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Business Ideas

Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines, may be better known for his efforts to circle the globe in a hot-air balloon than for his business successes. He suggests that "Being an adventurer and an entrepreneur are similar? You're willing to go where most people won't dare."

But it is still generally accepted that entrepreneurs are skillful at knowing which risks are worth taking. "In everything I do, I examine the downside, the danger, what can go wrong," says Branson. When he started his airline, he only bought one plane, with an agreement with Boeing to take that back "if things didn't work out."

Are there any safeguards against failure? No! Even the best conceived and implemented business ventures can become market experiments that simply did not work. Our goal here is to follow a planning process that can minimize risk. That is the best that we can do, and the degree to which we can enhance our confidence about a venture must enter into any decision about its pursuit.

The best approach requires patience, and to a commitment to preparation well in advance of start-up. This could be a long-range process of getting to better understand one's strengths, weaknesses, and limitations, and setting about filling knowledge and experience gaps. During this period, we should constantly generate ideas with the potential of becoming real business opportunities.

Where do business ideas come from? The best source is what you know. Often, ideas come from work experience or from personal interests, such as hobbies; other ideas can come from friends and relatives, and our educational background. Ideas may be easy enough to generate, but an idea is not necessarily an opportunity! Building a "better mousetrap" does not insure success; other factors include fit, timing, and resources.

Jeff Timmons, in his book New Venture Creation, suggests that "An opportunity is attractive, durable, and timely and is anchored in a product or service that creates or adds value for its buyer or end user. Opportunities are created because there are changing circumstances, inconsistencies, chaos, lags, or leads, information gaps, and a variety of other vacuums, and because there are entrepreneurs who can recognize and seize them."

The process of creating or seizing an opportunity is less the result of a deliberate search than it is a mindset of maintaining a form of vigilance that is sensitized to business opportunity. Successful entrepreneurs recognize an opportunity while it is still taking shape. This frequently relates to the prospective entrepreneur's current profession or interests, where he or she perceives:

* a process that can be more efficiently performed,

* an attractive new service or improvement of an existing service, or

* some business or geographic "niche" that is being underserved.

There are often localized opportunities, based on geography, natural resources, human resources in local abundance, and the like. Can you think of any for your area?

Once an idea is thought to represent a real opportunity, one must be able to research the market, know what data is important and how to gather it meaningfully, and know what actions this information indicates. This can then be worked into a rather detailed plan, and then refined into a blueprint for success.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has almost 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, author, and college professor. For 20 of those years, Dr. Vinturella was owner/president of a distribution company that he founded. He is a principal in business opportunity sites jbv.com and muddledconcept.com, and maintains business and political blogs.

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