things you use every day and think about how you could improve them

  48. Make a note when you get cross - what caused it and what could fix it?

  49. Ask why. Think about everyday objects and ask why they are how they are

  50. Think about the greater good. What change would you like to see in the world and how can you make it happen?

Hopefully this list will help you come up with some ideas. They might not all be multi-million-pound ideas but somewhere in there, there might be something with potential.

Once you've come up with some ideas, it is time to test them out. Take a look at our guide to market research.
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