[fs-toc-omit]What types of business are there?

We'll get into the ideas in a minute, but first, here's a brief overview of some of the different types of business you can start.

You may have the idea that to have a business you need to sell a product, and actually that's not the case at all. You don't even need to sell millions of products to have a successful business - plenty of businesses make a lot of money through having a few high-value clients. It really depends what suits you, and what you're drawn to.

Have a look at these examples for some business inspiration.

  • Sell a product - eg t-shirts, plants, hot tubs
  • Rent a product - eg marquees, clothes, bikes
  • Sell a service - eg marketing, trades, training
  • Sell your creativity - eg art, crafts, writing
  • Sell an experience - eg escape rooms, pubs, days out
  • Hospitality - eg restaurants, hotels, holidays
  • Commission-based - eg sales, affiliate marketing, Medium articles
  • Sponsorship-based - eg YouTube, Patreon, open source software
  • Subscription-based - eg subscription boxes, software subscriptions, magazines
  • Property &¬†real estate - eg rentals, holiday lets, house flipping

There are loads of different business models out there, and thousands of industries to launch into. Try not to limit yourself to the obvious choices. Instead, take a bit of time to explore and see what's out there. Try reading a business book, going to a trade show, or watching a couple of talks on YouTube.

[fs-toc-omit]How to come up with business ideas

There are as many different business ideas as there are businesses, if not more. Every idea is slightly unique, and what's worked for someone else may or may not work for you.

The most important thing is figuring out where to start. There are lots of different ways to approach finding an idea, so try a couple and see what sparks inspiration for you.

[fs-toc-h2]Method 1: Start with the methods

The best way to start thinking of ideas is to begin gathering them from elsewhere. A blank page is always a scary thing, but you'll find that once you start jotting down notes, the floodgates will open and you'll find yourself with too many ideas to handle.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a brainstorm

A good old-fashioned brainstorm is the best way to kick-off your business adventure. You need to get all the mess and half-baked concepts out of your head and down on paper, so that you can make space for newer, fresher, better ideas.

If you don't have any ideas yet, this is a great time to start tentatively exploring different concepts. Give yourself the time and freedom to venture off in different directions - let your mind wander.

Try making a list of all the ideas you have in your head. Or, better still, make a mindmap, and really explore the different directions you could take. Get it all out, and get it down on paper!

[fs-toc-h3]Start with inspiration

Sometimes you need a bit of inspiration to kickstart your energy for coming up with your own ideas, and that's fine! It's good to have a browse around the internet, watch some YouTube videos, read some blog posts, see what's out there. Something might catch your interest and spark your imagination and inspire you to come up with something else for yourself.

Often, once you start looking at things through the lens of "business ideas", you get into that mindset of "how can I make money from this". After that, you'll start seeing ideas everywhere. It's all about seeing the value in things, and the potential, rather than looking for a specific business to replicate.

The main downside to the "business inspiration" approach is that you might end up scrolling for hours in a fugue state and come out of it feeling worse. It's important to stay mindful of what you're doing, and browse with purpose. Make sure you keep your intent and goals at the forefront of your mind - kind of like the concept of "deliberate practice".

[fs-toc-h3]Start with research

There's no point just exploring the inside of your own head, you also need to look outwards. Research goes beyond "having a browse", and is more about gathering data, ideas, case studies, anything you can get your hands on. Think of it as a fact-finding mission to figure out what might work for you. Put your business hat on, and start thinking about customers, profitability, market size, and opportunities. You don't need to go into numbers straight away, just get a feel for what's out there and see what presents itself to you.

There are a lot of different places you can use for research.

  • If you already have an industry in mind, you can have a look in the industry press to see what the trends and market are like.
  • If you have a target audience in mind, you can research the audience's needs and interests, and ask around to see what people need
  • Doing keyword research is a great way to find popular niches, using tools like Google Keyword Planner, Wordtracker, or Keysearch
  • You can research trends with a tool like Google Trends, or by having a browse on social media to see what people are chatting about
  • Have a look around the internet for some business-focused websites and blogs, or google something like "online business ideas for moms"
  • Anywhere really! Get creative, chat to people! Explore new industries! Go wild.

[fs-toc-h2]Method 2: Start with the "what"

Most people will start with the "what" - the thing they're gonna make money from doing. Maybe you have a product you want to sell, a service you want to offer, or a problem you want to solve. Here are some ideas for finding ways to make money.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with an offering

This one's a bit obvious, but it's worth saying, just in case you'd not paid it enough attention. What do you actually want to offer? We started this guide by talking about some of the different types of business you could start. Which one takes your fancy?

A subscription-based product like a subscription delivery box is a great way to generate a reliable source of income, as people subscribe and pay regularly in what's generally known as monthly recurring revenue (MRR). If this floats your boat, next you'll need to find a customer or a niche, and start thinking about what's going in your box, and how to market it.

Or maybe you've got your heart set on landscape gardening, and you need to decide between starting your own company or starting a blog.

It sounds obvious to say it, but just have a think about whether you want to offer a service, sell a product, start a website, run a rental service, etc. It really does make a difference to how you see starting a business, and it'll freshen up your thinking as well.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a product

Often, people will start a business because they have products to sell. Maybe you have a product in mind already. If you don't, the opportunities are endless - there are millions of options to choose from.

Maybe there's a sector you're passionate about, like fashion, fitness, or beauty. These are popular sectors, so while you may enjoy working in the business, you may find a lot of competition when it comes to sales & marketing. Or maybe it would be fun to explore another sector you're interested in, like pets, home & garden, or cars.

But if you're more interested in making money than starting a business for fun, it's a really good idea to explore some other sectors that you may be less familiar with, and find a product with low competition.

The other important factor in finding a product to sell is acquiring the product in the first place. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Buy a product from a wholesaler or manufacturer, and sell it on
  • Buy vintage or second-hand goods, and sell them on for a profit
  • Buy broken or underloved goods, and refurbish or upcycle them
  • Make a product yourself - for example biscuits, soaps, or furniture
  • Design or invent a product, and find a company to manufacture it for you
  • Sell somebody else's product, and get a commission for each sale you make - eg with affiliate marketing
  • Become an official distributor for somebody else's product
  • Sell a product, but the order is fulfilled by another company - eg dropshipping
  • Sell a product which is created when the order is placed - eg print-on-demand
Think about what method of product acquisition works well for you

There are upsides and downsides to each. For example, when manufacturing a product yourself, your stock levels are limited by your manufacturing methods - if you sell hand-knitted scarves, you can only sell as many as you can knit. With dropshipping, you don't need to hold any inventory, but you'll make less profit on each product, and there are other considerations with outsourcing fulfilment to another company.

Often, having a browse around what's available to sell is much easier than trying to come up with something out of thin air. Having a browse through a wholesale catalogue will give you a thousand ideas for what sort of business you want to start. Just remember to start with a small niche - don't go wild and try to sell a million things at once.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a niche

Similar to starting with a product, is starting with a niche. It's a really good idea not to go too broad with your offering when you're starting out, and to focus on something specific until you get some traction. But even as you grown, having a niche can be a good thing.

A niche gives your business a strong identity

It also gives you the opportunity to own a section of the market, to be a "big player". When people think of that specific thing, they'll think of you. Niches can vary a lot - from one specific product that a lot of people need, to a hyper-specific business offering that serves a small group of people exceptionally well. Or, it could just be a small subsection of the larger sector.

  • Maybe you want to start a pet business. "Pets" is quite broad, so you could narrow it down to "Grooming", and then further to "Dog Grooming". Or you could go for "Pets >¬†Birds > Bird Toys". Once you have a customer base, you could broaden it to "Dog &¬†Cat Grooming", or "Bird Food &¬†Toys".
  • Maybe you have a particular passion for zombie-themed homeware, and you know there are other fellow zombie-lovers out there who are looking to buy some too
  • Maybe you've found a product that people need but haven't heard of yet
  • Maybe you've found a popular product that sells well, and you want to capitalise on that popularity by selling as much of that product as you can
  • Maybe you've found a company who sells an awesome product, but who isn't active in your country yet. You could strike a deal with them to be the exclusive distributor in your country. Then, your niche is selling their product.
  • Maybe you have a very particular set of skills. Skills you have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make you a nightmare for people like us.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a customer

One of the best ways to come up with ideas for a business is to start with a customer. Once you know who your audience is, the rest of it falls into place much more easily.

Do you know somebody who's looking to pay for a service, and you can offer it to them? Do you have a group of people that you understand really well, and know exactly what they'll buy and how to sell it to them? Or maybe you've identified an underserved demographic with a lot of money to spend, and you just need to figure out what they need.

Having a target customer in mind makes it a much smoother journey to starting your business.

You'll be able to visualise your audience, do better research, and even talk to people to learn more about their needs and buying habits.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a need

Perhaps instead of having a specific customer in mind, you've noticed that there's a need for something which isn't available on the market. Maybe you love baking, but you realised you can't find any natural food colourings in the shops. Or maybe your friend mentioned that they wanted to have their carpets cleaned professionally, but there were no companies within 50 miles of your town. It doesn't even need to be that complex: people always need plumbers.

It's much easier to create a business for a need than it is to create a need for your business

If people are already lining up to buy something, you won't have to do as much work on marketing and promotion - you just need to put yourself in front of the right people.

If you don't already know of a need, don't worry, you can still find one. Just keep your eyes peeled. Ask around, listen to people's conversations, find out what people need but can't find. Read social media threads, or do some research in forums. It may take a while to find one, but the time and effort spent up front will be worth its weight in gold when you have a ready audience on day one.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a problem

Starting with a problem is similar to starting with a need, but it needs a bit more thinking and a bit more savvy. With a need, people know what they need, and you just need to give it to them. With a problem, you need to do the extra step of figuring out a solution.

It's quite easy to find problems. You probably encounter a lot in your life every day. You just need to find one that can be solved, and most importantly monetised. The best method for this is to talk to people. Simply ask people, "What problems are you struggling with at the moment?". People will readily share, as it's probably been bugging them for ages - and people love talking about their problems. You can also ask, "What's your biggest problem right now?", or "If someone could solve one problem for you today, what would it be?". Don't just stick to your friends, ask anybody - you might discover a lucrative new industry that wouldn't have been evident to you otherwise.

Ask people you meet, "If someone could solve one problem for you today, what would it be?"

Sometimes, people have problems that they don't even realise they have. Think about it: is there anything you do regularly that takes you far too long to do? Anything that requires far too much thinking, or far too much manual effort? Is there any way you could make these tasks quicker, simpler, or easier?

Solutions come in many shapes and forms as well. You don't necessarily need to invent a new product; maybe you can provide a service to handle the problems for people. Or maybe you could play matchmaker between people with problems and people with the solutions.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with what's popular

Have you seen any good trends lately? If you have, maybe it's time to hop on it.

Not all trends are created equal though. If you're in the right place at the right time, you can make a fortune from an overnight fad - but most of us don't have that luxury. Instead, look to the slightly longer term. There's been a huge trend recently around house plants, and it's not going away any time soon. Lots of companies have sprung up selling cheese plants and succulents of all different sizes. Macrame's become popular recently as well, in interior design, so maybe creating macrame plant pot hangers is a good Etsy business idea.

It doesn't have to be a fashion trend though. There are lots of other forms of trend, for instance the way people are using technology more and more in their everyday lives. But really, the trend isn't the important bit at all - the important bit is the popularity.

If you can find something that's already doing well, you can jump on and have a piece of the pie

Think outside the box a bit. What do people use every single day? What sells really well with senior citizens? What never goes out of fashion? And again, people always need plumbers.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with a name

Now for a random one. Start with a business name. If you happen to come up an awesome, sharp, snappy name, the ideas just start flowing from there.

For instance, maybe you really like the word "Honeycomb", and think it would be a great name for a business. This lends itself to plenty of products and industries: hair products; bee-, wax-, or honey-based products; bakery or confectionary products; a suite of modular hexagonal wall shelves; geodesic dome buildings or marquees; a social network app for chefs; literally anything to do with hexagons.

Have a brainstorm for cool words, and go wild!

[fs-toc-h2]Method 3: Start with the "how"

Contrary to popular belief, the most important thing about a business isn't what you want to start, but rather how you plan to make it a success. You could have the most boring, over-done, mundane product in the world, but if you have a solid plan to make it a success, it's more likely to be successful than an incredible, game-changing business idea with no plan.

The most important thing about a business isn't what you want to start, but rather how you plan to make it a success

It may seem counter-intuitive, but having a good idea of how you can make a business successful can be more valuable than having a business idea in the first place. Once you have a plan for success, then you can explore different types of product or business that might fit into that plan.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with the sales & marketing strategy

You may very well ask, "how can I make a marketing plan for a product when I don't know what it is?". But you know, some principles are the same no matter what you're trying to sell or promote.

‚ÄćHaving a good idea of how you can actually grow a business is crucial.

The first thing you really need to ask yourself is, "what's my budget for marketing my business?". This is critical in determining what approach you take. Maybe you're looking to start a small business on the side, and you have a little bit of cash to invest. Maybe you're a college dropout, and you're on an absolute shoestring budget. Maybe you're fairly successful already, and you have a large budget to play with. Or maybe you're thinking to get investment, and you have a figure in mind.

The budget really determines the strategy. With a shoestring budget, you want to be considering low-cost options, like social media, door-to-door sales, or online marketplaces like eBay or Etsy. A little more money, and you could think about running some online adverts through Google Ads, some ads in the local press, or stands at industry or consumer fairs. A decent budget, and maybe you want to do a huge launch, a national ad campaign, or hire a PR firm.

It depends on the industry as well, as well as on you yourself. How are you going to take your business from 0 to 1000 customers? How are you going to get your first customer? Are you good at going out and talking to people? Or are you better at sitting at a laptop and looking at analytics? Do you have people to help you get started, or are you doing this on your own? Are there any communities or platforms that could help you get your name on the map? What does growing the business actually look like for you?

[fs-toc-h3]Start with the channel

Starting with a whole sales & marketing strategy can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you're new to it. You don't have to. In a lot of cases, especially if you're a one-person company, it may actually be better to focus on one thing. It's easy to spread yourself too thin, and try and do everything and anything you can to promote your business. What happens is you end up overworked, overwhelmed, and confused - and that's how your business looks from the outside.

Instead, find something you know, understand, and can do exceptionally well, and focus on that. Perhaps you haven't got a clue how Pinterest works, but you have several thousand Twitter followers and know how to grow your following. Maybe you know Instagram inside out, but couldn't write a blog post to save your life. Or maybe you're awesome at making instructional videos, cold-calling, or schmoozing with the press. Find something that works really well for you, and own it.

Find something you know, understand, and can do exceptionally well, and focus on that

When you know what channel you're focused on, it's easier to find a product to work well on that channel. If you know you can build a Facebook community, think about what sort of people would be in that community and what they might want to buy. For Instagram, find something that can be sold visually. If you already have strong connections in an industry, think about the problems those people might be having.

Starting with a channel might seem unconventional, but it's a really good way to get yourself laser-focused on one thing. If you can understand one thing thoroughly, and do it well, you have a high chance of success.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with the proven strategy

You know what's better than doing something that might work? Doing something that's been proven to work.

There are millions of businesses out there. Do you think they all reinvented the wheel? No! The majority of them just use the same tried and tested methods. Buy something, sell it. Make something, sell it. Do something, charge for it.

You don't need to come up with something game-changing. Just do something that works.

Find a business that's doing well, and then just copy what they did. Find an Etsy seller who's doing great, and do what they're doing - with your own products of course. Find a business that's big on Instagram, and copy their methods. Find an affiliate marketer who's raking in the big bucks, and do the same thing yourself. Heck, message them and ask how they did it if you have to.

There are plenty of books, courses, articles, videos, etc teaching people how to run a successful business. Just find a good blueprint, and then use it. If it's worked for other people, there's a good chance it will work for you as well.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with the day-to-day

Believe it or not, running a business isn't all about coming up with fun ideas and making money. Most of it comes down to the day-to-day running of the business. Of course, not every day will be the same, especially if you're running a small business. But there will be some tasks that take up a substantial chunk of your time, and some things that you hate doing. So if you want to start a business, it's a good idea to choose something you don't mind doing every day.

If you love chocolate, you may love the idea of starting your own chocolate business. After all, you love cooking, you love experimenting with different flavour combinations, and most of all you love eating chocolate. But think about what this looks like in practice. Once you've done the first bit of recipe development and got your first box of chocolates, how are you going to sell them?

Are you going to sell your products direct-to-consumer online, which means packaging up boxes to take to the post office? Or are you going to get them stocked in shops, which means business meetings with potential stockists? Or maybe you want to open a shop, or go to food fairs, which means being customer-facing. Think about how much of your time will be spent on selling the product, how much will be spent on manufacturing the product, and how much will be spent on coming up with fun recipes.

It's important to find a business concept that suits you well - no matter how excited you are about your idea, for your business to succeed you need to be able to commit to the day-to-day running of it.

For your business to succeed, you need to be able to commit to the day-to-day running of it

Maybe if you're good with people you might enjoy a more sales-based business, or if you're not so good with people maybe you'd enjoy something you can do online from behind a computer. If you enjoy the creative aspect of product development, or you love making the product by hand, maybe a niche, high-quality independent business on Etsy might suit you more than a dream of a global empire.

[fs-toc-h2]Method 4: Start with you

There's something really obvious, and critical to the success of your business, that we haven't thought about yet. You.

You are the single most important factor in this whole journey.

Starting a business is your decision, to achieve your goals, and it should be a business that suits you. There's no point promising yourself a dream that isn't really going to work for you, because if you can't really commit to it it's not going to be a success. Find something that works for you, and the sky is the limit.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with your motivation

What is it that made you want to start a business? Was it financial independence, being able to work on your own schedule, or doing something you love? Do you want to be a millionaire? Do you want your illustrations to be seen all over the world? Do you want to be able to spend more time with your children? This is the thing that really drives you.

It's a good idea to write down your motivation, and put it somewhere that you can see it. There's a chance you'll forget it later, when you're questioning why you started.

It's also a good idea to write down some concrete goals. A lot of experts swear by writing down clear, specific goals, rather than just having a vague dream in your mind. Some people like to make a vision board to keep them focused. Others like to repeat their goals in the mirror every morning. Either way, crystallize what you want to achieve.

Now you need to ask yourself some important questions. "How am I going to achieve this goal?". If you want to make a million dollars, how are you going to do that? If you want to work on your own schedule, how are you going to get to the point where you can quit your job? Or how are you going to get your art in shops all over the world? It's much easier to think in terms of, "how can I make $1000 next month", than "how can I get incredibly rich".

Having a specific goal makes it crystal clear in you head what you want to achieve

Don't get distracted by thoughts of being a billionaire, or panicked by trying to do everything at once. Just focus on this one goal, and make sure that you are set on only what is necessary to hit it.

[fs-toc-h3]Start with your skillset

A lot of people will tell you to do what you love, but sometimes it's more important to do what you're good at. You can love baking cakes, but if you're not very good at it then it's not very likely that it will make you a millionaire.

A great way to come up with a business idea is to just brainstorm what you're good at

Make a mindmap, and think about all the skills you've used in your past jobs, the things you enjoy doing, your interests, what people compliment you on, the lot. Don't just go for office skills like "Powerpoint", think about your soft skills as well, and any hobbies you know too much about. Maybe people love how you've done your living room, or maybe you know a weird amount about grandfather clocks. It's all useful.

Now think about how you can use these skills. Can you monetise it? Can you use it in your business? Does it spark any inspiration for you?

Equally important is to think about the skills that you don't have, and the stuff you're really terrible at. It's probably not the stuff you want to be basing your whole business around.

Take a few minutes to think about any skills that you could improve, or learn from scratch. If there's anything you're just a little bit weak in, perhaps you could study and improve it. Maybe you're bad at making cakes, but maybe you could take a couple of courses and learn how to do it well.

It's much easier to start a business when you have all the skills to make it work. Consider adjusting your business idea to work with the skills you have, or consider doing some training to make sure you're better-prepared for it. If you're really good at something, maybe that's the thing that could make you a lot of money.

[fs-toc-h3]Most importantly, start with what you know

Look, there's no point waking up one day and deciding you want to start a business selling aviation parts if you've never worked in either sales or the aviation industry, and have no idea what it entails. Similarly, there's no point deciding to start an ecommerce business if you barely use the internet. If you do have your heart set on it, take the time to learn about it first before diving in headfirst and committing to it. Otherwise, it's best to start with what you know.

It's not to say that you shouldn't do something new. It's just that it's probably best not to do something that's so completely new to you that you're out of your depth from the get-go. Take what you already have, and build on it.

Think about the skills you have, the people you know, the experience you have, the industries you've worked in, everything that makes you you. Somewhere in all of this will be the skills, connections, experience, and knowledge you need to make a successful business. You already have everything you need inside you. Just a little bit of inspiration, a clear focus, a bit of learning, and a lot of hard work will get you there.