What Business Should You Start?

by Rob Spiegel

Should you choose a start-up business by what you know or what you love?

The old school of thought goes that you should start a business you know. So if you’re an accountant and you really would rather sell saddles and other horse gear, forget about it. There’s a newer school of thought goes: if you really, really love saddles and horse gear – and you love others who love horse gear – then your chances for success are actually greater than if you started an accounting firm that would stir no passion. That’s the “do what you love and the money will follow” school of thinking.
My heart wants to put the money on the horse gear shop. If you love what you’re doing, you will go to great lengths to make it successful. You’ll put in the necessary long hours and say the day’s too short. You’ll know all the names of your customers’ horses. But life ain’t simple. If your area of town has twice as many saddle shops as it needs and if your neighborhood is in dire need of a good accountant . . . well, you see what I mean. The accountant firm could be very successful even if you hate going to work. I say go with what you love, but make sure you’re in a neighborhood that really, really needs your services.
Here’s another rule for those seeking a business start-up. Don’t start up a business that you can’t explain in about three words. I ran into an interesting business concept recently – a company that helps families with college-age kids figure out how to pay for school. I can understand the need. But I can’t understand the notion that people would turn to a service company to solve that need. That takes some explaining. If paying for college is a big concern, you have a potential market that’s already hurting for cash while facing a mammoth expense. The last thing that group wants to do is spend money on you.
If your business idea takes a lot of explaining, you’re swimming against a rough current.


Make sure your business is based on a real need and make sure your potential customers and clients clearly understand that need. And make sure it’s something you love. Sounds so easy. But most of the great business ideas are already being done.

Another approach to a new business idea is nichification. Find a great business idea that you love – that potential customers already need and understand – then niche it further. Trendy markets get narrower and narrower. First there were small business information sources. Then there were home business sources. Then home business for women. Then moms. I recently found a site that catered to home business for Christian mothers. Next it will be home business information for Christian mothers who have teenage daughters.

If you love chocolates and you want to start a Website, you’ll probably find two gazillion sites. But how many sties focus only on truffles? Or chocolates embossed with the gift recipient’s name? Take calendars. I remember when you could find two or three calendars with pictures of dogs. Now there are at least two companies that produce breed-specific calendars. I have one for border collies. These companies have expanded into date books, welcome mats and instruction books that are also breed specific. First go narrow – then take that narrow concept broad.

The perfect business for you may be a subset of an existing business. There’s risk, but there is also precedence in going narrow on a healthy trend. In 1986 I launched the magazine, “Chile Pepper” – which covers hot foods. In the 1950s and 1960s, cooking information appeared in general magazines such as “Family Circle” and “Good Housekeeping.” Magazines that focused on food alone showed up in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the market was ready for specialized food magazines such as “Vegetarian Times,” “Chocolatier,” and “Chile Pepper.”

Of course I wasn’t clever enough to know I was part of a trend. I figured that out later after I had stumbled onto success. But you get the point.

 
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