How to Come Up With a Business Idea

Three Parts:Developing an IdeaEvaluating Your IdeasMaking Your Idea a Reality

A lot of work goes into starting a business: you need to draw up a business plan, find investors, get loans, and look for employees. Before all that, however, you have to come up with your idea for business. This could be a new product, service, or method, but it has to be something that customers will pay money for. Finding that great idea takes thought, creativity, and research. If you're looking to be an entrepreneur, keep the following in mind when trying to come up with your business idea.

Part 1
Developing an Idea

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    Think about what goods or services would improve your life. Keep a list of your personal strengths and weaknesses in mind. When you look at that list, does anything come to mind that would improve your life? Spend some time considering your own experiences. With some time and creativity, you can probably identify several products or services that would help you.[1]
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    Decide whether you'd like to provide a product or a service. A new business idea will likely either be based around a product or a service. Each requires some thought and creativity. They both have advantages and challenges that you should consider before focusing on one or the other.
    • For a new product, you'll have to develop a good or improve upon an existing one, then invest in manufacturing to produce it. This is an expense, but a successful product can be very lucrative.
    • Providing a service will eliminate the need for developing and manufacturing a new product. However, you'll probably have to hire more people, since it will be tough to grow your business if you're the only one providing a service.
    • Both choices will involve marketing and advertising, so plan on investing time and money here whichever you choose.
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    Identify a problem with the existing industry. Frequently, businesses or inventions began because someone was frustrated with the current way of doing things. A good way to come up with a business plan is to look for these problems. If you're feeling frustrated about something, it is possible that others feel the same way, which gives you a potential market. Perhaps no one in your area provides repair work for lawnmowers. Now you've identified a problem that you could remedy by providing that service.[2]
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    Build upon an existing business idea. Rather than a problem with the current industry, you might notice something that a business does well. Take that and see if you can improve upon it. By taking ideas one step further than the current industry does, you can carve a good niche for yourself in the market.[3]
    • When Google got started, for example, there were plenty of other internet search engines around. Google, however, was known for having an extremely accurate algorithm that improved searches. Google successfully took a good idea, internet search engines, and improved upon it.
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    Look towards the future. Successful entrepreneurs are innovators. They don't stick with old methods or technologies, but rather look ahead and see what will be successful in the future. You can do this by asking yourself what the next logical step is for a product or service. Since distance learning and video conferencing is becoming more popular, for example, you might want to start a company that specializes in setting up meetings entirely online. By looking at current trends and taking them a step further, you can come up with an idea that will be ahead of its time and potentially revolutionize the market.[4]
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    Conduct preliminary consumer research. While market research is usually only used after you have an idea, you can do some early research to discover what people value. This can help you come up with an idea based on people's wants and needs.
    • Investigate the internet and see what common keywords or internet searches are. This will show you what people search for most often, which can spark and idea for you. Read Find The Most Searched Keywords for simple ways to do this.
    • For more involved method of finding popular keywords, you could use a service like Google Adwords or Bing Ads. These also analyze search engines and find common searches.
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    Apply your skills to a different field. Another way to come up with a new product or service is to use skills you've acquired elsewhere. Oftentimes, you can creatively apply skills learned elsewhere to improve a completely different field. Leo Fender, for instance, worked as a radio repairman. He used his skills in electronics and amplification to build the first electric guitars. When considering your business ideas, take all of your skills into account. You may have a certain talent that will revolutionize a different field.[5]
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    Write down all your ideas. Every idea, no matter how small or how seemingly pointless, could have value. Get into the habit of writing down every idea you have in a notebook. Carry this with you at all times, because you never know when inspiration could strike. This way all your ideas can be kept in one convenient place. Flip through it regularly to see if you can expand on any of what you've written down.[6]
    • Though you can keep your notebook with you, you should consider transcribing what you write onto the computer. That way if your notebook gets lost or damaged, you have a backup. Digital storage will also allow you to catalog your ideas more neatly and effectively.
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    Foster your creativity. Don't be too critical of your ideas at this stage. During this brainstorming period, you shouldn't feel constrained. Instead, free your mind and see what you come up with. There are several ways you can stimulate your creativity and help come up with ideas.
    • Take walks. Several studies have documented that walking helps stimulate brain activity, particularly creativity. Commit to taking a walk a few times a week, especially if you're feeling stuck. Not only will this benefit your health, but it can help you come up with your next great idea. Be sure to take your notebook with you on walks to write down any ideas you come up with.[7]
    • Explore stores. If you need ideas, go to a local store, preferably a department store with a lot of products. Then just walk the aisles and take note of the products you see. What do they offer people? What are their flaws? Also take note of what you don't see, as this will give you an idea of what isn't on the market that may be a salable product.[8]
    • Talk to people from diverse fields. If you're trying to come up with a new software, don't only talk to fellow computer experts. Branch out and talk to people from different fields, especially fields that you aren't familiar with. See how they use products or services to improve their lives. This will help you think outside the box and look at things from a different angle. A new viewpoint can give your creativity a big boost.[9]
    • Read Think 'Outside of the Box' for more ideas on creative thinking.
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    Take breaks. Though it is a bit cliché, the stories of people coming up with brilliant ideas in the shower are true. The brain often thinks up ideas when you're not forcing it to. By taking a step back, you're letting your brain rest. During that rest time, you should do your best to not think about your business, product, or anything related to it. Distract your brain with a movie, a book, a walk, or any other activity you enjoy. During your break, you may just have a eureka moment that solves the problem you've been having.[10]
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    Get plenty of sleep. In addition to taking breaks, your brain needs sleep to stay fresh. Commit to getting a good night's sleep to keep your brain working at its best. You should also keep a pen and paper near your bed. It's possible to have breakthroughs or ideas in dreams.

Part 2
Evaluating Your Ideas

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    Weigh your strengths and weaknesses in relation to your plan. You may have a great idea, but no realistic way to implement it. Before moving on with, think about if you could really follow through with this plan. For example, if you think you could open a great restaurant, but have never worked in one before and never attended culinary school, this idea is pretty far out of reach. Read Get Rid of Unrealistic Goals for more information on how you can get rid of goals and ideas that are too far out of reach, and how to make them more attainable.[11]
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    Investigate if someone has already come up with your idea. If you've thought of an idea, it's very possible that someone else has also thought of it. As soon as you think you have a business idea, investigate if someone has already done it. You definitely don't want to put months of work and financial investment into an idea, only to find out at the last minute that some has already done it. To avoid this, make sure you do thorough research and find out if your idea is truly original.[12]
    • Use an internet search engine first. Type in the service or product you have in mind. You may not get an exact match, so follow all leads to determine if someone has already started a business like yours.
    • Search the US Trademark and Patent office as well. This is a complicated process that is much more difficult than doing an internet search. You may even need to talk to a lawyer who specializes in patent law to properly navigate this system.
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    Investigate your competition. If you do find out someone has already come up with your idea, don't panic. Plenty of new businesses have a lot of competition when they start, and they beat it by providing a better service or product. Now you have to investigate your potential competition.[13]
    • Become a customer of the competition. Buy their product or service so you can see firsthand how they operate. This way, you can examine your competition closely and find ways to improve upon their business.
    • Talk to the competition's customers. Conduct formal or informal surveys of your competition's customers. Ask them specifically what they're satisfied and unsatisfied with so you can adjust your own business to their concerns.
    • Look at your competition's online presence. There may be review pages or blogs that discuss your competition. Read these carefully to find out if people are unhappy with anything your competition does.
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    Pitch your idea to family, friends, and colleagues. Before investigating shoppers, consult with people who you know will tell you the truth. Present them with your idea and tell them how it improves the current industry. Ask if they would buy your product or service, and ask for honest answers. This way you can get an early assessment of your idea from a few trusted individuals. They can either encourage your idea, provide constructive criticism, or tell you if they don't think your idea has a future. Whatever the feedback, you need to hear it.[14]
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    Talk to potential customers. Once you've formulated what you think is a good idea and told a few close friends, you need to go out and see if there is a market for you. You can do several things to determine if anyone would actually patronize your business.[15]
    • Conduct interviews in person. Go to areas where people who might be interested in your business would be. If you're developing a new kind of fishing lure, for example, go to several sporting goods stores and talk to people in the fishing section. Give a very brief description of your proposed business, and ask shoppers if they would be interested in that sort of business. Be sure to keep your interactions short- while some people may be interested in talking further, most will probably get annoyed if you take too much of their time.
    • Send out surveys via email. There are easy ways to design a simple survey using a program like Google Forms. Since you haven't actually formed your business yet, you may have trouble acquiring email addresses to send this survey to. To overcome this, try sending the survey to your personal contacts and asking them to distribute it among their own contacts.[16]
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    Identify risks and obstacles. All business plans include risks, whether financial or personal. You could face numerous obstacles, from lack of funds, to a falling out with your business partner, to the breakup of your personal relationships. Prepare yourself for these potential risks. Look down the road and see what obstacles you might encounter. By thinking about potential risks, you can improve your chances of successfully overcoming them with your business intact. There are a few business problems many start ups will encounter, so keep the following in mind to get get around your obstacles.[17][18]
    • Only work with people you trust. A bad partner or supplier can wreak havoc on your business. Avoid this problem by working with people you know you can trust.
    • Always make sure you have enough financing before continuing. Many start ups fail because of lack of funding. To avoid debt or bankruptcy, avoid moving on with your idea if you lack funding.
    • Be willing to change. If you establish your business successfully, the market can still change around you. Keep up with these changes to stay competitive.
    • Move on from failure. Many start ups fail. You have to understand that this doesn't have to be the end, and you can continue with a better idea and better funding.
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    Determine if you have a viable plan. After all of this, you'll have to make a final judgement on whether or not your plan is doable. There are a number of components that go into evaluating your plan. Take all of them seriously to get a good feel for if you should continue with your plan.[19]
    • Take into account all of the interviewing and surveying you've done. Is there a market for your plan? Be honest with yourself here- don't convince yourself that there is a market if only a few people were interested. If no one will buy your idea or product, move on to another one.
    • What's your level of competition. If competition will be stiff, you'll have to work hard to outdo it. Take some time to define how exactly you'll be better than your competition to give yourself a fighting chance.
    • Do a cost analysis of your plan. Even if there is a good market for your idea, you have to find out if it's economically viable. If start up and maintenance costs are very high, perhaps you should reconsider. Also think about where will you get financing. Find out how much your plan will cost, and how much you can expect to earn from it. Read Do a Cost Analysis for more information about conducting this kind of study.
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    Rank your ideas. If you have more than one idea, rank them in order from best to worst. Subject them to all the previous questions and see how they perform. Then put them in order starting with #1, the best. That way you can make sure you're focusing your efforts on your best idea. Ideas that are further down the list should either be scrapped or substantially improved before you try implementing them.

Part 3
Making Your Idea a Reality

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    Choose your best idea. After carefully evaluating an weighing the different ideas you have, you should come up with one that is your best. This should be the one that you focus your efforts on. After choosing your best idea, start implementing steps to make it a reality.
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    Decide your business structure. There are several different structures your business can take on. Each one has unique characteristics that will affect how you write your business plan, as well as your legal status. Some different options are a sole proprietorship, a limited liability corporation, and a partnership, to name a few. See the U.S. Small Business Association site for a full breakdown of these options and others to decide which one is best for you.
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    Develop a business plan. When you've decided on which idea you'll focus your efforts on, you'll need a business plan before moving on. A business plan defines your company, the service it provides, and projects the company's potential costs and earnings. This will not only help you focus and organize your own ideas, but it is also essential for investors to see how profitable your business can be. Read Write a Business Plan for detailed instructions on creating an optimum plan.
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    Find funding for your business. Unless you're independently wealthy, you won't be able to implement your business idea without financing. After drawing up your business plan, you'll have to present it to investors to acquire the capital to start your business. You usually have two choices for getting capital: banks and private investors. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and you'll probably end up using a combination of both.
    • Banks. You can get a loan from a bank for a few months to a few years, depending on the type of loan. This can cover your opening costs and your first few months of operating expenses.
    • Private investors. These can be friends, family, or other business owners interested in making an investment. Make sure you define whether these people are just providing a loan that you will pay back with interest, or if they're actually buying into your company. It would be helpful to draw up a contract defining the terms of your agreement and having it notarized to prevent problems in the future.


  • Another viable option is to let your imagination run wild at first, but then bring it back to reality during the idea elimination process.
  • Don't be afraid to come up with a few bad ideas. You'll probably have multiple ideas that don't go anywhere before you actually have one you can work with. The key is to persevere.


  • Many start-up businesses end up failing. Be sure to keep your day job until your business grows to a point that you can support yourself on it, or you could end up in a tight financial spot if the business fails. If you do experience failure, don't be afraid to try again.

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Categories: Buying & Forming a Business