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Are you among those people who have an itch to start their own small business, but just don't know how to scratch it? Do you feel ready to start your own business but completely lost when it comes to choosing the right one? Do you find yourself saying, "I wish I had thought of that," every time you learn of a successful new business venture?
If any of those questions describe you, don't give up hope. Maybe we can help you by suggesting some steps for anticipating business opportunities and for getting a jump on all those other people out there looking for the same perfect small business.
First, take out a sheet of paper and write down as many business, social and popular culture trends as you can think of. Some examples might be two-wage-earner families, corporate downsizing, the ubiquity of computers, the growing demand for prepared foods, media consolidation, the popularity of sport utility vehicles, the world wide web, the movement toward managed care, the aging of the baby boomer generation, and the growing disparity in the U.S. between rich and poor.
If you run out of ideas, look for evidence of other trends in newspapers, on the radio and in magazines; in conversation with friends, family and business associates; in movies and on television; or in any other place where information is exchanged, such as on the Internet. Over the next few weeks and months, you should be able to accumulate quite a list.
Now, in a separate column or on a separate sheet of paper, write down all your interests. The list should include your business experiences, your personal experiences and your hobbies, as well as any area that you may have wanted to try but haven't yet. Your list might include, for example, marketing, sales, child rearing, gardening, cooking, reading, traveling and sky diving.
If you've held jobs that required multiple skills (and who among us hasn't?), don't forget to list each of the skills separately. For example, if you managed a department or group, you might include in your list product management, budgeting, personnel management, and any other skill you developed on that job.
Now, go down your two lists and ask yourself how you might use your skills to service a need created by any of the trends you've identified. I realize that it sounds kind of simple, but try it. You may find that the lists will help you focus your thoughts in ways that you had not have been able to do previously.
If nothing leaps out at you, go back to your list of trends and try writing down businesses that you think might service each of those trends. For example, for two-wage earner families, you might think of businesses that perform functions traditionally performed by the stay-at-home spouse. So you might write down child care provider, grocery delivery service, house cleaning service, interior design, dog walker, household manager, vacation planning, and gift purchase and delivery, to name a few. For corporate downsizing, you might think of businesses that perform services most commonly outsourced . So you might write down legal and paralegal services, billing and human resource-related services, public relations, copywriting and copyediting, and travel services.
Now compare your new list of businesses with your list of skills and interests. Are there any matches?
If not, begin to look for ways in which the trends you identified intersect. For example, one trend I've mentioned is the aging of the baby boomer generation, which means that there will soon be a large number of people who will likely need more medical care as they age. Another trend is the move toward managed care, which has meant that patients tend to get sent home from the hospital earlier and earlier. Thus, you might conclude that a good opportunity exists in the coming years for providing at-home services for those recovering from surgery or other medical procedures.
Can you find other places where they intersect? The more you can find that intersect in the same place, the better it is. Therefore, if you can find a place where three or even four trends intersect, you may have just stumbled on to a great business opportunity.
But don't forget. . . A lot of people who look for business opportunities in trends make the mistake of taking only what might be called the "macro" approach. In other words, they look only for broad trends that apply across the globe or that span the U.S. population. Don't make that same mistake. Don't overlook the "micro" trends, which are those that are occurring within a given market, because they may present you a business opportunity overlooked by everyone else.
The best way for you to identify a micro trend is to focus on the field or industry in which you have the most experience. Are there any trends or movements within your industry that you can point to? Think of specialties or subspecialties within your field that might fit your skills and experience and that you might be able to market to your advantage. For example, if you're an accountant working in a big firm and you notice that a growing number of high-tech companies are moving into your area, you might find an opportunity working for yourself as an accountant who specializes in high-tech companies.
Add those micro trends to your list of other trends. Does anything jump out at you? If not, keep plugging away. You can always add to your list of interests by taking classes and by acquiring new skills. And continue to keep a close eye out for new and emerging trends. If you're sharp enough, you may even spot a trend before it happens, which is where the real money is.
Just don't give up. Think ahead a few years to the moment when a friend walks up to you, pats you on the back, and says "I wish I had thought of that."