Category Archives: Business

Informations About Smart Business Ideas for Retirees

Looking for a new challenge now that you’ve retired from the corporate world? Why not start your own business?

Many retirees who’ve been employees all of their lives get excited at the thought of running the show, and building a business that reflects their interests and values. If you’re thinking of launching a business during your retirement, here are six ideas to get you started.

Online businesses

Many new business ideas well-suited for retirees harness the power of the internet, as long as you don’t let technology intimidate you.

“Online businesses are truly some of the best types of businesses for people over 50, but they need to get over their fears,” said Diane Eschenbach, owner of startup consultancy firm DE Consultants and author of “How to Quickly Start a Business Online.”

One simple new business option involves researching and compiling information on websites.

“One of my favorite types of online businesses for the ‘post-50 group’ is curation sites,” said Eschenbach.

As people get older, the time invested in activities (such as a new business venture) becomes very important, said Eschenbach. She is a big fan of the idea of retirees learning to use technology because of the time saved by automated programs, but she stresses the importance of choosing a business you enjoy.

“The key to a great retirement is doing what you love and finding a way to monetize it quickly,” said Eschenbach.

Consulting and coaching

Retirees considering starting businesses should start by thinking about two areas: skills from their previous jobs and life lessons. These experiences make retirees well-positioned to share their knowledge.

“Since they have a lot of life and career experience, a consulting and coaching business suits them well as a new endeavor,” said Dolly Garlo, business coach and president of Thrive!! Inc. By capitalizing on existing knowledge, retirees can spend their time learning the ropes of running a new business.

“Retirees should focus on jobs and business opportunities that leverage the individual’s years of work and life experience, such as consulting, teaching or tutoring,” said Jamie Hopkins, Esq., assistant professor of taxation in the Retirement Income Program at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and associate director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income.

Instead of sharing knowledge through a face-to-face business, retirees may prefer to teach or coach through a freelance writing business. “Writing and blogging can be a way for the retiree to stay engaged in an online or other community, generate some income and leverage their knowledge,” said Hopkins.

As you brainstorm new business ideas, Garlo suggests asking a few key questions. “How much time do you want to spend working? What kind of flexibility do you require? Do you want to work from a fixed location or be able to work virtually? What subject matter in particular excites you?”

Garlo says it’s also important to consider your potential business customers, and if they can afford to pay you. “This will determine whether what you provide becomes a hobby or charitable endeavor, or is an actual business,” she said.

Start a “mastermind group”

Have you left a successful career after establishing a large network of valuable and experienced business contacts? If so, the main ingredients of your new business idea may be as close as your address book.

“[Retirees] have learned lessons that many business owners won’t learn for another 10 to 20 years,” said Tobe Brockner, author of “Mastermind Group Blueprint: How to Start, Run and Profit from Mastermind Groups” (Aloha Group Publishing, 2013). “This is why starting a mastermind group is a natural fit for retirees.”

Members of mastermind groups meet regularly to collaborate and solve the problems or issues of their members, tapping into the collected experience, skills and knowledge of the group.

“Many [retirees] already have a network that they can tap into to find excellent mastermind group members, and by being the group organizer and facilitator, they can make a nice supplemental income,” said Brockner.

Depending on the size of the area in which they live, Brockner said enterprising retirees can start and facilitate multiple mastermind groups, and charge a premium for the value of being a member.

“Mastermind group facilitators can generate between $1,500 to $3,000 per month per group for just a few hours [of] work,” he said.

Service-based businesses

Providing services has long been a popular idea for younger, active retirees who want to start their own businesses; however, familiar choices like handyman services, tutoring or pet sitting aren’t the only games in town.

“There are many options for service-based businesses, but one area particularly well-suited for retirees is to provide eldercare services,” said Nancy Collamer, career coach and author of “Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

“Many elderly living on their own need someone to help out with the tasks of daily living: housekeeping, shopping, errands and cooking,” said Collamer. “They also hire people to help out with special projects such as relocating, medical claims assistance and bill paying.”

Entrepreneurial support services

As the total number of entrepreneurs increases, so does the number of entrepreneurs over the age of 50. Why not start a business catering to them? There is a tremendous opportunity for you to assist new entrepreneurs with building, managing and marketing their businesses, said Collamer. While older entrepreneurs have solid core skills from previous professions, they often fall short on the skills needed to capitalize on their expertise and turn their knowledge and talents into a profitable business.

“So think about how you can apply your skills in a small business environment,” suggested Collamer. “Are you a talented graphic designer? You might be able to design logos, brochures or menus for a new restaurant in town. Do you have strong financial skills? Perhaps you could work as a small business coach or a bookkeeper.”

Few business people have the time and know-how needed to handle all the tasks required to keep a business profitable, Collamer said. And filling this need suits aspiring business owners who are also retirees.

“Most small business people can’t afford full-time staff, so this can be a nice way to earn income on a flexible or part-time basis.”

Active living

There are many ways to take advantage of the spreading “active living” philosophy, which is especially popular among Boomers. Who better to help show them the way than a peer with the know-how to stay fit and age gracefully? One of the greatest things about starting a business focused on active living is how creative you can be about what exactly your business looks like.

“The spectrum of involvement is pretty wide,” Jonah Bliss, director of community for electric bicycle company EVELO, said. “[It could be] anything from opening up franchises for electric bike stores to being ambassadors for healthy living brands, or running tours and treks to outdoor locations.”

These types of businesses not only work well as a way to bring in some money after you retire from your career, but they also help others maintain their health as they age. Be creative and use what you know to find your niche in the growing active living marketplace.

The Best Key Components to E-Commerce Success

Being a small online retailer comes with a lot of challenges, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to create a successful e-commerce business — it just means you need a strategy that can compete with your bigger competitors.

So how do you turn your online store into a huge success? Henry Kim, co-founder and president of commerce application service company Symphony Commerce, shared his tips for an effective e-commerce strategy.

The key, Kim said, lies in mastering four different components: online branding, marketing, fulfillment logistics and shipping costs.

1. Online branding. How you brand your company is the first thing your customers will notice, so it’s especially important for smaller online retailers to make sure their branding is effective and consistent. [6 Important Tips for Licensing Your Brand ]

“A customer’s first impression is determined by your branding,” Kim said. “A consistent brand message sets you apart from an increasingly saturated market where the barriers to entry are continuously falling.”

Your brand should reflect the values and priorities of the customers you want and turn away the customers you don’t want, Kim said.

“A great brand is hard to build but easy to squander, so make sure that all your business efforts are aligned to your branding strategy,” he added.

2. Marketing. No matter how great your product or service is, you’ll get nowhere without good marketing.

“Marketing is the lifeblood of your business,” Kim said. “Even if you have a great product, great customer service, great retention and great organic growth, the question you should ask yourself is, ‘Do I want to reach my next revenue goal faster?'” If your answer is yes, Kim said you should invest in marketing.

Kim also noted that it’s easy to measure return on investment (ROI), making your marketing strategy one of the safest investments you can make in your business.

3. Fulfillment. Of course, fulfillment is very closely tied to customer satisfaction, which Kim notes is not always easy to get right when you’re still a growing brand. This is especially difficult for small online sellers as compared with bigger retailers.

“Amazon has already set the bar on the level of service your customers expect,” Kim said. “This means same-day fulfillment and incredibly fast shipping.”

Meeting those standards will keep your customers happy and benefit your business in the long run, too.

“If operationally you’re having a hard time meeting these expectations, you end up eroding your customers’ goodwill and reducing the chance of repeat purchases, which means you have to pay those customer acquisition costs all over again,” Kim said.

4. Shipping costs. Shipping is usually one of the top marginal costs of running an e-commerce business, Kim said, and many brands are put into a position where they lose money on shipping.

“Streamlining shipping processes frees up working capital to reinvest into initiatives that will move the needle for your business,” Kim said.

Kim also suggested that, if your shipping costs are low enough, you can give free shipping to a subset of your customers as part of a marketing campaign — for example, if they spend a certain amount of money, their shipping costs are free.

What you charge for shipping is more important than you might realize.

“Shipping actually helps you close a sale and becomes a part of the marketing budget rather than a cost center for a subset of customers,” Kim said.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that all four of these components need to work together.

“Since the workflows of these business areas are intertwined in e-commerce, it’s impossible to achieve success in one area without paying close attention to the others,” Kim said.

How to Know If Your Business Idea Rocks

Coming up with a business idea is easy. Coming up with a good business idea? That’s a challenge. Yet, perhaps an even bigger challenge is distinguishing the good ideas from the not-so-good ones.

How can you tell if your idea for a business is worth pursuing? Here are 10 signs to look for.

No one else is doing it
It might seem obvious, but if no one else is doing what your business proposes to do, you could have a good idea on your hands.

“There are a lot of business frameworks you can use to evaluate business ideas,” said Pawel Cebula, COO and co-founder of Medigo, in an email interview with Business News Daily. “However, what I have found to be a particularly good indicator is one question people keep asking once they hear about a great business idea— ‘Why does it not exist yet?'”

Cebula got the idea for Medigo — an online platform for medical travel that connects patients looking for treatment abroad with physicians around the world— from his father, a doctor. When he shared his father’s vision with potential investors, Cebula said they were shocked that no one had thought of the idea yet.

He and his co-founders were able to get their Berlin-based business off the ground, thanks in part to the excitement they generated among investors with their unique idea.

Someone else is doing it … but not like this

Not every great business idea needs to be one-of-a-kind; some successful businesses are based on an old idea, re-imagined. That’s the case for Men in Kilts, a decidedly different window washing and exterior cleaning franchise based in Vancouver, Canada.

Nicholas Brand, who founded the company in 2010, set his business apart from competitors by injecting a bit of humor into his business model. Unlike most window washers, Brand’s workers climb their ladders and set to scrubbing in kilts — those long, plaid skirts best known as the leg-covering of choice for bagpipers.

As you can imagine, this strange business strategy gets a lot of attention from customers and the public.

“We would have customers who worked in marketing tell us what a great idea we had and that we were going to be big,” Brand said in an email. “That is when I knew we had the potential to grow beyond a small operation.”

Thanks to his new take on an old idea, Brand has expanded his franchise to include 10 locations across North America.

It solves a problem

If donning a skirt isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Your business idea doesn’t have to be funny to be successful. Many businesses find success by doing something very straight-forward: solving other people’s problems.

“You know when you have a great business idea when you see a problem which others don’t see and you know how to market the problem and the solution,” said Arun Verma, founder of TeacherOn, an online platform that connects teachers and tutors from around the world with students who need their help.

Verma’s business uses technology to solve a problem that’s been plaguing mankind for centuries: how to share information across national and cultural boundaries.

It’s fundable

For those who are at least mildly tech-savvy and unafraid of putting their ideas out there for others to judge, there’s an easy way to test any business concept— run a crowdfunding campaign.

“If you can raise money on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, then you know there is a demand for your product or service or, at least, interest in it,” said Bruce Hurwitz, an entrepreneur, educator and author of the new book “Success! As Employee or Entrepreneur” (CreateSpace, January 2014).

Mindy Godel, U.S. director of public relations at Pozible, an Australia-based crowdsourcing platform, seemed to agree with Hurwitz, explaining in an email how crowdfunding campaigns can be used to determine whether a business idea is a winner.

Godel said that Pozible uses a simple rule to gauge the likely success of projects (including businesses) launched through the site: the 20/48 rule. If a project reaches 20 percent of its fundraising goal in the first 48 hours, Godel said, it will likely reach its fundraising goal.

If you run your business idea through the crowdfunding gamut and it doesn’t succeed, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should give up, but you may want to reconsider how you’re approaching prospective customers and investors and how you can improve for next time.

It fills a niche

If your idea for a business solves a very specific problem— one that only a select group of people need solved— you might be onto something big. Irina Jordan, founder of Artisurn, learned this lesson upon the successful launch of her business, which sells handcrafted urns for cremation remains.

“If you have experienced a lack of something in your own life, you may have found a successful business niche,” Jordan said in an email. “In my case, I wasn’t able to find a unique cremation urn for the ashes of my friend, so I started my own company to address this need, and it’s been very successful.”

Businesses that cater to a small segment of the population need to be sure that there are enough people out there to buy the goods or services they offer. But by tapping into a specific demographic, prospective business owners can often find an untapped market for even the most out-of-the-ordinary ideas.

People you don’t know say it’s a good idea

One simple way to find out if your business idea is worth pursuing is to ask people — specifically, people you don’t know — whether they think it’s a good idea. In an email to Business News Daily, David Reischer, a serial business owner and Internet operations manager with LegalAdvice.com, said that all business ideas must be tested in the court of public opinion.

“The initial spark of an idea that gets me excited about a project must first be validated by external confirmation,” Reischer said. “It is very dangerous and costly to take an idea to market without first testing out the concept.”

Some simple ways to test your idea on the public? Contact friends of friends to get impartial opinions about your product or service. Or create a survey online or on paper and ask a range of people to participate, from coffee shop patrons to people you pass on the street.

Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures, a travel company that pairs ski enthusiasts with the right chalets for their skill levels and budgets, used the latter tactic when deciding if he should proceed with his idea for a business.

“When we came up with the idea for our travel startup, we went straight to Trafalgar Square in London with a mock and asked 100 people if they would use it and why,” Bruce said in an email. “When 98 people said they would because it would save them time, we decided to go for it whole hog.”

People you trust say it’s a good idea

Some entrepreneurs advise others not to bother asking people they know what they think of a business idea. After all, if these people are too nice (or afraid of you) to tell you when an idea is half-baked, they really can’t be trusted. But for people with more candid acquaintances, using those you know as a sounding board can pay off.

In an email, Scott Harris, president and founder of the California-based marketing firm Mustang Marketing, said his system for gauging a good business idea involves speaking with five candid, business-savvy people whom he trusts.

“Study — with an open mind — their immediate reaction [to your idea],” Harris said. “The gut reaction tends to be the same amount of attention and time the general audience gives when faced with a new business, and is a remarkably good tell.”

Violette de Ayala, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Femfessionals, a resource and community for women in business, uses a similar approach to Harris when testing a new idea.

“Typically, before we launch a new program or a new feature, I [run it by] five women who fit my marketing demographic and are diverse in age and profession,” de Ayala said in an email.

“I listen to their feedback and get specifics on how it would best fit their needs. If all five that I ask rave about it and expand with further thoughts, it’s a pretty good indication that it’s wise for me to spend the dollars in following the venture.”

It does well at trade/consumer shows

If you don’t know five people you can trust to give you an honest opinion, you may want to try a different strategy. Many entrepreneurs test their new ideas at trade shows or consumer shows. These exhibitions for businesses in a specific industry attract prospective customers who can give you valuable feedback about your product or service.

“I believe consumer shows are the best way to know if a product or idea is worthy,” said Christy Cook, CEO of Teach My, in an email. “Ideally, the entrepreneur can find a consumer show that fits their product profile and target market. Most consumer shows are reasonably affordable and a great testing ground.”

Cook said that when she launched her company’s first products — educational materials for young children and their parents — at a consumer show, it was a resounding success. Kathy Steck, owner of DinerWear, a company that sells fashionable adult bibs, had a similar trade show experience as Cook.

In an email to Business News Daily, Steck said her trade show experiences gave her the confirmation she needed to go ahead with her business idea. Attending such events also enabled Steck to conduct valuable, firsthand research on the customers she was targeting.

It’s easy to understand

This next strategy for testing your business idea needs little explanation: if your idea is easy to understand, chances are it’s more likely to succeed with prospective customers or investors.

“A key to knowing if you’ll be successful isn’t so much whether [others] like your idea, it’s if they can easily understand it with minimal explanation,” said Andrew Hersch, COO and co-founder of City Lunch Club, a company that delivers fresh lunches to New York employees from some of the city’s top restaurants.

Jeff Harmon, president of Brilliance Within Coaching and Consulting, also believes that good business ideas are ones that simply make sense. Harmon said he looks for one thing when clients approach him with a new business idea: clarity. Being able to answer questions about what your business does and why it exists in the first place is a good indication that your idea might be successful, Harmon said.

Your heart is in it

Anyone who has ever started a business can tell you that, before launching a new venture, you’ll need to crunch some numbers. What’s the return on investment? What’s your potential market share?

But when you’re determining whether or not to pursue your idea for a new business, you’ll need to use more than your head. You’ll also have to use your heart.

“After you run the numbers and do the plan, is this a business that you feel so passionately about that you would do it for free?” said Shannon Nash, founder of Autism Job Board, an online resource that connects individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other cognitive disabilities with prospective employers.

Nash said that if you can answer that question in the affirmative, you may have found a winning business idea. Having a good head for business is important, Nash said, but being passionate about your idea means you “have the heart to make sure it’s successful.”

How to Know If Your Business Idea Stinks

So you think you have a great idea for a business? You might want to think again. While entrepreneurs are best known for the businesses that make them money, they often go through a series of bad ideas before settling on one that works.

But how can you tell if the business you’ve been building in your mind will be a total flop? While there’s no set criteria for judging business ideas, there are several indicators that your scheme might be a waste of time and money.

Here are some ways you’ll know your business idea stinks.

Someone tells you it stinks

The most sure-fire way to know that your business idea stinks is if someone tells you your business idea stinks. Of course, not everyone you talk to will be qualified to give you that kind of critical feedback.

If you’re looking for a negative opinion that you can trust, find an expert or two in the field you’re pursuing and ask them, point blank, what they think of your idea. That’s the approach taken by Dan Fendel, a serial entrepreneur whose latest project is a boating safety company, Float Plan One.

In an email to Business News Daily, Fendel said that— in exchange for a free lunch— the experts he contacts will typically offer candid opinions about his business ideas.

“People love to be respected as experts and, to be frank, they love to shoot down things because they know what you don’t,” Fendel said. “And when you encourage that — which means getting past their natural “not-wanting-to-offend-you-by-telling-you-your-baby-is-ugly” politeness — it is a good thing, because it saves you going down a dead-end street, spending lots of money and effort along the way.”

No one’s buying what you’re selling

Experts aren’t the only ones whose opinions you should solicit about your business idea. Friends, family members and even strangers can also provide valuable feedback that may help you fine-tune your idea or decide to scrap it altogether.

When telling people about your idea, you should ask them, first and foremost, whether they’d be willing to pay for the goods or services you plan on offering through your business. If the only one willing to buy what you’re selling is your mother, your idea for a business probably isn’t a good one.

“Every entrepreneur is enthusiastic about their idea, that’s the nature of entrepreneurship,” said Mike Poller, president of Poller & Jordan Advertising in Miami. “However, success is measured in dollars, investors and customers. Once your idea has convinced people to put their money where their mouth is, then you can know if it truly is a good idea.”

If you’re not excited by the idea…

While outside opinions about your latest business scheme can certainly help you decide whether or not to follow through on your idea, there’s only one person who can tell you with real certainty whether your idea is worth pursuing: you.

As the person responsible for seeing a business idea through to fruition, you are the best gauge of whether an idea is worthwhile, or not worth the trouble. One way to make that decision is to ask yourself a simple question: do you feel passionately about your idea?

“If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then why should anyone else be?” said Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of the global marketing firm Mavens & Moguls, in an email. “There’s a lot of noise in every category, so if you don’t have a unique story to tell and a new approach or idea that excites you, then go no further.”

No one is willing to help you

Few entrepreneurs launch businesses without asking for (and receiving) outside help. Whether that help comes from investors, industry experts or simply friends and family members, having some support is crucial for new businesses.

However, if you can’t seem to find the support you need to get your business off the ground, that might be a sign that your idea isn’t very good.

“If you ask one person for help— and it’s a good idea— you’ll get the name of someone who can help you. If you don’t have a good idea, you don’t get help,” said Billy Bauer, marketing director for Royce Leather, a New Jersey-based luxury leather goods company.

It’s too cool

Hipster boutiques and organic, gluten-free juice bars might be all the rage right now, but if your idea for a business is tied to passing trends, it could be a total flop.

“Ask yourself if [your business idea] is a fad,” said Gary Tuch, co-founder of Professor Egghead Science Academy. “Fads are not good business ideas. Many people get hyped about the cool new thing and try to get in on it. Once something is cool, you are too late.”

It isn’t scalable

How big is the business you want to start? If the answer to that question is anything other than “small,” you might want to head back to the drawing board. While some businesses are bigger than others, the most successful businesses can start out relatively small and grow bigger over time.

“Launch small,” said Danny Halarewich, co-founder and CEO of LemonStand, an e-commerce platform for online retailers, who went on to say that businesses need to start small to account for the inevitable tweaks that will have to be made as the business evolves.

Brahm Kiran Singh, founder of CoachPal, a tutoring service for engineering students in India, also emphasized the importance of scalability in assessing business ideas.

“There should be a large number of target clients and it should be easy to scale to them,” Singh said in an email. “A restaurant business is not as scalable as a SAAS business.”

It’s nice, but not necessary

Sure, you may have invented a new product or come up with a different solution to an age-old problem, but that doesn’t mean you should start a business. Businesses with staying power can’t just offer something new, they must offer something people actually need.

“Innovation has to be useful,” said Conrad Bayer, CEO and co-founder of Tellwise, a cloud-based sales and communication platform. “It’s an area where entrepreneurs often make mistakes. They confuse novelty and utility. Just because it’s new doesn’t make it useful.”

Marc Meyer, a serial software entrepreneur and professor of entrepreneurship at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, is of a similar opinion, saying in an email that a good business idea is one that offers a “must- have” type of solution, not just something “nice to have.”

Your niche is too small

Many successful businesses exploit a niche market within a particular industry. But if the niche you’ve chosen is too small, you might want to rethink your idea for a business.

“If it is a niche product or service, it probably isn’t a good idea unless the niche market is substantial in size and test sales are tremendous,” said Andrew Zurbuch, president of Healthplanbrokers.com, a site that provides free medical insurance quotes for groups and individuals.

Ruben Soto, CEO of the e-commerce shape-wear site Hourglassangel.com, agreed with Zurbuch, explaining in an email that catering to a niche market can mean big sales growth, but only if done right.

“Make sure the market is large enough and that you and your team can serve those customers better than the alternative,” Soto said.

It’s not generating a buzz

Many people test their business ideas in the biggest court of public opinion there is: the Internet. To determine if your idea is worth pursuing, you might want to consider going the same route.

“The best way to judge a business idea, in my opinion, is to figure out how to test it with as large an audience as possible, on a budget that you’re comfortable with,” said Dustin Christensen, an entrepreneur and digital marketing manager at Jackson White P.C., a law firm in Arizona. “The point is not to make money out of the gate, but to get a realistic idea of the demand of your idea.”

Christensen said he’s tried a variety of strategies to test his business ideas on the Web, including running a Craigslist ad and launching a simple website and seeing if it receives any attention. Many of the ideas he’s tested this way, he said, have been duds. But, as Christensen explained, it’s worth working through these bad ideas to get to the ones that might actually gain traction.

It’s confusing

If no one, including you, can explain what exactly your business idea is all about, it’s probably not an idea worth pursuing. At least, that’s what Jeff Harmon, president of Brilliance Within Coaching and Consulting, a New Jersey-based business coaching firm, tells his clients.

Harmon said the No. 1 thing he looks for in a business idea is clarity. If a prospective business owner isn’t clear about his or her idea, then chances are that business won’t be successful, Harmon said in an email.

Steps to Turn Your Customer Complaints Into Business Ideas

Do you cringe when a customer complains? If so, it’s time to start thinking of those complaints as possible opportunities instead of problems – opportunities that could lead to new product lines, services or a new venture. But how do you actually identify new business ideas hiding in your customer complaints? Here are five tips to get you started.

Be open to closing the gaps

To get useful inspirational tips and leads from your customers, they must know that you’re open to hearing about the gaps in your product lines or services.

“Ask your customers what you could do better,” said Kevin Barnicle, founder and CEO of IT consulting and software firm Controle. “This seems like simple advice but it is very powerful.” Barnicle said that asking one of his customers this simple question uncovered a potentially profitable need that wasn’t being fully met.

While the customer acknowledged that the product Barnicle sold him did what it was supposed to do, the client needed more than the product provided. As a result, there was a gap in communications between two critical teams in the client’s company – the IT team and the legal team. “If you could offer a service to help me bridge that gap I would buy it,” Barnicle recalled his client saying.

When Barnicle left his old company and started Controle, he offered exactly the service the client had pointed out was missing, and even named it for the complaint. “Our Bridge the Gap service is one of our most profitable and popular services we provide,” Barnicle said. “It was all created from a customer complaint.”

‘Simplify’ may signal business opportunity

Is there a demand for a simpler or faster version of your product or service hiding in your customer complaints? This was the case for the folks at 99designs.com, an online graphics design contest platform.

“Our new products are a direct reflection of the feedback we receive from our customers and designer community,” said Shayne Tilley, general manager of Swiftly. “A great example of this is our newest offering, Swiftly, a service for quick design jobs.”

Tilley said that although customers are happy with the services they receive through 99designs, they often had other smaller or simpler jobs that didn’t fit the service offerings of 99designs. “After our customers had their logo, website, banner ad, business card, etc., created on 99designs, they would ask us, “How do I get this updated or integrated with other existing marketing collateral like brochures, social media creative, et cetera?” Tilley said.

And the 99designs team had the same problem with their own simple jobs – it didn’t make sense to ask the company Web designers to stop working on important projects to complete something like a simple business card update, Tilley said. “Given that our customers were experiencing the same problems as us, we decided to do something about it and thus Swiftly was born,” Tilley said. Swiftly lets customers post small design jobs and have them completed within one hour. “Our average turnaround time is actually 30 minutes,” Tilley said.

Pay special attention to the loudmouths

Do you have a handful of customers that complain frequently? Instead of labeling them troublemakers, start thinking of them as your idea-generators.

“Realize that a customer that complains is sometimes the best customer,” Barnicle said. Though no one likes to deal with some who’s constantly whining about something, Barnicle said the customers that complain the most usually are the most passionate. “If you can solve their complaint or problem, you will most likely have a customer for life,” he said.

Look to your own complaints

Are you a customer? Take a look at your very own complaints – there could be a new business hiding in your pet peeves. And chances are, if something isn’t working for you, there are others out there with the same problem.

“In 2009, when I was moving, the shipping company broke my TV,” said Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of online customer support and help-desk company Freshdesk. “I sent multiple emails to the shipping company, but they just asked me to jump through hoops and made no signs of intending to settle my claim.”

Mathrubootham was so frustrated, he finally wrote about his experience in an online forum. Within a day, the shipping company paid him what they owed.

“This experience taught me that customers have social power, and it inspired us to build a customer support solution that leverages social media,” Mathrubootham said. Freshdesk now has 23,000 customers using their customer-support solution worldwide.

Will your customers pay for a solution?

While there may be multiple new business possibilities in your customer’s complaints, how can you find those that will lead to profitable new business? Evaluate each complaint carefully. If the issue shouldn’t have occurred, or been solved by the service or product they’ve already purchased, simply fix the problem. If not, it could mean there’s a potential new business idea right under your nose – and to find out, ask.

“Simply ask customers,” Barnicle said. “Be up front, and just ask them, ‘If I could solve your problem would you pay for it?’ Doing so you will immediately find out how much of a complaint it really is,” Barnicle said.

When one of Controle’s clients constantly complained about inefficiencies dealing with a software manufacturer’s customer support, Barnicle did exactly this. “We simply asked them, ‘If we offered a service to take that completely off your area of responsibility, would you purchase it?'” The result? A new service, and a new long-term contract.

“Solving customer complaints can be very helpful to organizations, and profitable for any company,” Barnicle said. “We now provide that same service to many other clients, all of which came out of a customer complaint and a simple question. Would they pay for it”?”

The Best Cities for Starting a Business

Getting ready to launch a new business? You may think proximity to major cities like New York or Los Angeles would benefit you, but you actually might find the most success by opening up shop in a state in the heart of the Midwest.

Seven of this year’s 10 best cities in which to start a business are in states in the middle of country, including this year’s top-ranked city, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, according to a study from the personal finance social network WalletHub.

Sioux Falls jumped to the top this year, up from sixth in 2015, for having a friendly business environment and low startup costs. Springfield, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, were the only two other cities to be ranked in the top 10 for a second consecutive year.

To help aspiring entrepreneurs maximize their chances of success, WalletHub analyzed the relative startup opportunities in the 150 most populous U.S. cities. Researchers ranked each city on 16 key metrics divided into three categories: access to resources, business environment and cost.

Access to resources focused on financing accessibility, employee availability and prevalence of investors. Business environment was judged on factors like average workday length, five-year survival rate, number of startups per 100,000 residents, industry variety and average growth of business revenue. Also considered was office space affordability, labor costs, corporate taxes and cost of living.

This year’s top 10 cities for starting a business, and their rankings in each category are:

1. Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Environment: 9; Resources: 55; Cost: 12
2. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Environment: 16; Resources 43; Cost: 13
3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Environment: 7; Resources 81; Cost: 18
4. Lincoln, Nebraska. Environment: 34; Resources 4; Cost: 66
5. St. Louis, Missouri. Environment: 55; Resources 11; Cost: 7
6. Salt Lake City, Utah. Environment: 98; Resources 3; Cost: 26
7. Charlotte, North Carolina. Environment: 6; Resources 60; Cost: 48
8. Springfield, Missouri. Environment: 90; Resources 38; Cost: 1
9. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Environment: 66; Resources 21; Cost: 4
10. Amarillo, Texas. Environment: 18; Resources 31; Cost: 76

Choosing where to launch your business is a very important step, said Anil Gupta, the Michael Dingman chair in strategy, globalization and entrepreneurship in the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

“It is the eco-system that provides the new company with ideas, team members and early investors, Gupta said in a statement.

Cities in the western part of the country appear to be the worst for entrepreneurs. Six of this year’s 10 worst cities for starting new businesses are located in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon.

Ontario, California, is listed as the worst city for startups, as it ranks near the bottom in all three categories: available resources, business environment and cost.

This year’s 10 worst cities to start a business in, and their rankings in each category, are:

1. Ontario, California. Environment: 101; Resources 150; Cost: 118
2. Providence, Rhode Island: Environment: 149; Resources 29; Cost: 100
3. Washington, D.C. Environment: 56; Resources 18; Cost: 149
4. Portland, Oregon. Environment: 105; Resources 103; Cost: 124
5. Jersey City, New Jersey. Environment: 44; Resources 91; Cost: 143
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Environment: 129; Resources 75; Cost: 121
7. Gilbert, Arizona. Environment: 117; Resources 129; Cost: 107
8. Fremont, California. Environment: 62; Resources 24; Cost: 146
9. Albuquerque, New Mexico. Environment: 147; Resources 98; Cost: 64
10 Rancho Cucamonga, California. Environment: 41; Resources 124; Cost: 133
Patricia Lee, an associate professor at Saint Louis University’s School of Law, said there are a number of steps state and local authorities can take to help stimulate entrepreneurship and new business development.

“I would like to see state and local authorities become more innovative, reduce red tape, create inclusive networks that foster leadership and stimulate entrepreneurship,” Lee said. “A few good ideas are supporting incubators and taking the lead on identifying successful ecosystems that are actually getting results.”

State and local authorities should also aim to reduce the barriers to starting and running a business, said Luke Pittaway, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and a professor of management systems at Ohio University.

“Consider tax incentives for informal investors, such as those providing love money and angel finance,” Pittaway said. “Look to improve support mechanisms, such as accelerator programs, entrepreneurship education in schools and colleges, incubators, business advice and support and access to entrepreneurial mentoring.”

Tips to Find the Best Business Ideas

If you’ve come to the conclusion that working for someone else isn’t for you, becoming an entrepreneur may be a shrewd move. While starting a business on your own may be difficult, the hardest part might just be coming up with an idea that can be successful.

The International Finance Corporation’s SME Toolkit advises potential entrepreneurs to create three separate lists to determine what might be a good fit. The lists should focus on what you’re good at, what skills you’ve acquired over the years and the things you like to do.

“Keep these three lists in an accessible place (for instance on your desk) for several weeks, and when small business ideas come to you, jot them down in the proper category,” the SME Toolkit advises.

Jason Nazar, co-founder and CEO of Docstoc, believes the best way to generate a business idea is to think of a problem that can be solved. But, he also noted, it’s imperative the problem not just be your own.

“What’s a problem that a lot of people have?” Nazar says in a video on the Docstoc website. “That’s a really good starting point for a great business idea.”

Brad Sugars, founder and chairman of ActionCOACH, wrote in an Entrepreneur.com article that the best business ideas tend to be ones that are most narrowly focused.

“Category leaders tend to be highly focused, and many times, that focus can appear too narrow,” Sugars wrote. “But companies with focus grow precisely because their niche is so distinctive.”

While some like to be as secretive as possible when crafting new business ideas for fear of having a great concept stolen from underneath them, entrepreneur Chris Dixon believes the opposite approach is best.

In his blog, Dixon, the co-founder and CEO of Hunch, advises those who want to start a company to create a spreadsheet where they list every idea they can think of. He advises they then take that spreadsheet and get feedback from as many people as possible, such as venture capitalists, other entrepreneurs, potential customers and people working at big companies in relevant industries.

“The odds that someone will hear an idea and go start a competitor are close to zero,” Dixon wrote. “The odds you’ll learn which ideas are good and bad and how to improve them are very high.”

Money also needs to be taken into consideration. When deciding the best business to pursue, author and franchising expert Joe Matthews believes any idea that is deliberated should also be measured by how profitable it can be.

Matthews encourages potential business owners to run three different financial scenarios — best-case, average case and worst-case — for their prospective business.

“Shoot for the best case, but make sure your decision is based on the average case scenario,” Matthews wrote on Entrepreneur.com. “Also, make sure you can survive the worst case.”

Many good ideas for a new business can be found where you’re already working. In his book “The Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By” (Yale Press, 2008), author Scott Shane writes that interactions entrepreneurs had with customers in previous jobs is a great source of inspiration.

He points to a study by the National Federation of Independent Businesses that shows that a business founder’s prior job was the source of the idea for a new business 43 percent of the time. In addition, 61 percent of new businesses serve the same or similar customers as their founder’s previous employer and 66 percent of the new businesses were in the same or similar product line.

Some Etsy Alternatives for Crafty Entrepreneurs

Third-party online marketplaces have made it easy for crafters and artists to turn their hobbies into businesses. Many of these entrepreneurs choose the popular Etsy as their primary virtual storefront, but it’s certainly not the only one out there. In fact, many sellers operate on multiple platforms to maximize their visibility and sales. Check out this list of alternative marketplaces to help you decide which one is right for your business.

1. aftcra

This Milwaukee-based site promotes handcrafted products made exclusively by American artists and artisans. Erica Riegelman, president of the company, told Business News Daily that her family-owned business promises great customer service and person-to-person responsiveness. aftcra is also dedicated to listening to its buyers and sellers when implementing changes and promotions on the site. Website: aftcra.com

2. ArtFire

Artists from across the globe can gather on ArtFire, a community-oriented marketplace selling a wide variety of handmade items. You can shop by category, occasion, colors or trends. ArtFire even offers the option to post a “wanted” ad for a custom-made product if buyers can’t find what they’re looking for. This is great for sellers who can turn projects around quickly. Website: artfire.com

3. ArtYah

ArtYah is a global creative marketplace for handmade and collectible goods. Artists, crafters, and sellers of antiques, vintage and supplies can all come together to reach buyers from around the world, with no membership or listing fees. CEO Craig Weiss said ArtYah promotes sellers via the marketplace’s social media channels and pay-per-click advertising, so your shop could get instant recognition throughout the ArtYah network. Website: artyah.com

4. Big Cartel

Though it lacks the social community aspect of some smaller sites, Big Cartel is a great place for sellers who want a lot of options for shop customization. The site prides itself on being an “easy-to-use, customizable and awesome” way for artists of all kinds to sell their work. There are four different monthly pricing levels, which determine the number of products you can list, but no further fees are collected from sellers. Website: bigcartel.com

5. Bonanza

Bonanza offers comprehensive category searches, eBay and Etsy importing options, and a ton of features for its community members, like coupons and promotions. There are no membership or listing fees, but Bonanza collects a commission based on the price of items sold: 3.5 percent on items up to $500 and $17.50 plus 1.5 percent on items sold for more than $500. Website: bonanza.com

6. Craft Is Art

When Craft Is Art started in 2009, the site sold only retail jewelry and accessories. Today, it offers handcrafted items in a wide range of categories, as well as fine art pieces, vintage products and wholesale craft supplies. The site boasts no listing or sale fees, unlimited items, and instant payments. Website: craftisart.com

7. DaWanda

DaWanda, a German handmade- and vintage-product marketplace, is populated primarily with European sellers, but with worldwide shipping and PayPal payment systems, U.S. sellers can get in on the action. Staff members monitor trends on the site, and compile lists and features for DaWanda’s members, and detailed search options ensure that you’ll find what you want. A unique feature of DaWanda is its search function for gifts, which populates gift ideas based on recipient and budget. Website: dawanda.com

8. Handmade at Amazon

Want to sell your products to a huge audience? Amazon’s handmade artisan marketplace gives you access to the e-commerce giant’s 285 million-plus active customers. Potential sellers of handmade-only products must apply to join the platform, and once accepted by an Amazon team member, they can list items for free, with a 12 percent fee on sales. Learn more about Handmade at Amazon in this Business News Daily article. Website: services.amazon.com/handmade/handmade.html

9. RebelsMarket

RebelsMarket serves as both an online community and an e-commerce platform for people interested in fashion subcultures like steampunk, goth and pinup. While it doesn’t sell exclusively handmade items, the “world’s largest alternative marketplace” does offer free online stores for sellers, who are screened by RebelsMarket to ensure only the best in “unique and edgy” products. Website: rebelsmarket.com

10. Silkfair

Named for the ancient “Silk Road” trade route, Silkfair aims to be a premier destination for e-commerce buyers and sellers. The site features a wide range of handmade items, collectibles and unique vintage pieces. Silkfair provides numerous benefits for sellers, including security features (fraud protection, SSL encryption, McAfee daily certification) and community social tools to connect with your customers. Website: silkfair.com

11. Storenvy

Storenvy’s website says it’s more than just a place to shop: “It’s about discovering and connecting to amazing brands, people and products.” The site focuses heavily on the unique stories of its indie sellers and offers the opportunity to create a free, completely customized store. Storenvy also takes advantage of social shopping trends and promotes products that its community of buyers have purchased and recommended. Website: storenvy.com

12. Supermarket

Sellers need to apply to Supermarket to join its curated design community, so you’ll need to have a great product. There are no membership or listing fees, but the site collects a 15 percent commission on the sales you make. Supermarket also offers help with SEO and inventory managements for its sellers. Website: supermarkethq.com

13. Yokaboo

Yokaboo is based in the United Kingdom and offers three membership levels. The free version allows for only six product listings, but the second level, which costs roughly equivalent to $25 USD, bumps you up to 50 listings. The third level (costing the equivalent of about $35 USD) gives you 500. Regardless of level, the site will never collect any commissions or fees on your sales. With an easy setup process and a wide variety of payment options, including PayPal, Yokaboo boasts that no technical experience is necessary to design and manage your store. Website: yokaboo.com

14. Zibbet

Zibbet prides itself on featuring individual handmade-only sellers who manage their own creation process, from conception to packaging to shipping. The site eliminates listing and commission fees for its sellers and offers tons of tools and support for sellers. These include a stand-alone, customizable website; Etsy importing; order management; and statistics. Zibbet co-founder Andrew Gray said his site’s customer-service philosophy — “If you ask a question, you deserve an answer” — has earned the company an excellent reputation among sellers of handmade products. Website: zibbet.com

Some Business Ideas for the Pet Obsessed

Were you one of those kids who always dreamed of working with animals when you grew up? If you never made it to vet school, you can still make a living working with your favorite four-legged friends. If you love your pet but aren’t sure how to turn that passion into a business, here are eight great business ideas for animal lovers.

Pet care franchise

Want a ready-made business concept that lets you work with dogs on a daily basis? Consider becoming a franchisee of a top-rated pet care company like Camp Bow Wow, Dogtopia or K-9 Resorts. These doggy boarding facilities allow you oversee the care of dogs while their humans are at work or on vacation. While boarding and daycare make up the bulk of revenues, some franchises let you offer additional services like pet grooming to generate more income. Professional training is provided for franchisees, so your customers can rest assured that they’re leaving their pooches in good hands.

At-home pet boarding

Don’t want to open a brick-and-mortar location, or spend the money to invest in a franchise? Spread the word to friends and neighbors that you’re available to watch their pets in your own home. People often feel more comfortable leaving their pets in the care of an individual rather than placing pets in a boarding facility, so getting referrals shouldn’t be too difficult. Some states require a pet care certification to board animals in your home, so be sure to check and comply with your local ordinances before officially opening for business. Being certified can also put pet owners’ minds at ease about leaving their animals in your care. Visit the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters for more information on turning pet sitting into a career.

Dog trainer

Anyone with a love of dogs and a whole lot of patience can work toward becoming a dog trainer. There are currently no official state requirements to work as a trainer, so a basic education can start with reading books on the subject and getting some hands-on practice at local obedience classes with professionals. It’s also possible to apply to become a puppy trainer at a local pet store chain to help build credibility. According to the Animal Humane Society, the job of most professional trainers to teach dog owners how to train their pets, so great people skills are a must. For more information on becoming a trainer and acquiring the necessary skills to work as a professional, visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors websites.

Pet supply retailer

Know of some great pet products that aren’t carried by your local pet supply store? Open up your own retail shop and sell high-quality items made by small-scale manufacturers. Many small business owners would be thrilled to offer you a wholesale discount for carrying their products, and your customers would feel good about supporting local businesses.

Dog-walking

In larger cities with a lot of pet owners in apartment buildings, dog-walking is a great part-time business opportunity. City dwellers don’t have yards for their dogs to play in, and if they work long and/or irregular hours, they may not always have time to take their energetic pup for his daily walk. In addition to creating a website with information on your business, put up flyers in your building and see if any of your neighbors would be willing to entrust this task to you for a small fee. It’s important to educate yourself on not only the local dog walking market but also proper animal care and handling. Dogtec offers a four-day training workshop to become a certified professional dog walker.

Grooming

This business idea requires a working knowledge of animal health and anatomy, as well as training and some patience. Unsure of where to start? Gain experience bathing your own pet, then look into an educational program that properly trains you in the basics of dog grooming. From there, you can get some hands-on experience by working for an independent groomer or national pet store chain, until you feel confident enough to go out on your own. For more information on becoming a professional pet groomer, visit petMD.

Dog treats

The trend of healthy eating and recognizing the ingredients within food doesn’t stop at humans, people are generally more cognizant of what their pets are eating as well. If you’ve been making your own for a long time, capitalize on your talents, otherwise there are recipes for homemade treats online. They don’t require a lot of time or effort to make, and the ingredients for many of them are probably already in your kitchen. Experiment with different recipes and let your dog be the official taste tester. Once you’ve found a winner or two, you can bake them in bulk, package them and sell them online. List the ingredients on your website and packaging so pet owners can feel confident that your product is right for their dogs.

Handmade pet accessories

Pets often become like children to their owners, and many individuals are perfectly willing to invest in custom-made collars, food bowls, clothing and other accessories. Etsy and other e-commerce platforms are a perfect avenue to sell handmade items like these, so with some basic materials and a little time to spend on crafting, you could get this business up and running within a day or two.

Some Business Ideas That Don’t Require Employees

Are you ready to start your own business, but not ready to hire employees? There are plenty of options for people who would prefer to be “solopreneurs” and keep their business operations simple.

Here are some ideas to inspire you to start working on your solo business plan right away:

Virtual Health Coaching

Are you educated in nutrition but are still looking to get your career to go in the right direction? Turn your healthy lifestyle choices and education into lucrative business decisions by becoming a virtual health coach. You’ll be aided in your efforts by the myriad new health-related apps and devices being developed to help clients keep track of fitness goals and weight loss.

Chore/Errand Service for Seniors

Anyone with aging loved ones knows how hard it can be to care for them without extra help. Elderly people living in their own homes need help with lots of routine chores like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and yard work. Why not start a business that offers senior citizens and their families the help they need to maintain their households without breaking their budgets? With word-of-mouth endorsements and social media targeted at the overworked baby-boomer set, you could get this business off the ground in no time.

Microbrewery

Want to turn your love of beer into a viable occupation? Why not jump on the microbrewing bandwagon? With the popularity of craft beers on the rise in the U.S., the demand for innovative breweries is growing. Take a page from the successful owners of Brooklyn Brewery and start by focusing on branding and distribution of your beverages. With some thirsty investors and a few barrels of persistence, you could have your brewery up and running faster than you can say “cheers!” Learn more about starting your own craft brewery in this Business News Daily guide.

Personal Trainer

With employers and corporations looking to decrease health care costs and a greater awareness of diseases associated with obesity, America is looking to get fit. Freelance personal trainers make their own schedules and work for a diverse range of clients. If you’re a fitness guru with a head for business, this might just be the right idea for you.

Special Deliveries

Whether it’s a bouquet of flowers in celebration of a wedding anniversary or an ice cream cake delivery for a child’s birthday, there’s a need for businesses that carry out long-distance requests on behalf of those whose loved ones live far away. With the right website and a PayPal account, you could start building your reputation as a “special delivery” courier today.

Business Coach

Are you business-savvy with years of experience, and willing to pass that knowledge on to others? With the right marketing tactics, a strong personal network and a great website, it’s simple to become a business coach on your own. Work with small business owners or startup-hopefuls to carefully craft business plans, and advise those who need that extra motivation. If you know you can be a good motivator and not just a “yes man,” their investment in you will have great returns.