Choosing a Small Business Idea: Sorting the Good Business Ideas from the Bad
One of the very most critical decisions you will ever make in starting your own business is, for all too many entrepreneurs, never really a decision at all. Many entrepreneurs never really think critically about what business to go into—they just do it. Maybe they have a little experience in one business, maybe they read an article somewhere about someone who made a lot of money in a particular type of business, and maybe it sounded like a cool and interesting thing to do.
What business you decide to go into isn’t just going to end up being a decision about how you spend your workday. In some businesses, you are going to be likely to make a lot more money with a lot less work. Furthermore, what I suggest you think about most is this: What business are you most likely to succeed in or even survive in? Some types of businesses are much, much more likely to be successful than others.
Choosing your business idea is your most important decision as a future business owner.
So at the risk of generalizing, I am going to paint some broad brushstrokes of what I think most people’s chances of success are in different businesses. Before you think that my broad rules of thumb don’t apply to you, perhaps because you have some related experience or a good idea, I offer to you that, on average, the type of business you choose to go into will have more impact on your chances of success than even factors such as your experience or how unique you consider your idea to be.
Related: The 300 Best Small Business Ideas
Retail Business Ideas: Difficult to Start
Retail is a lot tougher than ever before, and it’s getting more difficult every day! Why? In addition to the huge discount department store chains like Walmart continuing to take market share, the so-called category-killer superstores or big box stores continue to threaten smaller retailers in all kinds of categories. Then on top of that, you have the Internet companies, like Amazon, which are more than willing to run their business at a loss today in hopes of making it up at some point in the distant future.
Starting a retail business is very difficult. The competition is fierce!
It’s not impossible to compete with the mammoth retailers out there—the success of the various “Dollar” store chains shows this—but it is very, very difficult. You especially need a very carefully developed strategy that clearly differentiates your business and gives shoppers a clear reason for choosing your store.
Don’t be tempted to start a retail store just because you find a cute, affordable space to rent. Location means everything in retail, and a good location usually costs a lot of money. I would spend several days sitting in front of a potential retail location with a counting device, counting cars and pedestrians walking by, before I’d even think about signing a retail lease. Then if you do get a great location, take full advantage of it with great signage and an enticing storefront.
At one point I tried to retail new Polish bicycles out of my house. They were decent bikes at a great price, but no matter how aggressively I advertised them or how low I went on price, I just couldn’t capture the sales levels that the local bicycle shops were enjoying.
Related: How to Start a Business in 5 Steps
E-commerce Business Ideas: Tougher Than It Looks
Opening up a retail business online—or an e-commerce site, if you prefer—what could be easier? Just throw together a website and wait for the orders to roll in, right? No, it just isn’t that easy. First and foremost, it is much harder than you might think to get visitors to come to your site.
For starters, getting a new website to rank in the first page of search engine results of the more popular keywords on the larger search engines is a formidable task indeed. Yes, you can buy advertising to drive traffic to your site, but it is very expensive. Then, even once you have driven traffic to your website, it can be very hard to convert visitors to sales.
Starting an online retail business is harder than you think. How will you get people to visit your website?
When I operated the website CareerCity.com, we would get tens of thousands of visitors a day, all interested in finding jobs. But despite a lot of promotion on the website, we were lucky to sell even a few paperback books on job-hunting techniques.
Related: How to Convert Website Traffic Into Sales
Secondhand Store Business: A Safer Bet in Retail
If you really want to go into retail, particularly in a category dominated by superstores, you will be a lot better off opening a secondhand store. You may be able to operate with no investment in inventory by only handling goods on a consignment basis—that means that you never actually own the merchandise. Instead, you display the goods and pay for it only after you have sold it.
But even if you are selling on consignment you need to get a healthy markup. You want about 15 percent of the sales price if you are selling high-priced items like cars or boats, and more like 50 percent if you are selling less expensive items like children’s clothing.
Although I found it difficult to sell new bicycles out of my house, I found it a snap to sell used bicycles. In fact, the summer I started Bob’s Rent-A-Bike I found I could buy used bicycles at the beginning of the summer, rent them out all summer long, and then sell them often for more than I paid for them at the end of the summer!
Another summer, I was able to build a significant business buying and selling used boats out of my house. I even sold a…