Step 5: Coming up with a business idea

Coming up with an idea for a business is really, really tough isn’t it? Nearly everything you look at has been done before. Or it looks too hard to set up. Or it’s too costly (why are franchises so expensive?!). Hopefully this page will help kickstart your thinking. And on that topic…

Think, think, think

When trying to come up with business ideas, it might be a good idea to start with looking at something that you’ll enjoy (I know this sounds really obvious, but isn’t job satisfaction one of the reasons you’re looking at this blog in the first place?).

Try to figure out what you enjoy. What interests you? what really makes you tick?

Love food? Love a specific food item (jams, smoothies, snacks) or food in general (want to run your own restaurant, cafe or foodie tuk tuk!).

Do you love watching films? Can you provide a unique spin on film reviews? Perhaps you love the nostalgia part of cinema – so how about something to do with posters, t-shirts or movie props? Love just one film and can’t find anything decent fanboy websites about it – why not look at how you’d make money from setting one up? How long would that take and how would you make money from it?

Are you creative? Like making things? Could you sell fabrics, art, pottery – or how about setting up something which helps people realise their own dreams of making art? Is there money in that?

Love reading? Try something related to books – perhaps selling them (be aware there’s lots of competition) or something on how to write them (not so competitive but that’s because it’s hard to do!).

Love people in general? Love chewing the fat? Love helping people face to face because you love the immediate hit of satisfaction and happiness that you get? It might sound daft, but why not think about services which involve talking to people while helping them out. Mobile barber service, where local people book appointments online? Are you an expert in a topic? Are you sporty? If so, could you set up an exercise club and help people get fit? How would you charge for that? How would you make money?

When the going gets tough – the tough go shopping

Not sure what you’re good at? Why not make notes the next time you go shopping? It sounds daft, but why not get really picky and think about what could be done better when you see a shop, go in, look at products, pick them up, try them out or on, how you buy it, what the customer service is like. Notice anything during that process that could be done better?

For example, I’m a busy parent and my kids are invited to birthday parties pretty much every weekend. Life is manic at the weekened and I don’t always have time to buy a birthday card, go to a different shop to buy a birthday present and then go home to wrap it. Why doesn’t my local newsagent sell ‘pre-gifted’ birthday cards ie a card with a gift already inside? Imagine buying a card that has a certificate or token of some sort already in the card and ready to go? Okay it’s the kind of lazy present only a dad would buy but hey – everyone loves a gift token right?

Pin the tail on the donkey

Well not quite, but if you’re really stuck for inspiration, why not open up a dictionary at a random page and see what word comes up? Can you somehow turn that into business? How about doing that with a history book? There are a million books on how to set up a business, but why not focus on autobiographies of successful entrepreneurs? You may not invent a cutting edge piece of kit in a Californian garage, but why not look at how key players stumbled into their field of work?

Still stuck for ideas? There are loads of out there like this ‘Business Idea Generator’ quiz.

If you want to find out more about setting up a blog, improving your social media campaigns or how to drive more sales online, get in touch.


Step 4: What kind of internet business can I start?

Selling online doesn’t just mean setting up a global online shoe shop or huge bike parts store.

Clicks and mortar business

Cheesy phrase right? It basically means an e-commerce website which supports a real bricks and mortar store in the high street. Lots of existing business owners are rightly exploring e-commerce because of the growth opportunities it offers. Got a great brand and great products but can’t afford opening up a new high street store? Why not set up online and open it up to the whole world? You can then spend time marketing your website to the people you were originally going to sell to with your new physical store – but then some!

Many physical store owners are already dabbling with eBay and Amazon Marketplace, but as e-commerce tools get easier to use and cost very little to run, retailers are going out on their own setting up for themselves via sites like Shopify and Bigcommerce.

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Virtual goods

Ever downloaded music? Paid for and downloaded an e-book or a knitting pattern? Millions are each day, so there’s no reason why you can’t set up an online business selling exclusively online services or downloads.

Offering virtual goods has the advantage of not taking up physical storage space (except hosting costs on a server or hard drive). With little or no ‘stock’, costs are often dramatically reduced. Made something that doesn’t sell? No need to store it in an expensive warehouse.

Obviously creating and selling original software or useful online tools is a whole different kettle of fish to selling physical goods and it’s not something that can be explained in a single post because of the technical knowledge required – but there are huge opportunities to be had if you can pull it all together.

There’s also the potential to sell your expertise online. Good at design? Great at marketing? Think you can teach people a new skill? There are all kinds of services you can sell. Selling online courses, videos, Word or PDF downloads for a fee – it’s all possible. For example, one of Shopify’s apps – called Send Owl – lets you charge customers to download useful documents. That could be lessons in something, a novel, a dress-making kit – anything at all that can be sent via the internet.


Step 3: Why set up an online business?

The web has empowered everyone in the world to bypass traditional barriers and become a publisher in their own right (with a blog or YouTube channel). But few realise how easy it is to set up an online store or e-commerce website.

Sell to people all over the world

A few years ago, I once heard a quote from a very successful (and wealthy) person. I’ll paraphrase but basically, it went something like:

‘to make real money, you have to create something that makes you money while you sleep.’

Yeah, pretty obvious, but just think about that for a second. If you own and run a store in the high street, it’s unlikely you’re going to be earning any cash at night (unless you’re a 24 hour grocery store –  but then you’ll need to employ night staff). With an online business, your store stays open all day, every day – and if it’s set up right at the beginning, it can be run with relatively little effort. That said, imagine what’s possible with maximum effort…!

Low cost e-commerce solution

It costs very little to set up an e-commerce store – so little that this shouldn’t really be one of the barriers to setting up a business as we’ve mentioned in other posts.

All-in-one e-commerce websites like Shopify and Bigcommerce offer free trials and then start from around five quid a month. That’s just nuts.

It’s a level playing field

Worried about competing with the likes of Amazon or eBay? If you offer great customer service, have a great brand, offer great products or have great prices, you can compete with established brands. If you can offer all of those, you’re definitely in with a chance of being a David to an established Goliath.

While competing on price can often be a risky game (or ‘zero sum’ game if seen through its conclusion), creating a great brand can have a huge impact. Why? Well, if you’re offering the same products as everyone else, but your online business really means something to people (it’s ethical, it’s local, it’s innovative and so on), you have an advantage. It’s the reason people shop with a company even when they’re not the cheapest.

The same goes for customer service. Why do millions shop with instead of other shoe websites? Check out the Zappos Culture pages to find out. Ask yourself why you shop at one store over another – even when they’re more expensive. Convenience? Or do you like the way staff talk to you when you ask a question?

If you’re prepared to pay more for great customer service, have a think about how that impacts your website and how it could benefit your sales.

It saves time

Being online means you can run the business from anywhere at any time. It can be a ‘side-gig’ to your day job because it’s more much more manageable to run than an off-line business. There are lots of online tools out there that exist to help you run your business.

Next steps

So, there are lots of reasons why setting up an online business makes sense. What are you waiting for!?

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If you want to find out more about setting up a blog, improving your social media campaigns or how to drive more sales online, get in touch.