Bright sparks: using your creative side to hit on a winning business idea

You can have impressive qualifications behind your name and a good relationship a bank manager, but without a great business idea you are unlikely to live the dream at the helm of a successful enterprise. Regular BizNewz blogger Irvine Green has that knack of identifying lucrative opportunities. In his latest piece, he reveals how you can get a business to find you. A must-read for anyone with aspirations to be in charge of their own destiny. – JC

Irvine Green in 1961. Starting young is often a big advantage in becoming a successful business person.
Irvine Green in 1961. Starting young is often a big advantage in becoming a successful business person.

By Irvine Green

This time: finding something that spins your dial and makes you successful in business.

Before I start, here is a brief note about last week’s blog. I mentioned that when I committed to Computer Camps I didn’t have any knowledge of computer programming. What to do? A year or so before that, when I was donated the Atari computer for cubs, I knew from basic documentation that the ‘little marvel’ could do more than I ever knew or would find out. I searched for an Atari Computer Club.

There wasn’t one – so I started one (!) and put a note in the free info columns in the newspapers. Soon a thriving Atari computer owner community was meeting regularly, and I drew some of my early camp teaching staff from this club (and others, like Apple and Commodore) plus David Gear (Simon’s dad) from St Stithians. I attended the classes at the camps alongside the campers, and thereafter was lecturing too.

Your own business: it could find you

Now, looking for something for YOU to do as a business. Quite often personal interests can help with ideas, such as a hobby, favourite past-time, sport or something a relative or neighbour does (sport or business). If you love a particular sport and have done well with it, start a small coaching group. I was involved in figure skating for 32 years and saw many children who started in the late 1970s grow up to become skating coaches.

Get a piece of paper and write down what you enjoy doing. Take your time with it. Think. Hard. Have a separate column for what you don’t enjoy doing (it helps, believe me).

Maybe you’re good with your hands, or are artistic, or creative in design – perhaps even all of those. Perhaps you’re a more cerebral type (enjoy thinking and logically finding answers). Write all these down.

Browse magazines and book shelves on all subjects at the local book shops (unlike overseas, no one will chase you away if you spend lots of time there). Business magazines sometimes provide inspiration.

Looking for gaps

Obviously don’t try and copy what a franchise is doing (there’s major copyright there) but somewhere in the ever-growing list of franchisors you may spot a gap, or something that triggers a different type of activity in your mind. An excellent magazine to browse through for ideas and insights into foreign small business (and foreign markets) is Monocle (I call it the National Geographic of Business). And as cheesy as it may sound, flip through the Telkom telephone directory and Yellow Pages too.

Talk to friends, relatives, and find out what it is they may want done that they can’t find anyone to do. Perhaps they are looking for someone reliable or who puts customer service – not money-making – first.

Start thinking ‘out of the box’, or thinking about something that has never been done before but that people buy into when you mention it – as I did with computer camps after being told by a bunch of adamant 8- and 9-year-olds they wanted to go to computer camp, like yesterday.

Write down the worthwhile ideas you come up with. Then browse through the ‘How to…’ or ‘Dummies guide to…’ books covering those ideas.

Try to think of things that may expand in the future (none of what I now do was possible when I matriculated, let alone when I finished University and my National Service). Something mentioned in passing by someone (in a crowd, on the radio, on TV) may trigger that ‘aha moment’.

Tapping your own talents

I outline some more brief examples from my life here to show what I mean.

When I turned 13 (1968) my dad bought me an SLR camera (now DSLR). I started taking pictures (mainly slides, as colour neg film was excessively expensive back then). I also did some black-and-white work (B&W film was so cheap the shops often gave it away alongside slide/colour film).

My dad had mentioned that when he was young he developed and printed his own B&W film, so for Christmas I got kit for that. Soon I was taking photos at school sporting events and doing developing for friends. Then I joined Scouts and, lo and behold, the scout troop I joined was one of the lucky few involved in running the scoreboards at (the old, pre- 1986) Kyalami. This meant ‘Officials’ tickets and access to the pits and track beyond the security fences. Motor racing pics were the result. I took some good ones, developed them myself and got them printed by a photo lab. Next race I showed them to the racing drivers involved and sold a few…heh heh.

The fasteners’ company my dad worked for did business with Gunston racing (John Love, Sam Tingle, Basil v Rooyen,  etc). So I did some pics for them too. I passed their ‘quality’ test and was made official team photographer for all their races at Kyalami.

At age 15 I got an enlarger for my birthday, so now I could do printing and cropping too. Business took off while I was still at school: photographs at weddings; kids portraits; whatever. Photography was something I had found a liking for (and was good at). While at University (1974) I got involved in figure skating – for 32 years!. Needless to say I started taking photos (action and podium) there too. Soon everyone competing was asking me for pics.

The point of this example is that sometimes an unexpected talent (and interest) can come to the fore unexpectedly. I would not have got a camera, D&P kit and enlarger (and later tele-lenses) from my parents if I hadn’t shown an interest or talent. Those gifts alone wouldn’t have made me good at photography if I didn’t have the knack or interest. The camera and early results uncovered a flair and interest I didn’t know I had.

To end, back to the Atari club. There was interest from other centres for such a club, so I formed a National Headquarters (HQ) and branches could open anywhere and affiliate to HQ. That idea led to business/es around the brand for items and services the computer stores couldn’t provide. Kept me busy as ‘work’ from 1985-1991 between computer camps.

Day dreams

Putting things a different way, ‘stuff happens’ and can lead you down a road you could never have envisaged. Good luck with ‘business idea finding’. Keep an open mind, watch the tech mags for forecasts of developments in all areas, think how you could maybe apply that or get ready for it, and ‘dream’.

Many decades ago there was a jingle on TV for sugar that sums up the approach. It went: ‘Whatever you want in life, go for it, you can get just what you want if you stick to it…’And another for Vodka: ‘If you think about all your tomorrows, and forget about your yesterdays, there is so much to do, waiting in front of you…’

Get to it. Now.


If you found this blog interesting, take a look at Irvine Green’s other recent articles on BizNewz:

Turning a business dream into reality – Irvine’s success started with an outrageous idea

Start your own business within the hour; the case for sole trading

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