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How to start a business when you have no ideas or starting point

Starting a small business is exciting but can also be very intimidating. You’re sick of working for someone else or you’re tired of not being able to capitalize on your leadership skills. Maybe you just feel stuck in your own career and want to try calling your own shots?

In this article:

But, when you start to dream about taking that step, you get immediately hung up on what business to start or how to even begin building a business with no money. Getting to that very important first step towards understanding what your small business idea is and defining your own approach to entrepreneurship is an important keystone.

This multi-part series will help you get off on the right foot:

Part 1: How to start a business when you have no ideas or starting point
Part 2: How to start a business when you have no money or direction

Starting a new business in 2022

Starting a small business in the post-Covid-19 era is quite different than it would have been in virtually any other environment. Not only have we experienced a complete shift in how businesses and customers shop, spend and prioritize, but we’ve also seen a significant shift in what people and businesses need in their day-to-day personal and professional lives.

The first step in starting a new business in this post-pandemic era, is to really think about how your profession, skills and what you’d offer in your business has changed.

Is your business different now than it was two years ago? If so, how? What fundamental changes do you have to make to your model to be more relevant in a slightly adjusted culture.

On top of that, post-pandemic inflation has forced business, people and families to completely re-evaluate their buying priorities and what they consider essential. How does your business or service fit into that new sense of priority.

The answer is not in trying to ‘force’ your business idea into these criteria, but rather to consider how to adapt what you have to offer around things that your potential audience would consider to be something they need.

For example: If you are a personal trainer and you’re ‘idea’ is around providing CrossFit-style workouts in the gym – you might have to consider tailoring that idea to focus more on how to provide CrossFit-style training at home, if a majority of your clients spent time and money building a home gym over Covid.

Use this thought process:

  • What is my strongest offering as a professional?
  • How would I offer that on a contract or pay-per-service basis?
  • Who would my target customer(s) be?
  • How has their life (or business changed) due to Covid-19, inflation etc?
  • What does my business solve to ease those changes?
  • What does this ‘new version’ of my business look like?

Before starting up a small business

In my experience, there are two types of small business proprietors:

  • Those who know what they want to do and are chomping at the bit to go and
  • Those who have the passion and desire to start their own business but can’t even begin to think about putting one foot in front of the other

Regardless of which you might be, stop and take a breath. Make sure you have the right mix of organization – to make sure you are operating with a plan in the long run – and action – to make sure you don’t get caught up in planning to the point where you can’t get things moving.

This path should at least help you get started in the right direction:

  1. Write down your business summary (who you are and what you do)
  2. Write down your ideal customer(s)/contacts
  3. Write down your short, medium and long-term business goals
  4. Plan out how to keep yourself accountable every day and make this business your new 9-5 (or budget of hours outside your daily work if you are building a side hustle)

Once you’ve got that down, focus almost exclusively on those short-term goals. Spend no more than 3 hours working backwards from “Goal Achieved” to “Day 1” and the major steps or milestones in the middle. This is going to form your early task-list on the road to starting your new small business.

From here, commit to getting these tasks done, aggressively. Use Daily activity sheets, journals, personal videos and check-ins to stay on-task. Learn to enjoy the satisfaction of getting things done one by one and make sure you check in on your own progress at the end of each day.

Remember: when you’re the boss, YOU are the only one holding yourself accountable. Be responsible and accountable to yourself. There is no one else to look to for your success or fallbacks. You can do this! You’re working for yourself now!

Getting past ‘creative inertia’

For many budding entrepreneurs – myself included – the hardest part is starting a small or new business when you feel like you have no ideas. You know you want to do this, but you don’t know what to do or maybe you have too many things you do well and can’t choose. A little thing I call the “Jack-of-all-trades dilemma.”

To carve down your focus, here’s the process I use:

First of all, ask yourself…
“What would I do if money where no object?”
Write down the first three or four things that come to mind in order of your own preference

“What is my expertise or speciality? What is/are the thing(s) I’m better at than most others?”
Write down the first three or four things that come to mind in order of strength

“What of my skills (above) are most likely to generate income or are most desired in the marketplace?”
You guessed it – write down the first three or four things that come to mind in order of the strongest income-earning potential

Now take these ideas and look for common links between them in reverse order:
How can you apply the skills that are most marketable with the expertise you command as a professional towards the things you would be most interested in doing if money where no object.

Here’s my example with what ultimately led to the creation of Twinsticks and Ties:

  1. Playing video games and creating gaming content
  2. Integrated digital marketing, influencer marketing, social media and content marketing
  3. Content creation, development and digital campaign planning, leadership and business development guidance, team-building and org planning

And thus, I found my niche as a digital marketing leader in the gaming and esports space. From there it was simply a matter of going back through these steps and getting from point A to B.

Lean on your experience and network

I will admit, it is far easier (and wiser in my opinion) to start your own business after you have a good base of years working in your chosen profession. Of course, this will be different for everyone and vary greatly based on what you’re doing, producing or providing.

Coming into your own as an entrepreneur with a wealth of history often means that you have a professional network to lean on, even if it’s mainly just the co-workers and leaders you met in your first position.

Do not hesitate to lean on your network of professionals, peers and mentors. There is no shame in it. I often joke that having a depth of professionals in your network is a cheat code for business, and it’s one that you should leverage liberally.

People are busy, of course, but they also love to help and know that their input and insights are valuable.

Set up meetings, ask questions, seek mentorship. Get feedback and use it. Approach your network-building with humility and gratitude. Develop good networking practices and be a good community member.

Remember: Growing a network is like cultivating a garden – put in the time, effort and investment and it will grow. If you constantly harvest, harvest, harvest without care – your garden will burn out, wither and fade.

What's next?

In Part 2, I’ll discuss how to start your small business with no direction or money.

We’ll cover mentorship and finding someone to guide you through your journey as an entrepreneur, as well as how and where to start looking for small business grants and funding.

Until then, keep working on your process and make sure you are super-clear on the foundations.

These are the most important steps that will carry you through times of uncertainty and even help in the inevitable moments where doubt creeps in!

Please hit me up on LinkedIn if you found this useful or just want to talk shop, swap ideas or to simply let me know how you’re doing!



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