How to come up with a business idea when you have no clue

By Laura @ IWMLB Project | What business shall I start?

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May 02

You know you need to come up with a business idea. The one tiny little thing standing in your way is that you have no bleedin’ idea where to start!

You’ve googled ‘how to come up with a business idea”. You have multiple scraps of paper with scrawled brainstorming all over them.

You’ve thought long and hard about what your passion is. Your brain is aching from trying to come up with that one original idea.

But still, nothing.

Gah!!! If only I could just decide what business to start, I could get the hell on with starting it!

I know how you feel, I was going around in exactly the same circles a year ago.

‘Follow your passion, and live your dreams!’ books and blogs proclaimed. ‘Make millions by doing what you love!’, screamed yet more.

That’s all well and good but what if you don’t have one burning passion? What if you like lots of things?

And is ‘loving’ to do something the only ingredient for a successful business?

We’ll explore some of these elements below to help you get some concrete ideas down rather than some whimsical notion of ‘do what you love and it will all be hunky dory’.

how to come up with a business idea


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What are you trying to achieve?

The type of life you want is going to directly affect the type of business you choose. 

If you want to be location independent, (perhaps you want to travel), then it’s no good setting up a hairdressing salon, or a house renovations company where you would need to stay in one place. 

You will want to come up with a business idea that can be done remotely, perhaps an online shop, or a coaching business via Skype.

If you want a lifestyle business, (one that pays enough to cover your expenses but won’t stretch to a mega yacht), then you won’t want a high-risk start-up. No point trying to make a cryptocurrency app that will take a lot of investment, both in time and money, for potentially no gain.

Examples of a lifestyle business could be;

  • Working as a virtual assistant (you could have your own website plus list yourself on sites such as Fiverr and Upwork).
  • Running a BnB or camping/glamping site. 
  • Run a walking/hiking/paddle boarding tours
  • Write a blog 
  • Start a youtube channel review site. This is how Gary Vaynerchuk made eleventy gazillion dollars for his father’s wine company. You can read how in his book Crush It.
  • Sell courses on Udemy 

The king of talking about a lifestyle business is Tim Ferris in his book Four Hour Work Week. Some of it you can take with a pinch of salt but the overall concept is interesting.

Action: Make a clear list of your ‘wants’ for your business

Should you follow your passion?

Passion, I believe, is the wrong word as it implies there is one burning thing that you absolutely must do and you somehow know it to your core.

This isn’t necessarily true, and even if it was, would turning your passion into your job, end up killing your love for it?

Swap the word ‘passion’ for ‘interest’ and suddenly you take the pressure off. We tend to have lots of interests, any one of which could be made into a business.

Here are some ideas to help you think about what your interests might be:

What do you spend your free time doing?

If I said ‘you have 2 hours to do whatever you want, and no one will disturb you’, what would you do?.

Watch a film, read blog posts on a particular subject, read a book, go to a sports club, bake a cake?

The things that we do, when we aren’t obligated to, give us an insight into what we are interested in.

I LOVE to read. I’ll devour anything with words given half the chance. Blogs, books, cereal packets. Anything.

My all-time favourite thing to do is download a book to my Kindle, or go the library and then spend a few hours losing myself in the pages of a book.

What you end up doing for your business doesn’t have to be a literal translation of your interests. I am now trying to write for a living on this blog, but my interest was reading. 

What did you do before your career? Especially if you just fell into it

If you are like many people, your career has very little in common with what you studied at school and university. A lot of the time we have no idea what we want to do in our early twenties and so ‘fall into’ a career.

If you go back to what you studied, it’s likely these were the subjects you enjoyed.

Could your business be based on your earlier preferences rather than your current career? You will no doubt have transferable skills that will help you on your new path.

For example, I did languages at A-Level and a BA in Language and Communications at university. I then ended up in a retail career doing maths and spreadsheets………

Starting this website went back to what I used to enjoy. Writing and communicating. But it still encompasses the business skills I learned in my retail career.

FYI – it took me a while to get back into a writing mode rather than numbers mode as I was pretty rusty!

Action – write down a list of what you do in your spare time for fun, what you could lose hours doing, what you enjoyed at school and what makes your eyes light up when you talk about it with others.

how to come up with a business idea when you have no clue

If you don’t have time to go through all the action points now, I have made a free ‘Business Idea Worksheet’ for you to use.

You can go through the sheet to brainstorm your business ideas and select one to get started with. Click on the link below to get your worksheet!

Get my free worksheet!

Which businesses do you like?

Which companies do you look at and think ‘Oh I would love to do something like that!’?

Well, why can’t you? It doesn’t have to be exactly the same. No business idea is truly original, it’s usually either a twist on another idea or the same idea but done better.

Some of my favourite brands:

My Bespoke Room

“Put the ‘me’ into ‘home’.

I love this idea as it takes the concept of interior design but makes it accessible to everyone. It is also a location independent business as it is all done online.

Craft and Crumb

‘Make baking child’s play with easy to use DIY cake kits’

This is a fantastic idea as it solves a problem I will definitely have when I have a child. I can bake pretty well, but decorating a cake? God, no. 

Blade and Rose

You would think that the babywear market was saturated but these clothes are so bright and unique, they stand out in a very crowded space. I’ve bought quite a few pieces for my nephew!

Create and Go

‘Make money blogging and design your life’

Image of Alex and Lauren from Create and

Alex and Lauren teach people how to make money blogging on their site Create and Go. I took their blogging course as I felt they were genuinely teaching me something they had already achieved themselves.

Alex and Lauren first made money on their health and fitness blog, before going to on to teach others about blogging. They both write extremely helpful content without the usual annoying sales speak.

If you are unsure whether you need a blogging course you can read my thoughts here:

Pop Up Business School

Image of pop up business school

Pop Up Business school offers 10 days of business workshops completely free for participants. I attended in February 2018 and it was the reason I finally started this site properly.

It is paid for by local councils and housing associations to help community members support themselves and their local area. What an amazing idea!

You can read my review of it below:

Action – make a list of your favourite brands or businesses and what you like about them

Find your niche, let customers define your sub-niche

What is a niche? The dictionary is better at explaining it than I am.

It’s defined as:

Denoting or relating to products, services, or interests that appeal to a small, specialized section of the population.

The idea is, the more niche your subject area, the smaller your fan base will be. If you have a very small loyal following, you will find it easier to serve them.

However, if you go too specialised at the beginning, the scope of your business may be too narrow. You will only ever be able to offer a limited number of products and won’t be able to scale it.

A better play would be to define your niche (i.e baking, or skin care) and then see what customers are buying. If certain products take off, that is your sub-niche. 

Let’s take baking as our example.

You really enjoying baking bread so you set up a stall at a local market selling your loaves.

Over a few weeks, you notice that your sourdough loaf outsells everything else.  So you start to add in more sourdough variations. Customers are asking you how to bake sourdough themselves so you sell the sourdough ‘starter’ as well as the loaves.

Then you create a sourdough recipe book and host workshops for people on how to make the perfect sourdough. You set up youtube channel talking about sourdough or showing people how to make it.

You keep an eye on baking publications to see what the next trend might be and then try selling a loaf of that.

How do I know what niches there are?

Blogs, magazines, trade publications often feature up and coming trends which could be potential business niches. Or you can just use good ole google.

If you love health and fitness, google ‘fitness’ + ‘trends’ and see what pops up. 

As I said above, you don’t want to base your entire business on fads, as these can peak and then die. But it might spark an idea.

At the moment (2018) activated charcoal has exploded. It’s the new goji berry, coconut oil and whatever else health fad there has been.

If you love skincare, could you have an Etsy or Shopify shop that sells moisturisers and cleansers that you can modify depending on the latest trends?

Action – research 5 trends or niches within your areas of interest.

What problem can I solve?

Many hugely successful businesses started because the founder was frustrated about something and couldn’t find the solution. 

For example, Spanx started out when Sara Blakely cut the legs off a pair of ‘tummy control’ tights before going out to a party.

What irritates you regularly? Have you ever thought, ‘I wish someone would just come up with an idea to fix this!‘.

Given the number of people in this world, if you find something irritating, it’s likely a lot of other people do too.

Or it could be that you have the skills to solve a problem for someone else. Sometimes we don’t realise we are uniquely good at something as it comes naturally to us.

Does anyone ever say to you, ‘you are so great at such and such‘?. If that’s the case then it’s likely they aren’t great at it, and you could solve a problem for them.

It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing, Uber solved the problem that taxis were too expensive, Wah nails took plain manicures and made them more exciting.

Action – spend a week jotting down everything that annoys you or a problem you could solve for someone else

Will it make money/does my customer have disposable income?

This is very important.

You cannot sell to those who do not have money. When you are trying to come up with a business idea, ask yourself who your customer is, whether they have money and whether they would be willing to pay for it.

You don’t need a million customers to make money. As long as you have a group of people you can serve, and they have money, you could build a successful business.

In this book summary of his original blog post, 1000 True Fans, Kevin Kelly argues that you don’t need millions of customers. If you have 1,000 true fans who spend $100 with you every year, you will earn $100,000 annually. 

An example of a customer base with money:

The rise in the number of middle-aged men and women in their forties doing triathlons has been nicknamed the ‘Mid-Life Trisis’. (ha!)

This is big business as triathlon competitors need a lot of pricey gear (bikes, wetsuits, running shoes etc).

As these people are competing in an expensive sport and have probably reached a reasonably senior position in their career, they have money.

Offer them add-ons, accessories, and gadgetry that could make them faster, stronger, better and they’ll buy from you.

photo of bike for blog post how to come up with a business idea when you have no clue

‘Tri’ selling to people with money. (sorry)

Action – take each of your interests and potential niches and write down who your potential customers are. Do they have money?

How easy is it to set up?

If it is quick to get going, you will see success much faster and gain motivation from it. The longer it takes to set up, the more likely you are to give up. 

If you want to get going quickly, then you may need to break the business down into smaller steps.

If you wanted to start a catering business, you could begin by selling home-cooked lunches to your work colleagues to make cash quickly and understand what type of meals people wanted.

Your business idea really doesn’t have to be that crazy. Cleaning businesses are not sexy, but they are easy to set up, make money and be scaled.

Action – take a couple of your business ideas from the earlier exercises and see if you can simplify them down to get set up faster.

Other useful blog posts that you might like!
And finally,

Unfortunately, you can’t pray to Entrepreneurocles, the God of Small Business Ideas to swap your first born for the perfect wealth-generating idea.

Coming up with a business idea is a process, and is made up of a combination of things.

No matter what idea you choose, your business will evolve so it is better to choose something and see where it goes.

The idea itself is merely the starting point.

Just make sure that you choose one idea and one idea only.

As Confucius said ‘The man who chases two rabbits, catches neither’. 

If it doesn’t work out you can move on to the next one, but just go all in with one idea first, otherwise, you’ll never give it 100% to see whether it’s viable or not.

So to recap on selecting a business idea and actions to take:

  • What are you trying to achieve with your business? Make a clear list of your ‘wants’
  • What are your interests? Write down what you do in your spare time for fun or what you enjoyed at school
  • Which businesses do you like/admire? Note down your favourite brands and why you like them
  • What is your niche/trends in your niche? Research 5 trends or niches within your areas of interest
  • What problem can you solve? Spend a week jotting down everything that annoys you or a problem you could solve for someone else
  • Does your customer have money? Write down who your potential customers are. Do they have money?
  • How can you simplify the setup? Take some of your best ideas (according to the above steps) and see if you could break them down into smaller steps

Do you want to start your own business? What ideas have you come up with? 


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About the Author

Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)

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