I got thinking about how I came up with some of my first ideas.
For me, it was process of answering questions just like the ones below. If I dug deep enough, I’d still be able to find my early brainstorming notes filed away in Google Drive or scribbled on the inside covers of books.
A funny thing happened over time. Once I had gone through the process enough times, my mind was trained to automatically see ideas and opportunities as they came up.
The website that gave me my first bit of success online was a language learning website. When the idea hit, it struck like lightning. It immediately consumed me. I stopped everything else I was working on and got to work building it out.
Without going through the process of brainstorming business ideas and experimenting early on, I am convinced this idea never would have even come to me. I wouldn’t have even known it was option.
Here’s a big fat list of questions for coming up with business ideas.
Your answers can help point you in the right direction toward the idea you’re meant to be working on. Even if it’s not your be-all-end-all, it can become a stepping stone project that teaches you the skills you need or unlocks your next big idea.
As you go through the questions, the goal is to create a huge list of ideas—the more the better. No filters, put everything down on paper.
“Write down every single idea you have no matter how big or small.”–Richard Branson
Questions for Coming up with Business Ideas
- What can I offer that someone can buy right now?
- What unique skills do I already have that I can charge people for?
- What topics do I know well enough to write the Wikipedia page for?
- What am I already getting paid to do in my job that I could do on my own?
- What do I have to teach others?
- What can I do for someone else?
- Where can I offer others value?
- Can I sell a product based on my knowledge?
- How can I take another working business and put my own spin on it?
- How can I help others get to where they want to go?
- What solutions to I have to common problems?
- What great results have I achieved in the past?
- What “wins” have you had that you can put down as something you’re good at?
- What makes me happy in my life right now?
- What am I so good at that others ask me for help with?
- What part of my work brings me joy?
- How can I innovate in an industry?
- Which parts of my job are so easy that I could do them with my eyes closed?
- What do I do in my free time when I’m not working?
- What do people come to me for advice about?
- How can I solve my own problems?
- What’s already working?
- What have I taught someone to do in the past?
- Where can I talk to others to identify their problems?
- How have I helped someone in the last six months?
- How can I combine two niches to create a brand new niche?
- What would my closest friends say are my biggest skills?
- How can I save others money?
- What are the things I can’t stop thinking about?
- How can I make someone else’s life easier?
- How could I take what’s working in another industry and apply it to mine?
- What is my critical knowledge?
- How can my knowledge improve the world?
- How can I improve the world?
- What are my fears and worries?
- What’s my previous experience?
- What are my hobbies?
- How can I talk to potential customers?
- Where can I search online to find potential pain points?
- How can I do something cheaper than it’s already being done?
- Where is the world headed in the future?
- How can I apply my skills to a completely new field?
- If I had to define the sweet spot between what I’m good at, what I love doing, what the world needs, and what I can get paid for—what would that be?
- Where do I spend my money?
- How do I spend my time?
- What did I enjoy doing as a kid?
- What blogs or magazines do I read?
- Will I love thinking about this two years from now?
What to Do If You Still Can’t Think of an Idea
If you still can’t think of an idea you’re in love with, think about where you’re at in your life right now and what process you’re going through.
You might ask yourself:
- What am I currently working on that I could document?
- What process am I going through right now?
- What am I reading or watching a lot of these days?
- What am I learning?
As you document the processes you go through, you start to connect with others. These connections can often open up new doors. In this way, your “idea” doesn’t even need to be discovered. It just transpires.
In his book Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon discusses how to become an online documentarian of what you do. He recommends taking one thing from the process of your work each day, documenting it and then sharing it.
This “daily dispatch” can come in the form of a blog, email, tweet, YouTube video, podcast, Instagram post, or any other form of media.
Some things you might share:
- Books you’re reading
- Works in progress
- Notebook scribblings
- Scraps from your work
- Final product
The idea is just to be an experimenter, putting stuff out there to see what resonates with others and learning through a process of trial and error.
Thoughts on Filtering Your Ideas
The following is a list of potential filters you might wish to apply to your ideas after you’ve brainstormed all possibilities.
- Location Independence
If your goal is to work from anywhere, you’ll want to filter out any ideas that refine you to one location. Can this business idea be worked from your laptop?
Competition in your market or adjacent markets is a good sign—it’s confirmation that there’s money to be made. Are there others already making money from similar ideas?
Is your idea connected to a growing market? A simple way to test this is to enter related keywords into Google Trends.
If you built out this idea, could you later sell it? If the business is under your own personal name, the chances are highly unlikely.
Can this business idea be scaled? Would it allow you to get leverage and see incremental returns over time? Could you later remove yourself from the picture?
Is this an idea you’re passionate about (or are the potential returns enough to make you passionate)?
- Reachable Customers
Do you have access to potential customers, or would you cheaply and easily be able to reach them?