Part 2: “I Want to Start a Business but Have No Ideas” – Business Idea Generator Exercise 

 September 28, 2021

By  Jake Lang

Part 2: I Want to Start a Business but Have No Ideas 

Welcome to part two of the online business idea mini-series. In this mini-series, I’m giving you bits and pieces from my business ideas book Step One (a book about finding and validating your first business idea). This is part two of the mini-series. In this blog, I address the common entrepreneurial dilemma “I want to start a business but have no ideas” with a step-by-step business idea generator exercise that I call the “brain dump”.

You can access the other parts of my business idea series here:

Disclaimer: This is directly copied from Chapter Three of my book Step One. There may be references to the book, or other chapters, in this blog post. That’s because it is literally copied and pasted from the book to make sure you get all of the necessary content for free (but just a heads up, if I say “later in the book” or “in the next chapter”, that is because I copied this straight from the book).

I Want to Start a Business but Have No Ideas (Business Idea Generator Exercise)

Step One Book Cover

Steven looked around the room, at the various photos, knickknacks, and memorabilia hanging on the wall in his office. “Well… I like to golf,” he said. He turned his webcam to show me his framed golf flag from The Masters as we sat together on a Zoom video call discussing various ideas for his first business venture. Steven kept saying, “I want to start a business but I have no ideas”. He panned across the room with his webcam showing me WWE memorabilia, NASA aerospace decor, and photos of his family until he scanned over a book positioned above his computer monitor. It was hanging from the wall in a beautiful, professionally designed frame. He sees it every time he looks up from his computer.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s a book I wrote in the ’90s to help Army personnel get promoted faster by earning more promotion points per the Army’s guidelines. I was one of the fastest ever to climb the ranks and get promoted by maximizing my promotion points.”

Bingo. That is a business. The idea for Steven’s first business was sitting right in front of him. Teaching military personnel how to get promoted faster by understanding and leveraging the promotion point system of the U.S. Army. That is a very niche business, exactly the type of business idea we were looking for.

Steven is an expert on one particular subject—getting promoted in the Army—and he didn’t even realize his expertise. I listened for nearly 10 minutes as he explained how to leverage this system to quickly climb the ranks and get promoted in the Army by taking college courses, doing correspondence coursework, getting awards… on and on he went. He even wrote a book on the subject, Power Points: Mastering the Army Promotion Points System, that is still selling used copies on Amazon. Steven hadn’t even considered this a business opportunity; his book had been relegated to wall décor. He was blind to his own expertise, not seeing that he had mastered a system that so many people would pay to learn.

With a quick viability check (something you will learn about in Chapter Five), Steven and I found that over 20,000 people per month search for the term “Army promotion points” on Google. It was clear that thousands of people were looking for resources to help them get promoted in the Army, and there was only one competitor in this space serving this target market. We knew Steven could compete in this space. We knew we were on to something big; we had found Steven’s first business.

In June 2020, Steven Foust launched his online business, ArmyPromotionPoint.com, and sold $600 worth of online courses within the first month. Fast forward three months to September 2020; Steven purchased his competitor’s websites (NCOSupport.com and Cutoffscores.com), two under-optimized websites that were getting substantial traffic in the Army niche but needed a bit of work to update and monetize. Fast forward another six months, just nine months after the initial idea, and Steven owns a portfolio of websites that generates over $4,000 in profit per month. Scaling faster than Steven could ever have imagined.

Your first idea, your first business, is right there within reach. As with Steven, it might be hanging on the wall in front of you. So now it’s your turn. Let’s find that first business idea so you can stop saying “I want to start a business but have no ideas”. That is no longer an excuse. Time to find your business idea.

Business Idea Generator – The Brain Dump

The process of finding your first business idea, one that will actually work and make money, starts here. This is an extremely simple but highly effective process. Anytime someone says “I want to start a business but have no ideas”, which I hear almost daily, I send them this exercise. I have personally used this exact business idea generator process to start eight online businesses, and I have helped thousands of entrepreneurs go through this exact process to find a viable business idea; Steven Foust was only one of them. Don’t worry; the process is easy. It works and does not take a lot of effort.

We start with the brain dump. In this process, we dump all the business ideas hidden in your brain onto a piece of paper.

You might not realize it yet, but you touch potential business ideas every single day. Everything you did in the past week, every hobby you have pursued since you were a child, every pet you have ever owned could be your first business. Look around you right now: literally, look up from the computer and around the room. See the office desk you built from IKEA, the cracked window pane that needs to be fixed, the cat sleeping on the back of the couch, and your GMAT prep books piled in the corner. There are countless opportunities sitting in front of you right now. Everything you have touched, done, or seen throughout your life could be the starting point for your first business.

I’m not exaggerating; your first business is right in front of you. Deborah Leveroy turned her experience as a dyslexic actor into an online business. Kevin Davis turned his keto diet into an online business. Ray Blakney turned his knowledge of Spanish into a business. Thomas Strock turned his dog, a Golden Doodle, into an online business. I turned my knowledge of the insurance industry into a business. Your first business is not just within reach; it is sitting in your head right now. And we are going to get it out of your head and onto paper.

That is what we are doing with the brain dump in this chapter. We are taking a deep dive into your life. We are looking at your day-to-day life, at your areas of expertise, and into your past to find potential business ideas. It all starts with the brain dump questions.

Brain Dump Questions

Below, you will find 22 questions (in the book, there are over 60 brain dump questions). The business idea generator questions will touch on topics like your expertise, the problems you solve, your daily life, and your hobbies.

Answer each question. The goal is to list five answers to each question. If you can do more than five, write down more than five answers. The more the better. You are looking for quantity, not quality. You will narrow this list down for quality in Part Three of the mini-series. Here, you are simply putting thoughts down on paper, letting your mind run wild.

Your answers should not be fully formed business ideas. Just answer the questions asked. No answer is too crazy. Do not worry if an answer is broad, such as “leadership” or “dogs”; just write it down. Later in this process, you will find a niche within each idea. For now, you are just answering the brain dump questions.

This should be done quickly; do not spend more than a few minutes on any one question. Do not spend more than 15 minutes total on this exercise. Sit in a quiet place and let your mind wander and reflect on each question. If you are stuck, move to the next question. You can always come back and answer the one that’s holding you up later.

Do it now.

Brain dump questions:

Answer the following questions; try to provide five answers to each question.

  • Make a list of everything you did this week. What did you do and touch? What did you talk about? What did you purchase?
  • What questions or topics have you searched on Google this past week?
  • What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
  • What diets have you been on?
  • What pets do (did) you have?
  • What languages do you speak?
  • Look around the room you are sitting in now and list five things you see. Step into another room and list five things you see. Look out the window or step outside and list five things you see.
  • If you had 10 minutes to teach somebody one thing, what would it be?
  • What are you studying?
  • What have you researched and learned about?
  • What are you interested in learning but have not yet pursued?
  • What problems do you solve?
  • When someone asks you for help, what do they ask for help with?
  • What do you do in your day job?
  • What jobs and positions have you held?
  • What qualifications or certifications do you have?
  • What software programs do you use in your day job?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What do you collect?
  • What sports, games, and instruments do (did) you play?
  • What groups or communities are you a part of?

Your Brain Dump List

You did it! You completed the brain dump exercise, great work! Now, take a look at your list.

You might be thinking to yourself, “What am I looking at here? This is just a long list of nonsense; what can I do with these ideas?” Look again. If you answered every question, you have over 100 potential business ideas on your list.

This is where all successful entrepreneurs start. Take Pat Flynn, for example. Pat started a niche website about security guard training, SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com, that generates $3,000 per month in passive income. He started another niche website, foodtruckr.com, teaching people how to start a food trucking business; it generates another $2,000 per month in passive income. He had no experience as a security guard or as a food truck owner before starting those businesses (Pat has since sold both websites). Spencer Haws started a niche website about survival knives called BestSurvivalKnifeGuide.com that was generating over $1,000 per month in passive income (this site was later sold). I built an entire business about the Pomsky dog breed and another one about the CPCU insurance designation. Can you see how the idea for these businesses would show up on your list after answering the brain dump questions? Can you see how you might have talked to the security guard at your office on the way to work, eaten at a food truck on your lunch break, and then grabbed your survival knife to open up some Amazon packages once you got home?

Profitable business ideas are all around us. Now go back and look at your list from a different viewpoint. From the viewpoint of possibility. Hidden in your list is a golden idea for your first business. Some of the ideas on your list will not work, others are okay but not great, a few ideas are too broad and need to be narrowed down, but some are amazing niche opportunities. Your first business, the one that will make you $5,000 per month, is on this list. We will figure out which of these ideas are viable and what type of business you will start in the next chapters.

“I want to start a business but have no ideas” – Look again

Are you really still saying “I want to start a business but have no ideas”. You shouldn’t be. Look again. Look back at each answer on your brain dump list and let your mind wander, thinking about related ideas that you could add to your list. For example, I look at my list and I see boats (because I went boating last week); I would let that spark additional insights for me. What else is related to boating? I was on a pontoon boat; I would add that to the list. Last summer I went out wakeboarding and tubing on a friend’s speedboat. I would add speedboats, wakeboarding, and tubing to my brain dump list. I also think about boat maintenance, the boat trailer, and the accessories that come with owning a boat. I would add all of those to my list. You can see how one little memory (I went boating) can rapidly become four or five ideas.

Look back at your list, at each answer to each question, and let your mind wander. Think about related topics for each of your answers and add them to your brain dump list. For more ideas, repeat this brain dump exercise. Do the brain dump again tomorrow or next week; you are sure to get some fresh ideas each time you go through this exercise.

Brain Dump Questions: My Answers

To help you brainstorm and see how you can pull profitable business ideas out of your brain dump list, take a look at my brain dump. I went through this exercise for probably the hundredth time while writing this book. In just 30 minutes, I came away with over a hundred new business ideas.

Read through my list of answers for some inspiration. Let this jog your memory and spark more ideas for you. If you see something here that you like or something that resonates with you, add it to your brain dump list. If you read through my list and a new thought pops into your head about something you did last week or a hobby you loved as a child, add that to your list. Use this as a reference to see how I progress through the brain dump exercise, how quick and simple my answers are, and how I can envision a potential business from the ideas on my list.

  • This week: I walked my dogs at the beach, bought new houseplants, took my Jeep Cherokee into the dealer for a software update, hired someone to install a fence in my backyard, and went paddleboarding with Brooke.
  • Google search: I searched Google for “How to patch a hole in ceiling after removing light fixture,” “When to fertilize lawn in the spring,” “How to remodel bathroom step-by-step,” and “How to prevent ice dams.”
  • Pets: Dogs—Great Dane, Catahoula Leopard, and Maltese Shih Tzu. Other pets—hedgehog, newts, betta fish, and goldfish.
  • Languages: English and Spanish; Brooke is fluent in sign language and Portuguese.
  • Day job: Senior product analyst, insurance industry, create reports in Excel and Tableau.
  • Qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in finance and management, insurance certifications (CPCU and API), Agile certification (PMI-ACP).
  • Programs: Excel, PowerPoint, SQL Server Management Studio, Tableau, WordPress, ConvertKit.
  • Hobbies: Sports, boating, outdoor adventure, travel, reading, fantasy football.
  • Sports: Baseball, softball, basketball, golf, soccer, snowboarding, skiing, hiking.
  • Games (Board games): Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, Risk, liar’s dice, cribbage, backgammon.
  • Games (Yard games): Spike ball, cornhole, ladder ball, horseshoes.

In this quick brain dump of my past week, I can see a few business ideas forming.

Anything you are learning or projects you are working on could be turned into a business. As a new homeowner, I have been doing a lot of home-related projects and DIY searches on Google. There are a lot of opportunities here. I could start a niche business on a specific home project like painting, hanging light fixtures, lawn care, or heating and cooling.

Your car can be your business. I look at my car, the Jeep Cherokee that I brought into the shop this week. Jeep people are loyal to the brand; people love their Jeeps. I could start a niche website about Jeeps or a specific Jeep model like the Jeep Cherokee or Jeep Wrangler.

Plants can be a business (yes, it can be that simple). Brooke and I spent hours at Home Depot roaming around the garden aisle buying various succulents and houseplants. There is a surprisingly wide variety of options, and I had to do a lot of research before buying the right plants for our succulent table. I could start an entire business about houseplants or succulents or one specific type of plant (like the bonsai tree that Brooke would not let me buy).

I love the pet niche; every pet I listed could be its own niche business, hedgehogs in particular. I have researched the viability and strongly considered building a website about pet hedgehog care after validating the niche opportunity. I could create an entire business about caring for hedgehogs. I have found the pet niche to be one of the easiest business opportunities. Whatever pet you have, or whatever pet you can think of, can be a niche business. I did this with the Pomsky dog breed; I built an entire business teaching people how to care for their Pomsky dogs. Thomas Strock did this with his website populardoodle.com, where he teaches people how to train and care for Golden Doodles. Your pet can be your business.

Every language you speak could be your first business. Take Ray Blakney, for example. Ray and his wife Laura started their business, Live Lingua, which teaches Spanish online. They brought the concept of a brick-and-mortar language school to an online platform at LiveLingua.com. Ray and Laura’s business allows students to meet one-on-one with a Spanish tutor online, from the comfort of their home. Ray and Laura have since scaled Live Lingua into a multimillion-dollar business. Something you do every day, like speaking a language, can become a seven-figure business.

Every diet you have ever followed could be your first business. Kevin Davis, for example, combined his years of experience treating patients as a physician assistant and years of experience on the popular keto diet to build his business, OurKetogenicLife.com, an entire website teaching about the keto diet and how it can improve energy and weight loss. From Kevin’s experience and personal success using the Keto diet, he wrote and published the popular ketogenic lifestyle book Just Tell Me What to Do and is now a highly sought-after (and highly profitable) one-on-one keto diet coach.

I see a lot of business opportunities on my own list. Every career I have ever pursued could be its own business. I could start a corporate training business, selling workshops to corporations teaching employees how to write effective stock reports, how to analyze a 10-K, or how to be an effective product analyst. I know there is a need for these skills because my past employers spent thousands of dollars to send me to workshops on precisely those topics. I could start my own business selling these corporate trainings. Any of my certifications or qualifications could be a business. I did this with the CPCU certification, creating my own study material to help people pass the difficult CPCU exams. I could do the same thing with my experience in Agile by creating a business selling training guides, courses, and one-on-one Agile coaching.

Any of the programs that I have mastered, such as SQL Server or Tableau, could be a business. I could create training guides, courses, or provide corporate training. DJ Eshelman did just that; DJ is a Citrix Consultant. He travels around the United States from business to business, teaching and training people about Citrix. DJ took his knowledge and expertise of Citrix, built his own business, and became one of the go-to resources for Citrix training and coaching. He is now one of the most respected and sought-after consultants and teachers in the Citrix industry. He has turned the expertise from his day job into a profitable business that has resulted in numerous paid speaking engagements, a prosperous coaching practice, paid mastermind groups, and a number of highly regarded books on information technology, including his book Be a Citrix Hero.

Chuck Marting is another great example. Chuck spent twenty years in law enforcement, eighteen of which he spent as a drug recognition expert. With the help of his wife Stacy, Chuck took his expertise in that highly specialized field and created Coloradomobiledrugtesting.com, a business that specializes in employee drug testing and workplace safety audits. The idea for Chuck and Stacy’s business came from Chuck’s day job. It actually came when a man Chuck was arresting for a DUI complained that he would miss his pre-employment drug test. Claiming that drug testing companies were not flexible, he would not be able to reschedule his test. Chuck saw an opportunity. After some research and validation, he found that no one in northern Colorado offered walk-in drug testing, and no one in the entire state offered drug testing on the employment site. This meant that an employer that needed an emergency drug test had to schedule it weeks in advance and pay the employee to drive hours to a faraway testing center. Chuck saw an opportunity, recognized the pain point, and created the solution. What started as Chuck and Stacy going business to business to perform on-site employee drug testing has grown into a nearly $500,000-a-year business with multiple physical locations, walk-in testing sites, and full-time employees. Chuck took his expertise from his day job as a drug recognition expert in law enforcement and turned it into an immensely profitable business. Thanks to Chuck’s day job, his years of expertise, and one irresponsible driver’s offhand comments, Chuck has built a half-a-million-dollar business in less than eight years.

See how you can come away with business ideas using the brain dump exercise? Can you see why I send this exercise to anyone that says “I want to start a business but have no ideas”? This really is a business idea generator. This exercise will help you come up with over 100 business ideas.

Keep Brainstorming

After going through the brain dump exercise, you will look at the world differently. You’ll start seeing business opportunities everywhere. Continue to use this process. Let this be an ongoing process of finding business ideas all around you. You will become a walking talking business idea generator.

Every time you step into a new room, you are seeing new products and services, new niche website potential. If I step out of my office and walk downstairs into my living room, I see a whole new world of potential ideas: the Lovesac couch, the pellet stove, and the newly installed Anderson windows. When I step out of the living room, turn the corner, and go into our home gym, I see Nalgene water bottles, Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, the Peloton exercise bike, a NordicTrack treadmill, and Nike running shoes. By now, I know you are thinking like I do. I know you read that list and started thinking “Lovesac can be an online business, pellet stove care could be a website, running shoes for treadmills is a niche, Bowflex could be a niche, home gym renovation can be a business; even the Peleton bike could be its own niche business. The business ideas are everywhere!”

Yes, business ideas really are everywhere. Do not ignore the opportunities. Write them down when they occur to you and research them later. Keep an ongoing list in your phone or notebook. When you see something that sparks your interest and curiosity as a potential business idea, make a note in your phone.

Every few weeks, or once a month, take the list of ideas and put them through the research process that we are about to go through in the next chapters. Keep looking; keep your eyes and your mind open. Do not limit your list to a single 30-minute brain dump exercise. Keep your mind open and look out for new ideas. Continue updating your list and get excited about this process. You now see how easy this process is and how there are business ideas everywhere you look.

You now have over 100 business ideas. Now that you have gone through the business idea generator exercise, you can no longer say “I want to start a business but have no ideas”.

Summary – “I Want to Start a Business but Have No Ideas”

The process of finding a business idea is much easier than you think. Take 15 minutes, sit in a quiet place, and answer each brain dump question. The goal is to list five answers to each question. Let your mind wander and think about each question. If you are stuck, skip to the next question. You can always come back and answer that tricky question later.

Once you are finished, go through this brain dump exercise with your significant other, your kids, your parents, your siblings, and your friends. The more ideas the better. At this stage, you are looking for quantity, not quality. You will narrow this list down for quality in Part Three of the mini-series. For now, you are simply putting thoughts on paper. Once you complete the brain dump exercise, you will have a list of over 100 potential business ideas. I

Continue The Online Business Idea Mini-Series

Continue with the online business idea mini-series. Continue on to the next section of the mini-series below:

Ready to Start Your Business?

Step One Book CoverIf you find yourself saying “I want to start a business, but I don’t know what to do,” this is the book for you. In Step One you will research, validate, and choose the perfect online business idea. By the end of this book, you will come away with a business idea list, one validated business idea, and a plan to launch your first business.

Step One is all about taking action. With this book, you will come up with over one hundred and fifty business ideas, you will conduct market research to narrow your list of ideas down to one viable idea, and you will validate the idea so you can hit the ground running and launch your business.

Ready to start your business? Pick up your copy of Step One today, and get started today. By the end of this book, you will come away with the perfect idea–and plan–to launch your online business.

Jake Lang

Jake Lang is an author, entrepreneur, and founder of over seven online businesses. Jake now helps new entrepreneurs start and scale their first online business at TheEntrepreneurRideAlong.com where he shares his experiences along the entrepreneurial journey starting and growing new businesses.

It’s Jake’s mission to start a new online business every year and share everything behind the scenes on The Entrepreneur Ride Along Podcast and The Entrepreneur Ride Along Blog so that new entrepreneurs can learn from Jake’s mistakes, understand the struggles of starting a new business, and find the path to entrepreneurial success.

Jake Lang

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