sources of inspiration small business

5 Places to Find Your Next Small Business Idea

6 min read • Mar 02, 2022 • Katherine O'Malley

Imagine this: You’re parked in the sweet spot of the school pick-up lane—the 10th car from the front of the line—when you realize you forgot to pack snacks (again!). The drive to soccer practice is timed to the nano-second, so there’s no time for a convenience store pitstop, but you know that if you don’t, your hangry daughter is destined to be parked on the second-string bench.

And you start to wonder why someone isn’t serving up food at your carpool line (yet). And then you wonder why you hadn’t thought of this before. Suddenly, a business is born.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with a new business idea. Think about what you already do for yourself—could you do the same for others at the same time?

One of the beauties of entrepreneurship is that it doesn’t require an ivy-league degree, a ginormous social media following, or in this case, an expensive commercial lease. What it does require is the ability to step aside and see a world where opportunity exists everywhere, and where viable ideas—“I wonder” or “what if” experiences—can be transformed into business opportunities.

Not sure where to find a what if? Start by looking around; and of the following “places” may hold the key for your next small business idea.

Place #1: In A Crowd

Starting a business doesn’t always require leasing or owning a physical space—instead, go to where people gather.

For example, spend Saturday morning watching the ebb and flow at a popular trailhead or park.

You’ll see groups of cyclists and runners returning to their cars and devouring food like a swarm of locusts. Doesn’t that shout “food-related” opportunity? Set up a food truck, and weekend warriors will beat a path to your doorstep post-workout. You don’t even have to make the food—you could shuttle trail users at the midpoint of their adventure to an off-the-trail brewery or cafe.

If your skills are more mechanical than culinary, trail users still need your services. See that van full of kids, bikes, and one outnumbered adult? Dad realizes the bikes have flat tires, and the group is short one helmet. Never fear—your trail-side “family support” bike repair service saves the day by pumping up tires, renting a helmet, and getting the family out for their ride.

Or how about utilizing unused space in another business where people routinely gather? In my home state, it’s illegal to sell alcohol before noon on a Sunday. Yoga instructors and a local brewery have collaborated to offer an 11 a.m. Sunday class in the taproom. The instructors have a spot to hold weekly sessions. The brewery boosts Sunday afternoon sales. And all the yogis, including me, are incentivized to attend class and rehydrate with a cold beer afterward.

Place #2: In Your Busy Schedule

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with a new business idea. Think about what you already do for yourself—could you do the same for others at the same time?

Suppose you head to the grocery store every Tuesday, like clockwork. How about providing a service to seniors to pick up, deliver, and put away their groceries while you’re getting your own? Don’t be fooled—existing “shop online and delivery” services don’t work for everyone. Maybe Grandma has internet access and can navigate the online ordering process. But she’ll look at the bags on her doorstep and exclaim, “How do they expect me to pick those up from the porch?”

Are you home regularly with your child? You could provide a drop-in daycare for other parents who have a gap in their regular care. If you aren’t prepared to herd a cluster of kids, offer a flexible dog daycare instead. Eventually, you might find your client base has grown enough that you move operations into a larger commercial space.

Place #3: In Your Hobbies

Evaluate your skills or what you own with an entrepreneurial eye, and you’ll see opportunity knocking.

Are you tech-savvy and a critic? Consider starting a digital decluttering service. Junk removal services have been around for years to haul away unwanted stuff. The digital world has an equivalent need as blurry dog photos and unused applications multiply when left unattended. If you can’t imagine who needs help organizing their digital lives, then you’re probably the right person to start that business.

Do you have a green thumb? Rather than tossing your plant clippings, you could replant them in small pots and resell what survives. It wouldn’t take much to start. The business might grow in unexpected ways, including you becoming a “plant influencer” who sells books and merchandise.

Are you fluent in another language? That’s a skill that opens doors from teaching tennis to recent immigrants to starting a translation service to helping other businesses market their products in multiple languages.

Place #4: In Every Awkward Situation

Even big companies’ business practices can fuel entrepreneurial ideas.

For example, my friend was recently hired by a Fortune 500 company into a 100% remote-work position. Two weeks after she started, her manager made a surprise appearance at her house. The company was trying to welcome new employees by having supervisors hand-deliver coffee and donuts.

While it was a more personable interaction than a DoorDash delivery, ultimately, it was creepy and awkward. No remote worker expects to be professionally dressed at all times, let alone have the living room ready for drop-in colleagues.

Since then, we’ve been brainstorming a “welcome to the office” service that doesn’t include your boss peeking into your house.

Place #5: In A Franchise

Still not finding the inspiration you need? Consider this: You could open a franchise. There are more than 773,603 franchise establishments in the U.S., according to Statistica, and franchises come in almost all shapes and sizes and can be found in almost any industry, including personal services, commercial and residential services, automotive, business services, restaurant, retail, and more. Even Lendio offers a small business lending franchise.

Seize the Moment

Where you look for your next small business idea may be less important than how you approach life. In other words, train yourself to pay attention to those “If only…” moments, and start viewing them as entrepreneurial opportunities.

Sure, you’ll have to take steps to start your business, such as setting up a business structure, getting necessary permits, and possibly securing funding. But launching your business doesn’t require the perfect time, location, or idea. Opportunities exist everywhere if you are open-minded and willing to take the leap.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.

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Katherine O'Malley

Katherine O'Malley is a contributor to the Lendio blog. A technology geek at heart, she splits her time between traveling, freelance writing, database administration work, and implementing SEO on her travel blog. In her free time, she loves to research the challenges small-to-midsize tourist suppliers face and find ways that technology can help them out.