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How to Identify Business Plan Opportunities

According to Thomas Edison, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” The same goes for business planning. Coming up with the idea is the inspiration part. When you begin to think about how to turn it into a business, that’s when you begin to sweat.

Listen to what customers have to say

The Internet — and specifically online review sites — can be an excellent source of inspiration for new business opportunities. Customers, it turns out, have very strong opinions about what they’ve bought, and they’re not afraid to voice them. Just look at the reviews on Amazon and other shopping sites.

Those reviews, good and bad, can tell you exactly what customers like, what they don’t like, and what they’d like to see in products and services. Their input is a gold mine of information.

Say that you’re interested in designing and producing a computer program that will make it easier for people to compose their own songs. Several such programs already exist. Go onto the sites that sell them and you’ll find plenty of chatter from satisfied and unsatisfied customers. Their likes and dislikes can help you decide what your product needs to offer in order to compete with products already in the marketplace.

Spot changes that open up new business opportunities

Many fledgling businesses succeed by jumping on new opportunities that arise through technological, social, policy, or other changes. Change can be scary, but it can also open new doors. Spotting that door requires skill and a little daring. For example, when Apple launched the iPad, a whole new industry of apps sprang into existence, created by developers daring enough to plunge into a new technology and a new marketplace.

As Internet bandwidth increased and the potential for streaming video appeared on the horizon, companies like Amazon and Netflix seized the opportunity, establishing themselves as leaders and leaving some competitors — remember Blockbuster video? — in the dust.

Today, with baby boomers retiring, a host of companies are looking for ways to strike gold by opening high-end retirement communities, providing healthcare consulting services, or offering products and services that promise to keep people youthful even as they age. As part of your brainstorming, ask your team to consider ongoing or likely changes that could open up new opportunities.

Keep in mind that new opportunities don’t have to mean re-inventing the wheel. To be sure, many companies succeed by creating a brand-new product or service to sell to existing customers. But opportunities also exist for selling existing products or services to new customers. If you’re already in business, spend some time thinking about opportunities for expanding your market by reaching more customers.

These days, many companies prosper by finding clever ways to make people’s personal or working lives easier or more efficient. Think no-iron shirts. Think parking garages that offer car washes. Think dictation software that does away with the need to type. Evaluate your promising business idea to see whether you can take advantage of new opportunities to improve the efficiency or effectiveness of your customers’ lives.

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