How do you come up with a business idea?
Aspiring entrepreneurs often get stuck in the business idea phase — that is, they’re confident they could run a killer business, make a ton of money, and live the good life — if they could only come up with the right idea.
If that’s you — the idea seeker — I’ve got good news for you: coming up with new business ideas is actually pretty easy.
It’s what comes next that’s hard!
But today, let’s go through some of the proven methods you can use to come up with your first (or next) business idea.
1. The Rip, Pivot, and Jam Method
I first heard of this method from one of my favorite podcasts, the Tropical MBA show.
Here’s how it works:
- you look at another successful business, and copy their business model (rip) …
- but apply it to a new industry or vertical (pivot) …
- and then hustle like crazy to get customers (jam).
My friend Gabe Arnold used this method after seeing the success of WP Curve, a monthly subscription service that offered unlimited WordPress support. He decided to rip that model, pivot it to provide a content writing service, and jammed to grow it to $20,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
Alexandra Kenin saw plenty of bike tours, bus tours, walking tours, and even Segway tours in her adopted hometown of San Francisco, so she had the idea to offer an “urban hiking” tour. Now her company hosts 1000 urban hikers a year and she’s even gotten a book deal out of her not-so-little side hustle!
2. The Sniper Method
Some businesses are like shotguns and others are like sniper rifles.
Let me explain.
When you fire a shotgun, it sprays out a wide net of ammunition. In contrast, a sniper rifle fires a single deadly projectile.
Both weapons have their time and place, but for entrepreneurs just starting out, it makes more sense to think like a sniper.
For example, if Amazon is a shotgun; Travis Marziani’s BDancewear.com is a sniper rifle. Instead of selling every product imaginable, they only sell dance clothing.
That means they can do more targeted marketing and they appear more relevant and authoritative to the right customers.
I used The Sniper Method when I was building my first official side hustle, a comparison shopping site for footwear.
There were dozens of other comparison shopping sites out there, like NexTag, PriceGrabber, and Shopping.com, but they all were shotguns. They tried to include every product under the sun, and as a result, left opportunity for a sniper like me.
(It’s purely coincidental my site was eventually called ShoeSniper.com.)
I reasoned that by focusing solely (pun intended) on shoes, I could deliver more accurate search results, negotiate exclusive deals, and appear more relevant to customers.
3. The Shovels in the Gold Rush Method
Perhaps you’ve heard the advice, “In a gold rush, sell shovels.” The phrase comes from Sam Brannan, allegedly California’s first millionaire, who brought news of gold to San Francisco.
But before he made his announcement, Brannan bought up all the picks and shovels in the city, so he could resell them to hopeful prospectors.
And even though this happened more than 150 years ago, gold rushes still happen all the time. We’re just not looking for literal gold in the ground anymore; we’re looking for it in the form of the latest trend or hot fad.
In online business, I’ve seen gold rushes around ebay, niche sites, self-publishing, t-shirts, Amazon FBA, and more. And every time, some of the best businesses to come out of these rushes are the supporting services.
For instance, a ton of businesses have been built exclusively to serve Amazon FBA sellers. These are product research services like Jungle Scout, inventory management tools like Inventory Lab, and price scanning tools like Profit Bandit.
So to use the Shovels in the Gold Rush method, you just need to find a gold rush to support. Maybe that’s Airbnb hosts, maybe it’s Crossfit “box” owners, maybe it’s people getting into the latest network marketing trend.
Think of what common problems they have? Or, if you’re in the gold rush yourself, what problems do you have?
“Find a hot trend and piggyback on it,” Toni Anderson told me, who successfully used the “Shovel” method to sell bracelets and diffuser necklaces into the essential oil gold rush. It turned into a 6-figure business in 7 months.
4. The Intersection Method
The Intersection method aims to find potential service business ideas at the intersection of:
- Your skills
- Your interests
- Your network
For example, I started a freelance book editing business using this exact method:
- I thought I was a decent writer and a decent proofreader (hey, I was an A-student in English), even though I’d never been paid for it.
- I was interested in reading non-fiction (specifically business) books, and had even written a handful myself.
- I was in Facebook groups with other self-published authors.
It worked well and was a fun little side hustle experiment. I read some great (and some not-so-great) books and earned some extra cash.
To play around with this, get out a piece of paper and make 3 columns.
In the first, list your skills.
It might help to refer to your resume for this one. For instance, I’d put down experience from my past jobs like ski instructor, shelving books, painting houses, and inside sales, plus some of what I’ve learned on the side like WordPress, SEO, and podcasting.
In the second column, list your interests outside of work.
What do you enjoy doing? For me this column would include items like playing softball, skiing, traveling, learning, or even parenting.
In the last column, list out the who you know, or rather the types of people you know.
I don’t mean listing out everyone by name, but look for common threads on where they work and what they do.
Today, my network includes a lot of bloggers, podcasters, authors, freelancers, and ecommerce sellers, but I could also include engineers (my wife’s coworkers), photographers, parents, and car dealers (from my old job).
Next, you can play the matchmaking game to see if there might be an intersection to combine items from the 3 columns into a potential business idea.
Note: You can actually substitute a platform like Fiverr for your network if you don’t have any connections with potential clients. This is what Kendell Rizzo did when she combined her skill of copywriting with her interest in crowdfunding to create a lucrative side hustle ($100k in profit in 18 months).
5. The Scratch Your Own Itch Method
Solve your own problem, the saying goes, because other people are probably facing the same issue.
This one is easy. For the rest of the day, just keep a mental note of all the things that frustrate you, that you spend money to solve, or that you wish you didn’t have to deal with.
All of those are potential business ideas.
For Erin Chase, she was looking for ways to cut her family’s grocery budget, and ended up getting serious about meal planning. She posted her meal plans online, and they ended up going viral! Turns out, her pain point struck a nerve with a lot of other families as well.
That turned into a subscription service called $5 Meal Plan that’s still going strong.
Steve Young’s side hustle was building smartphone apps, but he wanted to know how he could get more downloads and sales. So he started the Mobile App Chat podcast (now called AppMasters) to talk to other more successful app developers and get their advice.
He hustled mornings, lunch breaks, and evenings to record episodes and grow his listenership. Since then, that little part-time podcast not only helped him sell more apps, but’s turned into a full-time business on its own with multiple streams of income.
And finally, Perrin Carrell found himself the proud owner of a new adopted puppy. But when he started looking around online for the best kind of food for his new best friend, he was disappointed in the results.
So he thought, if none of the existing dog blogs have truly exceptional content, maybe I could build one to fill the void.
Less than two years later, the site he created, HerePup.com, was valued at $200,000.
6. The Expert Enough Method
What do your friends, family, and peers ask you for help with?
Are you the go-to person in your circle for tech support, photography, handyman work, accounting, BBQ technique, travel planning, or something else?
If people are asking for your help, they think you’re Expert Enough. (Now they might not be willing to pay for you advice, but that doesn’t mean others won’t.)
Mechanical engineer Matt Bochnak was always tinkering in his garage with motorcycles — his own and his friends’. One day he wondered if anyone would pay for his Expert Enough repair service, and sure enough, his ad on Craigslist started to draw in new customers.
And the other smart thing Matt did was set up a camera to film himself doing the repairs, which has led to a profitable YouTube channel and even selling full repair walkthrough video files online, effectively turning a service business into a passive income business.
Colin Jones had an entirely different skillset people kept coming to him for advice on: counting cards. He and his blackjack teams won nearly $4 million from casinos, so he set up a website to teach others his expertise.
Today his site has more than 500 paying members and earns Colin more than enough to support his family.
7. The Probing for Pain Method
The Probing for Pain method can be incredibly profitable if you know how to ask the right questions.
How this generally works is calling up a business owner — could be someone you have a previous relationship with or someone you’ve never met — and asking questions like:
- Tell me a little about your business?
- What’s the biggest challenge facing your industry over the next 5 years?
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- What’s the most frustrating or time-consuming part of your business?
What you’re trying to do is uncover an expensive problem, as Jonathan Stark would call it.
John Logar is the master at this. Maybe it’s the friendly Australian accent, but he has a gift of getting people talking.
In my conversation with John, he broke down how he pre-sold $120k worth of software (that didn’t even exist yet!) starting with no list and no ideas — using only the Probing for Pain method.
How to Come Up With Business Ideas: Your Turn
Which of these business idea generating methods could you use?
Hopefully this post has your gears turning!
Let me know your favorite in the comments below.
Want more? Here are some of my favorite business ideas for kids (and grown-ups too).
19 thoughts on “7 Proven Ways to Come Up with New Business Ideas – With Real Life Examples”
My favorite is ALSO by far the most difficult method…#7.
(at least for us introverts who may struggle to speak comfortably with strangers ;-)
I’ll also add one more method (more of a thought process though).
–> Make a HABIT of routinely brainstorming new business ideas.
This is something James Altrucher, Seth Godin, and others have all done on a regular basis. The act of actively thinking on/journaling about/writing down business ideas trains your mind to start recognizing opportunities on every street corner.
I’m interviewing Nick for a podcast in 58 minutes, and maybe I’ll challenge him to do this for a minute :)
Also, argh formatting!
This article is really interesting to me… I have always been in the group you mention in the first paragraph, those who think they could start a business but didn’t have an idea to run with. Your outline here (especially with all the examples and the skills/interests/network chart) seems very do-able and a great jumpstart to brainstorming ideas. I look forward to sitting down and giving it a try!
Great points of coming up with business ideas.Talking to customers or the shoppers is an another great idea of meeting people’s need, for example, if you are interested in mountain bikes, hang out in the aisles of sports and bike shops and ask customers what they wish they could find in the marketplace. If you’re interested in developing an e-commerce business, consider sending an online survey to potential customers to learn about their needs and interests.
I like the Expert Enough and the Intersection Method. I am always looking to learn and do new things and have many under my belt. I have to give this deeper thought and use the list from the Intersection Method that could possibly help me combine these methods to come up with a NEW side hustle….already have one…..
What about very shy individuals who for whatever reason are more backward than the old Tsars of Russia? Is there any such thing as someone with absolutely no value to offer, who amounts to a white elephant?
Just wanted to say that I’m so glad I joined your email list. You have some really great content! I’m currently freelancing in addition to my 9-5, but looking for a more profitable business idea. These are great.
Awesome, thanks Lanie!
Perhaps I should elucidate: As a thinker I like your ideas. I have even subscribed. However, the successful application of your guidelines eludes me. I wrack every fibre of my brain and beyond struggling to find something from which I could profit, and after so much pain and anguish, I usually end with nothing useful, and when I do pursue a good idea (and a plan to execute it), I invariably crash into a (metaphorical) brick wall. It all makes me feel as though I am a white elephant, costly and useless to all. I even lack the nerve to simply end it.
Hi A.D. I think we’ve all felt like that at certain points. It was actually after a particularly low point and some soul searching that this site came into existence. Last year the Side Hustle Nation community rallied some advice and support for another member, and I think their words might be helpful / pertinent today: https://www.sidehustlenation.com/broke-angry-trapped/
Really helpful article.I liked it has to work for you to be effective.Thanks for shearing.
Another great and super helpful article. I loved all your tips but #1 – Rip, Pivot, and Jam is my favorite. To start I love its name! The thought process is brilliant – take a proven business model of a successful company and apply its principles to a different industry, product or service and you have the foundation of a winning startup. Today I am going to do some brainstorming on how I can use this technique to create a new revenue stream in the clothing business using internet SAAS business models. Thanks for the inspiration and instruction.
Great post, Its really help me a lot.
Interesting Post! I loved the Sniper Method Part.
Wow, what a fantastic piece of work. The Scratch Your Own Itch is my favorite even though I just found out it has a name. Reading success stories of such businesses is somehow motivational to me. And I also loved that you put examples of real businesses that had success using the mentioned methods. Just subscribed to receive more awesome stuff like this.
You might also want to check this article with tips for entrepreneurs who want to kickstart their business: https://www.renderforest.com/blog/how-to-start-a-startup
Thanks for your work again and have a nice dau.
The side hustle has proves itself today to be the #1 source of ultimate income vs working 20 to 40 years in daytime employment. However, I’m not ruling out not working a day job because everyone needs a livelihood and not everyone needs or is into side hustles. But the side hustle has definitely proven itself worthy as a stable avenue of meaningful income and good money to save for post-retirement. In the next 5 to 10 years, judges, CEOs, lawyers, government employers, prosecutors, entry-level workers, former managers, and unemployed-homeless people will gain great knowledge of side hustles and affiliate marketing and discover untapped success.
I like this, will save it for later. Great post!
Very interesting article. thank you
Some people who don’t want to see others succeed try to make the targeted person feel as if they are inadequate. They deny them promotions. They slander them with false writeups. They secretly terminate them. They secretly create enmity between them and other employees. They even try to make them feel as if they were to go out and start another job or try to start a business that they might be too old to do that and just stay right where they are and put up with the bad treatment from the narcissist employer.
The good news about the side hustle is that you’re never too old to learn something new. You’re never too old to start your own business. You have the right to stand up and challenge your narcissist employer who treats you bad by respectfully voicing your distaste for their workplace negativity and setting you up for termination. You have the right to start working on your side hustle and putting your business ideas with or without gainful employment. New business ideas gets anyone out of the JOB (just over broke) mindset and into an untapped entrepreneurial mindset of positive thinking, with the added potential of using the entrepreneurial mind now unleashed to create new online revenue streams. :-)