7 Tips From Entrepreneurs To Come Up With a Winning Small Business Idea

These tips from experienced entrepreneurs can help you brainstorm small business ideas that boost your chances of success.

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So, you’ve decided you want to start a business. The allure of being your own boss, setting your own schedule, or making your passion profitable is too big of a dream to pass on. But how do you come up with a business idea and if you have an idea, how do you know if it is any good?

To set yourself up for future success, you’ll want to be sure that your idea has a high likelihood of working out (a.k.a. making a profit). Here are a few techniques that can help give you a fighting chance.

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1. Take a problem-first approach

One thing you’ll want to be sure of is that the product—or service—you come up with solves a problem. It’s a good place to start, but many people miss the second half of that question, according to serial entrepreneur Chandra Clarke, who co-authored The Entrepreneurial Parent: Run Your Business, Raise Your Family, Keep Your Sanity!:

“Where a lot of people go wrong with this is they don't check to see if lots of other people have that same problem,” Clarke said. “This is why cheaper eyeglasses took off as a business, while proprietary-capsule juicing machines did not. The money is in solving one problem for many people.”

This view is where a framework called PSSP comes in. PSSP stands for:

  • Problem: Eyeglasses are expensive.
  • Statistic: Millions of people need glasses.
  • Solution: Make glasses more affordable.
  • Product: Cheaper glasses.

The statistic piece shows that the problem you resonate with is big enough or relatable enough. It also goes toward forming your brand's unique value proposition, which helps customers understand your company’s purpose. This understanding can even establish brand loyalty down the line.

With a problem-first approach, you’ll be in the mindset of finding ways to add value to the world—and giving others what they need. This is what can ultimately set you apart. And if you can solve a problem in an always-in-demand industry, even better.

“Your entrepreneurial idea should be one that solves a problem. Ideally, a systemic problem,” said Joe Tolzmann, CEO at RocketPlan. “And it helps if you're diving into a recession-proof industry. I did. I knew that as long as Mother Nature's fury existed, there would be property restoration projects. I used that knowledge to get the product ready and found the right team to design the technology.”

2. Talk it out with others

To be successful, you’ll need to problem solve, but you may not figure out everything on your own. And that’s OK. Why not brainstorm with other people and get feedback about small business ideas?

Haley Slade, CEO and founder at Slade Copy House in Tennessee, recommends talking to friends, family, and colleagues about your ideas:

“They may have insights or suggestions that could help you refine your idea,” she said. “Review mine and see what other people are saying about your area of interest and reach out to them and pitch an idea. Poll your idea with people to see if it's a good idea or not.”

You can have a formal brainstorming session or a casual chat, even with a stranger. You might make a passing comment to a stranger about a problem. If the stranger and others nearby agree, you’ll know your pain point has some validity.

“If there isn’t a need, your idea will not take off,” Slade told Business.org.

You can do this with your product’s pain point too. You don’t even need to validate your point with further data right now—talking to others first is always a good start. These conversations might give you a new idea altogether.

Always be open to feedback too! You’re creating something for others, after all.

3. Look for inspiration

If you’re having trouble finding an idea or solution, try seeking out current trends online through a website like Trend Hunter.

Trend Hunter has already researched consumer insights and product ideas for you. Even if you don’t find a product you’d want to imitate, you can often get inspiration by just searching through different topics you’re passionate about.

You can also look to social media for ideas. Pinterest in particular is great for determining what’s trending, but other platforms work too.

As a small business owner myself, I used Pinterest for inspiration for my tea business. I had already made a Pinterest board of a business idea that was trending—I just had to remember that. Once I confirmed the idea, I conducted some competitor research to determine how the idea was performing in the market and what I could do to make my product stand out.

While seeking inspiration, identify gaps in your industry to find ways to differentiate yourself. It's just as important, however, to strike a balance and avoid being too unique to the point that your solution doesn’t address a significant enough problem.

4. Don’t go it alone

Once you have an idea, share your vision and build a support system.

“I absolutely would not suggest being a one-person show,” said Tim McDiarmid, co-founder of The Bravery Strategy and serial entrepreneur based in Texas. “Asking for help and guidance is the No. 1 most important thing you can learn to do. All anyone can say is no. And you move on. Be bold and brave and decisive. There are rarely exact right answers or one way to get to the goal.”

First, though, make sure you really get your idea and can explain it well to someone else. Knowing you’re both on the same page may help you relinquish control when asking for help. A good dose of humility to accept that you don’t know everything doesn’t hurt either.

But you may be wondering how to go about doing this. You could start with becoming more active on social media. You could create polls on Facebook pages regarding your product and reach out to other business owners. Or you could start engaging on the marketing platforms you post on by replying to each comment and following others who share the same passion as you.

For in-person connection, you could network at local events, work with a SCORE volunteer, or perhaps even hire a business coach or consultant. Feedback and connection in general can be crucial to your success.

PRO TIP: If networking is a challenge for you, check out these networking tips for introverts and anyone else.

5. Get validation before you launch

You need others to validate that your idea is, well, good enough. Talking it out with others is beneficial, but there comes a time when you’ll need some numbers to back it up. You’ll ideally want to do this before you launch and start marketing your final product, but you can always change things down the road too.

Getting validation is important because the market might be good, but your differentiating factor, or what makes you stand out, can make or break your business. You can get validation through friends and family, but strangers on social media may give you better, unbiased data. There are lots of Facebook pages out there for small-business owners, but you could also try Reddit, Quora, or other platforms.

A small-business Facebook page has an advantage though because it’s common practice for members to seek validation from each other, and everyone wants to help each other grow. And you can validate everything and anything: your logo, website, packaging, product, and brand idea as a whole. You can attach pictures, conduct polls, and/or just write out a post with questions.

You might be very happy with your finished product, but if you’re like most small business owners and you’re wearing most of the hats, you may have some blind spots. That’s normal. In the end, getting validation helps you to do one thing: improve your business idea.

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6. Make sure it’s something you’re passionate about

If you’ve identified a solid business idea and gotten validation, you may think that you’re good to go, but consider first if you have passion for your idea.

You’re going to spend a lot of time with this idea. If, in any way, you don’t feel a spark for it, you may struggle to build and run your small business.

“In addition to there being a need in the market, I think it’s quite important to be passionate about your idea,” Rosie Mangiarotti, founder of Perkies, told Business.org. “Being an entrepreneur is not easy, and when things get tough—and they will—you need your intrinsic forces to help you to get through the noes and the tough days. Having that passion about the product or service you're creating and market you’re serving is key.”

Keeping the pain point in mind and having fun in the creative process—while not being too hard on yourself—can help to keep the show on the road.

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7. Leverage your unique skills

If your business is something you’re passionate about, you probably have some skills tied to it. For example, if you’re a content creator who makes videos about how to play the guitar, it’s likely you learned videography to share your passion for guitar.

Think about all the skills needed to run your business to see if you’re ready and able to take on all those responsibilities. If not, will you need to hire someone? If you can’t hire someone, is there a way you can simplify your business idea or learn a new skill?

If you’re really passionate about a business idea, take a look at your skills and ask yourself:

  • What experience do you have that gives you an edge?
  • Is there any way the pain point of the company is tied into your knowledge about the subject?
  • Are you a better speaker, writer, or photographer, and how can you use that to your advantage in your marketing strategy?
  • What are you willing to learn how to do better?

“When you’re looking to start a new business, look for a business where you have unique knowledge or an unfair advantage,” said Bryan Clayton who spent years learning the landscaping business before co-founding GreenPal. “Ideally, you have some sort of secret that only you know about, and that most people don’t know about. This gives you that unfair advantage to innovate and outcompete your competition.”

In the end, the perfect business idea should form a union between three aspects:

  1. What you’re good at
  2. What you like
  3. What people want or need

If you can identify these things with clarity, you’ll be well on your way to running a successful business.

Stephanie Coleman
Written by
Stephanie Coleman
Stephanie covers financing and loans for Business.org. As a small business owner herself, she understands the hurdles that come with starting a business and the importance of making well-informed financial decisions. She's been a writer for nearly a decade and is Business.org's expert in small business software including Shopify, QuickBooks and TurboTax.
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