The other week, a colleague asked me for ideas as to what business he might start. It set me thinking about what types of businesses are most suitable for individuals who want to set something up, at little or no cost, as a scaleable venture (i.e. a venture that can grow in time).
STEP ONE - AUDIT YOUR OWN SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE
Get a piece of paper, or open a page on your computer, and list out all the things you feel skilled or knowledgeable in. Perhaps give them a mark out of ten for how skilled you feel. For instance, you might give yourself an 8 for writing skills, but a 5 for selling skills. Try to be honest with yourself. You could even ask friends to contribute to your list, and suggest things they know you are good at.
The idea of this is to encourage realism about what kind of business you could start. It will be easier to run a business, however small, if it is in an an area where you feel you can add value.
What if you feel you have limited skills? It's possible that your confidence may be low, or your experience is limited. If so, you may have to try to predict what activities may suit you the best. For example, you may like dogs, and feel that dog-walking is something you could learn to do as a business, given the chance.
STEP TWO - AUDIT YOUR RESOURCES
Be realistic about what resources you have at your disposal. These could be financial, material or human. Do you have a network of friends who can help you in a chosen area of business? Does the government run a support scheme for people starting your kind of business? Is there a charity that promotes what you aim to do? Try to think creatively about where you can build contacts, colleagues and resources. Sometimes public or free resources are available, if you only seek them out and ask.
STEP THREE - GET TO KNOW YOUR POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS
This is a key step that may really help you to build a realistic idea of what you can expect. Ask to meet people whom you feel might be your ideal customer base. Whether businesses or individuals, you can ask for twenty minutes of their time, and you never know, you might get some of your first business leads from those meetings. Remember, you are only asking for advice and guidance, and many people are happy to give of their time to someone seeking to make an activity work.
WHAT IF I'M COMPLETELY STUCK FOR IDEAS?
Here is a checklist of seven possible ideas, just in case you really have no idea what might be suitable for you. Perhaps let your intuition guide you as to what may be suitable. I have put in brackets the key skills/resources you may need.
Proofreading (written language skills)
Cleaning (stamina, thoroughness, willingness to work unsociable hours)
Repair services (experience in repairing computers, furniture, bicycles...)
Pet care/dog walking (love of animals, experience in caring for them)
Buying and selling goods online (willingness to spend time online, some space to store goods)
Craft/jewellery/cooking (some skill or patience in your chosen craft, willingness to market your wares online or via some publicity)
Garden work/fencing (willingness to work in difficult conditions, basic tools, willingness to promote your services or to network)
MAIN TYPES OF SMALL BUSINESS
If you had to categories some of these ideas, I would say they divide into:
1. Buying and selling goods (e.g. mobile phone accessories)
2. Performing a basic service (e.g. basic gardening)
3. Performing a service requiring background experience (e.g. computer repair, garden design and development)
When performing services, you can work up from basic knowledge to more experience, perhaps taking qualifications along the way where appropriate. Taking the qualifications may help you to build a network of associates who can help you with tips, tricks and customer leads.
There is always something you could be thinking about as a new business idea. Try to start by auditing yourself and your resources, and then start discussions with potential customers to find out what they might want. You never know, one of those conversations might start something new for you that will take you in a much-loved new direction!