Ideas: Good and Bad
A phenomenal idea can utterly flop when handled poorly. A mediocre or even a bad idea can prosper when directed by brilliant minds and competent hands. There is really no shortage of ideas. There is however a serious dearth in smart planning and those able to see a plan all the way through to a successful outcome. Virtually any idea could be a good one if well-executed. There are however some fields that are becoming obsolete or are in fact extinct.
The internet continues to wipe out the middle man on a wholesale basis. You probably wouldn’t get too far opening a brick and mortar travel agency these days, nor are you likely to fare well opening a chain of DVD rental stores or a telephone book distribution service. The postal service has been on the decline since the advent of email and electronic communication, but it will continue to function due to eBay and Amazon and heavy use of online shopping – so we may see resurgence in the delivery business after all. Even obsolete mediums such as cassette tapes and music “fanzines” have experienced a slight rebirth as niche (very niche) markets. Vinyl LPs were never fully replaced by digital formats for the simple reason that analog LPs sound better. Many current releases are also pressed as vinyl records and specialty shops sell high-end equipment to play them.
A business idea is only limited by your skill and creativity. If you wish to enter a highly competitive market, be prepared to be highly competitive. Here are some tips for judging and elevating the success potential of your idea:
What makes your idea unique? You may have something to offer that no one has seen before. But if a zillion other people are doing it, what makes your angle unique? Do you offer the same item for less money? Or do you provide quality and service that is so exceptional as to warrant the extra cost? These are questions you must ask yourself and your team. And you must answer them honestly or your success will be hindered. If you can’t come up with any workable answers, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Your uniqueness will be a guiding principle not just in your operations, but in your overall marketing and image. What makes you unique?
Can’t Do and Don’t Want To Do
Many businesses are modeled on one of two principles:
They do what others cannot do or what others don’t want to do.
People don’t know how to deal with the IRS so they hire an accountant or a lawyer to do it. They also don’t want to deal with the IRS. You hire someone to fix your car because you aren’t a mechanic and you don’t have the tools. A lot of people don’t want to do their own cleaning, so you can start a cleaning company with almost zero overhead and find work by placing free online ads. With a bit of capital you could start a business cleaning up water damage and backed up sewer lines because people don’t want to deal with the mess. Even though those fields are competitive, they provide opportunity due to the inability and unwillingness of others.
But it works the other way as well: Certain professions are all but dead. You don’t need a travel agent these days because the service they would perform (which most people were unable to do) can now be done in a few seconds using a variety of travel and booking sites. Determine if you have something to offer that others are unable or unwilling to do.
Experience vs. Partnership
It helps if you have personal experience in a field, but it is not absolutely necessary. The person opening an automobile repair shop would normally be a seasoned mechanic already. But there is a way around that: If you have what you feel is a really good idea but you lack expertise, partner with someone else who possesses the skills you lack. A friend of mine is an excellent writer and editor who teamed up with an old friend of his who is a computer software development whiz. Both their skills, combined with an excellent business model, make for a promising venture. One person could possess excellent technical skills while being utterly clueless when it comes to marketing. That person would do well to team up with a skilled marketer. Look at any stellar name and he or she had a partner or team that possessed skills vital to the equation.
Interest & Passion
It helps if you have passion for a specific field. But even then, you may only be mildly interested in a given field but have an overwhelming passion for success in general. People are wired differently. You have to decide if you wish to enter a field because you think you’ll make a lot of money at it, or if you simply have an overriding passion for that field. If you’d do it for free but you feel you can make a ton of cash at it anyway, then that would probably make an ideal match. A friend of mine who owns several businesses has disdain for the “I want to do what I want” mentality. One of his businesses does water and sewage clean-up and mold remediation, i.e. something others don’t want to do. But that is his approach and what works for him. You, on the other hand, may not function well if you’re not doing the exact thing you’re interested in and passionate about. But no matter the circumstance, you must first and foremost be good at what you do – whatever that may be.
No matter what you do, you’ll have to sell. You sell to potential customers or to other professionals. It’s true that some have a knack for selling and others don’t, but it’s not as esoteric as some make it out to be. It’s fundamentally a matter of communication and it also helps when you like people. There are also specific rules and skills related to selling that you can learn and practice. But if you have faith in your product and you can talk and listen, you can sell.
A business plan is often thought of as a means of acquiring capital. And to that end it is extremely valuable. If you only get half of what you really need, you will have trouble and are far more likely to falter. But a business plan in the fullest sense is far more than a way to pitch your idea. It is a step-by-step strategy for success. Market analysis is an essential ingredient for getting something off the ground and staying aloft. One primary tool you should be using: Surveys! Through surveys you get your finger on the pulse and see what’s making people tick. You can also get a sense of whether or not your idea will “bite” when offered to the right market segment.
A friend of mine invented a tool for use by carpenters. He partnered with an associate who was an engineer but also had good business sense. They started a company to manufacture and sell the item. After they achieved some success, China started making a slightly different version of the product, thus dodging the US patent, and sold it for considerably less money. The company did well for a while but didn’t last. Now, years later, my friend has invented something new but he’s keeping a low profile while awaiting an international patent. There are different types of patents. If you have something brand new, consult with an attorney or two who know international law. The internet has made proprietary rights even more complex and harrowing. Another friend who is a telecommunications and internet lawyer called it a “brave new world”. If you don’t want your idea stolen, do your homework. And even then there is always risk.
Estimation of Effort
If you think you’re starting a business for all the extra free time, think again. It’s hard work and it’s not for the faint of heart. Just when you think everything is going your way, a seismic shift alters the whole landscape. Another point to heed is that you’re never fully your “own boss”. You always serve someone; if not a boss, then investors, customers, clients, your family, your community and mankind. And just the fact that you have a great idea does not mean a red carpet will roll out for you. Others in the same arena may not be at all happy about your arrival. That said, approach it as an adventure and you’ll have fun!