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I don't have a business idea, but I have to do something.  
What business should I start?  
Are you asking the right question?
  • Make sure that you have an idea of what it takes to run a business (See "Am I ready for business?").
  • If you've never found employment before, are you sure that you've exhausted all possibilities of finding a job? It's easier to find a job than to run a business, even in South Africa. Besides, work experience is very important for success in business.
Choosing the kind of business that will work for you takes a lot of thought, as there are a number of important factors to consider. To ensure that the business is viable, you need to find product or service with a market that you can develop. In other words, you need to be selling something that people want. But to be competitive with your business, you also need to have the necessary skills. The business should also suit your personality, otherwise you will soon lose enthusiasm for the venture.
The skills factor
First, look at your own skills and knowledge. If you are already employed, think about what part of your job you could perform as a business rather than for an employer. Successful businesses are frequently started by people with practical experience in the type of work that the business is in, but who find that they want more independence in their working lives.
Perhaps you could adapt your existing skills by taking a course in something related to what you already know. If you can do this while you are employed, you could lay a good foundation for going out on your own. A worker in a furniture factory could use their wood-working skills to concentrate making a limited range of creative furnishings, instead of competing against well established retailers.
Your hobby could be turned into a business. A love of gardening could be turned into a horticultural or even home landscaping business, for example. A talent for cooking could lend itself to a catering service for parties at customers' homes.
The personality factor
Does your personality or physique suggest any business ideas? If you have persistence, mischievous charm and the gift of the gab, you might be a good salesman. There are frequent openings for self-employed salesmen to sell other people's products. If you are good at dealing with people, you might be just the person to take up a retail franchise.
The resources factor
If you have a home that you could work from, this could be a valuable resource in starting a business. You could set aside space to sew, knit or perhaps make toys. You could also sell products for other people over the phone.
As communications technology develops, there are more and more opportunities for people to do office work at home using a computer and modem, such as word processing, book-keeping, freelance writing, research or translation.
The market factor
When looking for a business idea, a good place to start is in your local neighbourhood to see what goods or services are needed locally. Think of the problems and difficulties that you have experienced in getting things for your home, or at work, or in your leisure activities:
  • What problems cause you most inconvenience or cost you most to correct?
  • What service is not available when you most need it?
  • What products are difficult or impossible to obtain locally?
  • What do you and your neighbours and friends most frequently complain about?
  • Is there any way of providing a local service or product for any of these markets, which somebody will pay for?
When looking for a business idea, also think beyond consumers to goods or services that businesses need. There may be certain things that businesses have difficulty in obtaining locally. If a new industrial zone is opening up in your area, there may be a number of small and medium-sized firms that are too small to have their own staff canteen, but which all need some kind of catering service or maybe just a sandwich bar.
More heads are better than one
When thinking about new business ideas, don't miss an opportunity to pick other people's brains. They can give you little insights into other sectors and opportunities, giving you information that would be very difficult to find anywhere else.
Talk to friends and relatives, as well as business colleagues if you are currently employed. People who have been working in the same company for a long time frequently have a range of ideas for improving a product or service - ideas that they have never managed to take further. It may be a simple part like a spring for a manufacturing process or it may be a particular service which the company has difficulty obtaining.
Selling for yourself
If you have experience and skill in selling for an employer, there are opportunities for you to become a sales 'agent' - selling goods on behalf of various different manufacturers or providers, and earning a commission.
This normally involves setting up an agency agreement with a manufacturer of goods, which will give you the right to sell their products within a certain geographic area for a certain period of time. In return for each sale, you would get a commission. The commission would depend on the value of the goods and the level of your involvement in the sale, supply and servicing of the products.
Opportunities from legal developments
New legislation is often a rich field for business opportunities. Every new piece of legislation generates opportunities in terms of administration and compliance. There may be a need to supply parts to adapt an existing product or process to meet new safety or health regulations.
Or the law may require businesses or consumers to do something that they don't have the people or time to do. As a private consultant or contractor, you can build a business on providing these particular services and becoming an expert on what that law requires businesses to do.
New ideas from local universities
Students and academics often spend many years on research projects that are not subsequently pursued. Someone may have invented, designed or discovered some interesting new process or product which could form the basis of a business.