I hear this a lot: “I’d like to start a business one day, but I’m just not sure where to start – I don’t even have an idea.” If that’s you, you’re in good company — I find it’s a really common statement for my clients to make. Why start a business anyway?  Even if you’ve done all manner of cool and interesting things in your career, you’re probably thinking you want a change one day. Or, maybe you don’t want to change industries, but you’re motivated by having more control over your schedule, your paycheck or your location. There are all sorts of reasons to look into starting a business.

You can’t get to there from here without starting somewhere. Don’t let the idea phase stop you in your tracks. I have a quick thought exercise that may help when you’re just starting to further define and brainstorm business ideas.

There are three important areas you should explore as you think about your ideas: your Expertise, Network and Passion. To increase your chances of success, the sweet spot is finding an idea that encompasses all three.

Expertise

Expertise is just what it sounds like. You know how to make the product or provide the service you’re selling. Or, if you’re not doing it yourself, you know how to hire the right people to provide the product or service.

What to do if you don’t have it: Ask for help! Get to know people who have experience and are willing to share it. Or, think about various forms of education/training you need to get the expertise. Shadowing others is often a much more productive way to learn than sitting in a classroom.

Network

There are two types of important networks you’ll need to succeed. Both kinds of networking will pay dividends and help increase chances of success as a business owner.

Potential Customer Networks – those who would be interested in your product/service.

If you haven’t yet, you should begin reaching out to people who would be ideal clients/customers. You don’t have to sell them on your product just yet. Start by building the relationships and understanding their needs/problems/willingness. You can use this information to fine-tune your business idea. If you’re going to start a business in a field where you’ve been employed for a while, reach out to people already in your network to let them know you’re making a transition. If you’re moving into a new field, start by finding just one or two people who you think would make good customers and see if they’ll help you with some market research. At the end, see if they would introduce you to one or two more people.

What to do if you don’t have it: Get busy building networks. Start doing as many informal / informational interviews as you can (and remember, you don’t need to sell your product to them just yet — you can start with simple market research).

Peer Networks – those who do something similar to you.

While it may be obvious you need to start developing a potential customer network, it may be less obvious that you should build a peer network of people who do something similar to you. There’s tremendous value in learning from those who came before you, even if they are in the exact same business as you. However, if you fear sharing information with a peer because you think it could hinder your competitive advantage, find someone in a related field. You’ll be able to increase your chances of success if you can learn from challenges and successes of someone who’s done something similar before – even if it’s not your exact product/service/industry.

What to do if you don’t have it: One option would be to join or form a study group or meet-up group of people from the same (or different) business types than you. You can also do more informal 1×1 networking in person or at industry conferences.

Passion

You need to have at least some passion for the industry or specific product/service you’re offering. It doesn’t necessarily need to be your life’s work and it doesn’t need to be something you want to do 24/7 (in fact, preferably it’s NOT something you want to do 24/7). However, some interest or intrigue is important. Many people make the mistake of assuming that turning your hobby into a business is always a good idea — it’s not. Often, once we have to do something for our livelihood it no longer has the same joy it once did, so keep that in mind.

What to do if you don’t have it: Passion is something hard to develop when you don’t have it. But maybe there are some adjustments you can make in the way you relate to the concept of passion. Another way to think about this is, does your business idea excite you in some way? Are you eager to solve a problem? It this something you struggled with that you now have a solution to? There are unlimited questions like this you can ask yourself to discover whether this is something you’re willing to spend time on and earn a living from. If the answer is still no, it might be time to pass on the idea.

Putting it all together

You may find you have two out of three easily, but the third seems more difficult. You’ll need to develop the third, or you will have some hurdles for your business. Owning a business is amazing but there are also lots of ups and downs. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by skimping on the expertise, networking or the passion.

I’ve found this framework has resonated with many of my clients, and hopefully you find it helpful too.  What do you think? Would you add any other circles to your diagram?

Read more about starting a business from North Financial.

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