Thinking about starting a business? Here are the THREE key questions to ask.

What is the basis for a successful business?

You must like (or love) what you do
You must be great at this (or at least better at it than your client)
Ideally, it’s hard or unpleasant for your client.

#1 You love to do this (or at least learn to like) doing this.

You want a business you can sustain.

You already may know the feeling of having to drag yourself out of bed to a job that you don’t like. Your business is supposed to make you happy that you ditched your 9-to-5, not that you traded one slog for another (with probably less pay and fewer benefits – at least at the beginning).

If you like doing something, it’s also follows that you will be willing to work harder and longer to make it succeed. In fact, Inc Magazine cites it as one of the three keys to success.

So if you’re going into business, be pragmatic with your choices, but choose something that does good for you – and for your clients. And that you can see yourself doing for the long haul. It’s going to take time to build your business. Ideally, it would be nice to actually be happy that it is succeeding and that you get to wake up and do this. Every.Single. Day.

But there is a flip side to all this happiness. Your happy place should be paired with an unmet need in the market. Otherwise it will simply remain a hobby business.

#2 You’re great at this.

People will pay for great skills, especially if it takes training, practice, specialized equipment, or experience. And EVERYONE has something they are great at. Everyone.

The key is matching your skill set with a problem that people need to solve – and are willing to pay to solve. That is the piece that is sometimes missing from the evaluation part of starting a business. Your “really good at” has to align with “customers will clamor to pay for this.” And the more you can narrow down your skills and abilities to align with customer needs, the more you can potentially demand.

For example: If you have a problem with your eyes, you will probably decide to see a specialist eye doctor. Someone whose skills, knowledge, and experience will solve your exact problem. A general practitioner might be able to cure your eye problem. But you have a built-in confidence that the eye doctor’s skills will be better at fixing your particular problem. 

A specialist will command bigger fees and more respect around solving problems.Be a specialist who is great at what you do and you’ll always have clients willing to pay for your knowledge, skills, and experience.

One caution: you may be passionate about something (see #1 above) but not be very good at it. Think about all the bad actors, un-funny comics, and awful paintings you’ve seen. Good at something beats passion every day of the week when it comes to your business. Your skills need to be “pay-worthy” if you want to have a business.

#3 It needs to be hard or unpleasant for someone else. 

The harder and/or more unpleasant, the better your chances of commanding a decent, livable rate. And the more specialized your skill is, the better able you are to serve your audience.

The eye specialist is fully booked because she went to medical school to learn about eyes – she can diagnose eye problems with confidence. If you had a problem with your hips or your chest, she is (probably) not a great fit to get you back in shape. But problems with your eyes? She has the skills.

The mechanic who fixes your car is a whiz at Toyotas and knows exactly how to keep your car running so you can pick up the kids with confidence. If you had a Tesla or a Ferrari, you would probably seek out a mechanic with specific skills around electric vehicles or exotic cars to keep your vehicle carpool ready.

There is a guy around here who makes a living doing…wait for it…dog poop pickups. Yup. He comes to your yard on a schedule and picks up all the dog poop. This is actually a very popular business. Google showed 6 different companies offering a similar service in the Boston area.

The dog poop guy is willing to scour your yard in rain, snow, and the mid-day heat wave for Fido’s crap. While picking up dog poop is not hard, it is unpleasant enough that people will happily pay for his service. 

Regardless of whether you need training (like the eye doctor) or a specialized skill (fixing Teslas) or do something that is unpleasant or inconvenient (picking up dog poop), all these businesses have one thing in common:

They found something that customers value and are willing to pay for.

Test idea for a business

The “friends ask for my help all the time” test for a business.

You are a closet-whisperer.

You read Marie Kondo’s book and fell in love with her methods. They “spark joy” in your life.

Are you good at it?

Better than good. You can quote chapter and verse of of gospel according to Marie.

Your friend’s kitchens and closets are masterpieces of joy after your magic touch.

Is it hard or unpleasant for your customers?

Yes…breaking up is hard to do with all their clutter. You are the master at getting them to part with their excess and feel good about it.

Rather than feel overwhelmed, they feel the freedom of less. All because of you.

You’re particularly good at helping seniors who are downsizing, pairing empathy with a keen eye for what has resale value. 

Is there a way to make money?

Yes. Organizing is a valued skill.

You can do one-on-one consults, create a training class for other organizers, create a line of organization tools and products. You can specialize – empty nesters looking to downsize, city-dwelling new parents – and create your own methods.

There are lots of directions to make this a successful business.

Yes to all three questions. There are lots of opportunities here.

A short warning about MLMs – those “party plan” businesses

I have to stop and preach a little about MLMs. It can feel so attractive when you’re desperate for change to jump onto the MLM bandwagon and start selling Mary Kay or jewelry or Herbalife or any of the thousands of MLM sales “opportunities” that people are trying to get you signed up.

Please, please, please don’t. 

Just no.

MLMs are overwhelmingly a losing proposition. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 98% or people who join MLMs not only don’t make any money, they lose money. Often thousands of dollars more than the “training kit” that you need to buy to get started.

Please read more about MLMs in this article. And if you think you finally found the exception to the rule in MLMs I will tell you almost certainly that you have not. The hidden gotchas are there somewhere. 

To sum it up….

Find something that you love (or at least don’t mind doing.

Are you great at it? Be honest here. If you’re not great, can you get great? Take a course, get experience, do an apprenticeship…what can you do to sharpen those skills?

Is it hard for other people? Having a barrier to entry (skills, experience, specialized equipment) help.

Having those three things will at least help you eliminate business ideas that will not make you money.

Ready to launch your business?

Still figuring things out?

Check out these resources to launch with confidence.