2 Reasons You Can’t Come Up With a Business Idea

2 Reasons You Can’t Come Up With a Business Idea post image

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For people who aren’t natural born lemonade stand entrepreneurs (I am not), the toughest part about making the transition to the entrepreneurial lifestyle is coming up with a profitable business idea.

I really enjoy helping listeners through these issues. Over the past two years, I’ve seen the same problems coming up again and again.

I have also made all these errors myself. Worse– I still make these mistakes.

So it goes.

Here they are:

1. You are confusing a ‘plan’ with a ‘product.’

Don’t do anything for your business until you can answer the following questions with one sentence each.

  1. What is your product?
  2. Why is it better or different than anything else out there?
  3. How and what will you charge for it?

A lot of people call me with plans like this:

“I’m going to get 4 virtual assistants and throw them after these 4 domains that are targeted after my Market Samurai findings etc etc…


I’m going to write about x for 2-3 months, give away this stuff until my list is 500 people, then I’m going to survey them, then I’m going to, then I’m going to.”

Stop that.

Working on a plan that is going nowhere isn’t that great of a learning experience.

You are better off contributing to somebody else’s plan– preferably an entrepreneur who knows what they are doing (these things are relative).

Offer to help somebody out for free and figure out how they are focusing on products, not plans. When you start to see their pain points left and right, and realize they aren’t super heros, the product and service ideas will start to flow.

For service providers and freelancers: although you work primarily off of bids, your services should be productized. There should be buy now options on your site.

2. You are waiting, reading, networking, and learning until you get a good idea.

Business ideas don’t come from the back of napkins in coffee shops, or from careful analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, interests, and market opportunities.

Business ideas come from experience and expertise that comes from throwing yourself at hard problems.

I’m not sure how much survivor’s bias there is here. We all listen to smart people on shows like Mixergy and think things like “I just need to create a recurring subscription service that services x market with information….” (thank you MJ DeMarco!).

I get it, you are spending way too much time gaming this thing out. You need to be solving problems now.

That’s why I believe so many entrepreneurs start with service businesses. I can rattle off about 25 hard problems that my business is having right now that somebody could be working to solve. They might not all be good opportunities, but I would be willing to pay some amount of money for each and every one of them.

Most people think being an entrepreneur is about having an idea and making it happen. The more businesses I see getting created I’ve realized that being an entrepreneur is a process– it’s an approach you take to life.

Take extreme levels of responsibility. Get things done for people.

That’s it.


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Published on 08.13.11
  • Ok…what the hell is a VA? I for one am not up on some of the abbreviated terminology used here..can you explain, or create some sort of resource that people like me can refer to when you throw the abbvs out!  

    Some of the best business ideas I’ve seen have come about really quite organically. Either by  observing a need for a product or service that would meet a need your currently have.. or someone in your sphere has. 
    The idea may start on the back of cocktail napkin, but in the right hands that cocktail napkin is dynamite – gold dust-dollars in the bank. It encourages me to know that entrepreneurship is also a learnt skill..as well as an inherent one. Though if I remember correctly I was selling chocolate biscuits and friendship bracelets for profit when I was like 8….Hmmm…may it also needs to be a remembered skill….I think I got to used to a pay cheque each month, lol Nice post with lots of wise observations, based off experience and trial and error no doubt!

  • I am going to channel my inner Seth Godin here… the more you plan the less you ship.

    I think there is a third reason as well, and that is people are following someone else’s path. To be more accurate, they are following the wrong person’s path. If you think niche sites, video, traffic voodoo, geysers etc. are going to make you rich because some gooroo told you about it, think again. 

    Be very wary of terms like “automatic”, “guaranteed”, “while you sleep”, “PASSIVE”, etc. If someone tells you it is easy, they are trying to sell you something. 

  • Dan

    First off, let me say that I find it endearing that you are quicker on your RSS feeds than you are via SMS. That’s balla.

    I changed VA to Virtual Assistant. That’s generally  folks in places like the Philippines who virtually help you rock your biz.

    My business partner Ian is one of these guys who is constantly popping off like really really good ideas… I almost never have them.. guess it’s not how my brain works. I always see the problems in my business/pursuits and I’m like “GET ME THAT!” 

    The cocktail napkins seem to come from the folks who are engaged, taking responsibility, and yeah… you’re right it can be dynamite….

  • Dan

    Yeah planning makes more sense when you have a bunch of people involved. When you are 1 or 2 peeps, planning almost means you are putting stuff off or out…  planning also makes things complicated.  

    i gotta take my own pill on this one and get something out regarding the DC next week….

    RE: third reason….Yeah and what’s worse is that generally the things they are selling you aren’t the things that created their own success— those things are more singular and difficult to capture and package… that said taking the correlated steps (like, say formatting your content correctly or using the right tools) can help you be successful because it increases your expose to opportunities…

  • Chris Thomas

    This is so true. Me and my partner were just talking about how we’ve had no good ideas during the last several years but as soon as we started trying to put together a business we’ve come up with a list of profitable ideas to pursue. Wow. They just start rolling in once you’ve got some real experience.

  • Dan

    Now we’ve got the opposite problems— to many good, but resource intensive ideas to pursue. 

  • I hate to admit it, but I am definitely “that” person that you’re describing up above! Thanks for the tips. I have started some pretty good networking and I have a person in mind who would be great to learn from.

  • Dan

    You mean the good looking highly intelligent successful person? Exactly !

  • Grace

    My life is going to change. I just know it. I too will be a multi-millionaire living on freely, surfing all day, and bumming around the beach. :D Thank you, Dan.

  • Dan

    Surfing all day!!! that sounds nice ;)

  • BillSeitz

    You should list those 25 problems, so someone can solve them for you!

  • Dan

    Got around to it!!! : http://www.tropicalmba.com/101-monetizable-blog-topics/

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