When it comes to lists of unique business ideas or “business idea” lists in general, it’s no secret that I’m usually not a fan. As I’ve written before, looking through most lists you find online is more than likely going to be a huge waste of your time. They all tend to be the same, the vast majority are poorly written, and nine times out of ten, they won’t give you any ideas you haven’t thought of yourself (or seen somewhere else).
Recently, however, I was doing a brainstorming exercise to help someone come up with some ideas for a business that they could launch. Like any good brainstorming session, there were plenty of ideas that were too conservative and a good chunk that were way too out there to be feasible. But in the end, that the client and I got way further doing this exercise than either of us ever would have spending the same amount of time searching online for “unique business ideas.”
How do you come up with new business ideas?
One of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of starting a small business is figuring out what that business will be. It’s far too easy to second guess yourself and question your ideas as you try to settle on an idea. The more you search for ideas, the more you start to think that everything is already done. Each idea you find on some list also gives examples of multiple established companies that are already doing whatever it is really well. You then start to second guess your skillset to actually do that particular job, how feasible it really is, and on and on and on.
There are plenty of potentially successful businesses that never see the light of day thanks to second-guessing and a lack of properly structured brainstorming time.
When it comes to thinking of unique business ideas, you’ll be better served to ditch the online lists and do a good old-fashioned brainstorming session. Will all the ideas that come out of a brainstorming session be gold? Absolutely not. Most will probably not work or be feasible in any way. But the goal of this exercise isn’t to end up with a laundry list of million-dollar ideas. The goal is to mine your imagination and passions for those little nuggets that can later be worked on and polished into something valuable.
When brainstorming, be sure to:
- Be in the right environment. Effective brainstorming can’t be done in a sterile office, sitting there staring at a blank wall. It can’t be done laying on the couch in your sweats either. To get those creative juices flowing, you need to be in a setting that works with your imagination. Get outside and move. No phone. No distractions. Just you, nature, a pen, and a notebook. (If you need convincing, studies have shown that being out in nature can boost your creativity.)
- Don’t let reality in. Brainstorming is a time to let your imagination run wild. Initially, you need to think in terms of there are no roadblocks, anything is possible, and you have the resources to do anything. Then later, as you sit and marinate on your ideas, that’s when you start letting reality creep in. Use reality as a tool to come up with a plan to accomplish the idea you’ve come up with, not to shoot down your ideas before they even have a chance to take shape.
- Start alone, then bring in one other person. While team efforts can be effective when fleshing out a business idea, do your initial brainstorming session alone, or with just one other person.
To further boost the productivity and success of your session, you should also keep these things in mind:
- There is always room for the right business. To be successful, a business doesn’t need to be huge, mind-blowingly innovative, or obnoxiously flashy. It simply needs to fill a need.
- Stick to what you like. Often, enjoying what you do can be the advantage necessary to make you more successful than those who are doing it but don’t actually like what they do.
- Be absolutely honest. Don’t lie to yourself when it comes to what you like doing, what your current skills are, what skills you have an interest in obtaining, and what kind of business you have the resources to take on.
- Look at things through a microscope. Drill down and break apart ideas so you can think about things until you see what others fail to see—new possibilities, new methods of doing something, new ways to profit from an existing product or service.
- Study human nature. What do people want? What problems do they have that aren’t being solved?
- Give yourself time. More often than not, the best ideas come to you when you’re not thinking about them. (I’m tempted to keep a pen and paper in the shower as most of my ideas tend to hit then.) Spend time thinking, then give time for the ideas to marinate and develop in the background of your mind.
Keys to successful ideas.
For any business idea to have a chance at being successful, it has to meet certain criteria:
- It needs to fall outside the common, boring, and over-saturated categories like cell phone accessories, selling online courses, “being a freelancer,” or doing web design.
- It has to be an idea that has a legit chance of becoming an actual business. I get that there are examples of folks who have turned just about any “side hustle” into full-fledged businesses, but chances are slim that it’s going to happen with common side hustles like delivering food, ridesharing, walking dogs, or flipping garage sale items.
When you use these tips and good old fashion brainstorming—instead of relying on generic online lists—you’re much more likely to discover a unique business idea that works for you. This system helps you get out of your own way, temporarily removes the burden of reality, and doesn’t limit you by other peoples’ (lack of) imagination.
Deep down, you know what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. All it takes is some time to honestly acknowledge those things and let your imagination run free. You’ve already got plenty of unique business ideas, all you need to do is listen.