Sometime ago, I was a company employee and whenever someone talked to me about business, I would only be mildly interested, preferring to think about ways I could impress my boss and propel myself higher up the company ladder. I would playfully tease coworkers about how we would be lifers to the end, even betting that we’d still be doing the “work we love” way past the standard retirement age.
But the “work we love” can change in an eye blink. What can I say but that I am a fickle worker. Once I tasted what it was like to be an independent entrepreneur, it became harder to imagine going back to a life that was so compartmentalized and neatly structured into project plans, development cycles and company meetings. I can go back to a “real” job one day (never say never!) but for now, I will see how it’s like to be at the helm of my own ideas and independent projects.
Employee vs Business Owner
If you’re an employee, you may feel far removed from the sales process (unless you are part of the sales department), or you may never worry about specific aspects of a business. You may not think twice about the effect of your work outside of your specific sphere of influence. You may only be concerned with doing your job well in your corner office. But when you become an entrepreneur (or if you develop the mindset of one), you’ll find yourself becoming more adept at seeking big picture solutions for diverse problems, and you’ll get used to spotting pockets of demand where there may be opportunities to make a difference. Entrepreneurs get excited over the idea that projects that they undertake may potentially contribute positively to society and to the lives of others (through employees they hire, companies they help and customers that benefit from their output). Also, once you’ve tried being a business owner for a while, you’ll find it easier to spot opportunities in different places and markets.
Some people have asked me where they can pick up business ideas to pursue. Here’s where you’ll have to seek inspiration. Expect a lot of experimentation as well as trial and error. Personally, I tried the following ideas:
7 Ways To Help You Scope Out Business Opportunities
1. Find out what your entrepreneurial friends or family are doing.
This is a simpler version of the well worn advice that suggests that you “find a mentor”. Be aware of what others are doing successfully, as there is some level of “osmosis” that occurs when you are surrounded by like-minded people. So it helps if you have a network or a tight circle of entrepreneurial friends. It may be a different story if they are all working at the retail giant next door, or at the friendly neighborhood restaurant. It also matters where you are located — for example, living in an isolated area with limited resources would be a disadvantage. The idea is to put yourself in a position to come across opportunities. This is the kind of spirit that many immigrants possess, as they cross oceans to determine whether greener pastures exist elsewhere.
2. Visit other places.
As I’ve mentioned in point #1, you may find that by traveling or by visiting another area (any new place, for that matter), you’ll benefit from getting a fresh or different perspective on things. Travel helps open your mind to newer ideas and may inspire you to come up with stuff that’s out of the box.
3. Be observant.
Keep your eye out on events and trends. Who knows what could catch your eye and ultimately spark a dream? Be aware of supply and demand and what people are needing. You can either start out with understanding a particular market, or decide whether it makes sense to create one from some perceived level of demand!
4. Think out of the box.
I mention this a lot — and it pretty much means: avoid getting stuck in your comfort zone. Exercise your mind and see just how many interesting ideas you can come up with. It may be a great exercise to stretch your mind and find out what different projects you can potentially get involved in. Of course, you’ll want to edit that list afterward because we don’t have an infinite amount of time or resources to do it all. But see which one is the most viable idea to try and flesh out. Doing this on the side even as you hold down a real job may not take that much time. It’s a neat way of taking a look at your options.
5. Look at expanding and expandable industries and projects.
It becomes a lot easier if you’ve already got at least one successful project under your belt. If something you’re doing is working out well, do you think that you may be ready to pursue yet another (related) endeavor? Does your current project lend itself to expansion? Should you think about diversification? This is how serial entrepreneurs are born! Don’t go overboard though, because as mentioned, you may have limited resources: time, money and energy. Don’t spread yourself thin, but don’t shoot down the possibilities either. Who knows what the future may bring?
6. Start with stuff you are already familiar with.
I’ve mentioned this time and again — that if you’ve never started a business before, then your first one should be something that isn’t entirely foreign to you. Setting up a business is challenging enough, so you don’t necessarily want it to be doubly hard or frustrating by trying to do something that puts you completely out of your element. While “thinking out of the box” (in #4) is good to do, you can practice this principle even in a familiar setting. For example, if you’re a great cook, then opening a catering service or publishing a cook book with your favorite recipes may be options for you. But if you’re thinking about setting up a pet kennel but have no experience with animals, then this may be a stretch! I still remember those days when it seemed like everyone was enamored about becoming a real estate agent (here in Silicon Valley). I swear that it seemed as if anyone I met in the mid 00’s either flipped real estate, bought and sold properties, was building a real estate mini-empire, was studying to be a realtor or real estate agent or was a landlord. Everyone. (Okay, no offense to my friends who are reading this!) But this was an indication that the real estate bubble was alive and well, which eventually led to the market unraveling. So before you get started with a real estate business, make sure you’ve got a long term plan (or an exit plan) properly scoped out before pouring in any hard earned capital in the process.
7. Seek inspiration in what others have done.
There’s no shortage of great stories we’ve shared here of successful entrepreneurs, some battling all odds to get further in business and in life. I personally enjoy this type of story because they bring us the message that anything is possible, and that it’s all in our power and control to make things happen for ourselves. It’s an empowering statement that helps stoke, drive and encourage anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Many incredible business opportunities are discovered in the right place at the right time by the right person. How many of these ideas are just within our grasp or sitting right under our noses?
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