An Entrepreneur without a Business Idea

Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  Shouldn’t everyone looking to start a business already have an idea of what they want to do?  Not necessarily.

Head to your nearest bookstore, grab the October/November 2009 issue of Business Week’s Small Biz, and read “Beyond Eureka” by Amy Barrett p40 (link no longer active).  This is, by far, one of the most informative and inspirational articles I’ve read on entrepreneurship.  If you have an innate entrepreneurial spirit that compels you to seek independence and creativity in your work, but haven’t quite nailed down a business idea, this article will take you through five steps to channel your creative juices and get the money flowing.

Step 1: Set the Stage

Ask yourself “who is my ideal customer?”  You can’t market to the world, so narrow your focus.  Figure out who is on your team and what skills they each bring to the table.  Also, decide how much money you can throw at the venture and at what point you have to call it quits if it doesn’t work out.

Step 2: Brainstorm

Sit with your team and a whiteboard and start throwing out ideas.  Anything goes.  Silly ideas often evolve into brilliant “why didn’t we think of that” products.

Step 3: Pick an Idea

Now it’s time to narrow the list you generated during the brainstorming session.  Examine each for its viability with regard to the size of the market, the economic environment, any regulatory considerations, and your potential competition.  Be honest.  Be brutal with your cuts and bear no hard feelings if your brainchild gets the axe.

Step 4: Is it feasible?

The idea you chose – are there customers who want your product or service and what price are they willing to pay?  This is the stage at which you iron out all the wrinkles of the idea.  For every time you said “we’ll figure that out later” during the brainstorming session, this is the time to figure it out.

Step 5: The Prototype

Now it’s time to put your idea into action.  Create a sample of your product or test market your service.  Use tools like focus groups and customer surveys to generate feedback and make sure you have a system to address and act on whatever feedback you get.

In the magazine version of the article, there’s a great little sidebar about market research that doesn’t appear in the downloadable version.  Some sources for research: financial statements of publicly traded companies,, trade associations and research firms like, Forrester Research, and Gartner.  Don’t forget that your local university library can be a wealth of information.  Many libraries have small business librarians who specialize in the information you need.  The UNLV Small Business Information Gateway provides a great starting point.

Get out there and make it happen!