Coming up with business ideas is easy. Relatively speaking, that is—relative to setting up a business and keeping it profitable.
Here are several brainstorming methods you can use to come up with business ideas.
The Problem & Solution Method
Examine your life and your everyday activities. Are there tedious chores that could be made easier? Are there complicated actions you can’t do, but wish you could do? Are there undesirable activities that could be done by someone or something else?
Carry a notebook with you everywhere for a week. Write down every painful problem you see. Ask your friends about problems they face too. Every problem is a potential opportunity, ripe for solutions that could be made into profitable products or services.
The Market-First Method
Choose a specific target market you want to serve before even thinking about a product or service. Understand that market’s demographics, psychographics, behaviors, beliefs, needs, wants, and problems.
Put yourself in their shoes. If you can, try to live and breath their lifestyle for a week. Immerse yourself in that target market. Watch them, study them, interview them. Take note of everything they say. How do they think? What problems do they need solved? What do they need, what do they want? Keep an open mind for potential opportunities.
The Personal Strengths Method
Analyze your innate talents, learned skills, and experiences. If you’re working with others, analyze your collective strengths. Take psychological tests (like those offered in Now, Discover Your Strengths and other similar sources) to help determine your core aptitudes.
What kinds of products can you build, or services can you offer, with this collection of strengths? What kinds of businesses play to your assets? Chances are, you will be much more successful with a business that utilizes your strengths, even if the idea already exists.
The Mix & Match Method
Take two seemingly unrelated concepts, products, or services and see if you can combine them. They can be across distribution channels, packaging styles, branding styles, ergonomic designs, target audiences, core features, core attributes, and even base materials. Make a list of existing concepts and mix & match them systematically, analyzing each pair for viability.
For example, mix the concept of fast food and package delivery and you have overnight shipping services. Match a photocopier and a telephone and you have a fax machine. Add friend networks and the internet and you have online social networks.
The Importation Method
Travel the world. Take note of all the products and services you see. Consider how each could be imported back to your country. You could create a whole new company doing the same thing. Or you could become the sole distributor/provider in your region for the original company.
The world is rich with ideas, especially in cultures very different than yours. Some imported ideas will need adjustments to adapt to the local market. Others will need experts from the original country to make it happen. Be aware of potential international copyright laws as well.
The Lateral Thinking Method
Look at an existing problem and apply lateral thinking principles to its solution. Shift your thinking and redefine the problem. Consider alternate possibilities, no matter how far-fetched or frivolous they may seem.
This riddle is an example of lateral thinking: “A man and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed and the son is taken to hospital. When he gets there, the surgeon says ‘I can’t operate on this boy—he is my son!’ How is this possible?” The answer involves shifting perceptions to allow alternate possibilities. One such answer is: the surgeon is the son’s mother.
The Godin Method (or The Edgecraft Method)
Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside, writes about creating remarkable products or services and the art of Edgecraft. For many businesses, remarkable marketing and branding help garner success, even with products and services that aren’t new.
Edgecraft is the concept of “going all the way to the edge” of an existing product or service. It means looking at an idea and adding a special twist, a unique element, that makes the original idea remarkable. Godin says it’s more than just a gimmick or product differentiation, it’s turning the idea into a Purple Cow (something that people will remember and talk about).
The Christensen Method (or The Disruptive Innovation Method)
Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and Seeing What’s Next, writes about sustaining and disruptive innovations in the high technology markets. His definitions of disruptive innovations can be a great source of ideas as well.
Disruptive innovations are new products or services that fundamentally change an industry, oftentimes shaking the top companies from their pedestals. There are two types of disruptive innovations: low-end disruptions and new-market disruptions.
- Low-end disruptions
- These serve less demanding customers with low-priced, relatively straightforward offerings using low-cost business models. Look for markets with over-served customers and offer a simpler product or service.
- New-market disruptions
- These serve new customers by making it easier for them to do something that previously required being or hiring specialists. Look for unfulfilled needs and create new products or services for them.
The Borrowed Ideas Method
There are lots of sources of free ideas all around you. The web is especially full of them. Some sources are:
- BizThoughts’ Idea Category (this website)
- Ironic Sans’ Idea Category
- A Startup A Day
- Unusual Business Ideas That Work
- Trend Hunter
- idea a day
See, isn’t that easy? What are other methods or sources you use for your ideas?