Entrepreneurship: sniff out a good idea

One of the key things that deters would-be entrepreneurs from taking the
plunge and setting up their own business is the lack of a promising idea.

So where do you start looking for good ideas? The first place to start your
search is in your own personal environment. Your idea could spring from
something which is missing in your own life.

Take the plunge

Sally Preston did not have time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing
home-made food for her daughter, but neither did she want to feed her jars of
processed baby food laden with colouring and additives. So she decided to make
nutritious baby food which was ready-frozen in ice-cube trays so busy parents
could instantly pop out as much or as little

as they needed. Her company, Babylicious, now has its products stocked by
supermarkets across the country and will have a turnover of £4m this year.

Or your idea might come from spotting a more efficient way of doing things in
your work environment. Paul Stanyer spent many years working for holiday
companies in resorts around the Mediterranean. He started up his business after realising that holiday makers arriving at the airport
would probably prefer to have a pre-ordered taxi waiting for them to take them
direct to their hotel instead of spending hours on a transfer bus as it went
round all the resorts dropping people off. In 2006 Holiday Taxis is expected to
have sales of £7.5m and currently operates in 30 countries.

Doug Richard, a former panelist on the BBC television show Dragon’s Den and
founder of research company The Library House, says the secret to finding
potential ideas is to start seeing every problem in life as an opportunity.

World of opportunity

He says: ‘People walk around being annoyed at how awkward the world is, not
realising that in fact they are being presented with a buffet of
ideas-in-waiting. Whenever you say to yourself that you are annoyed by
something, you should say to yourself, I wonder if there is a better way? If you
start looking at all the problems in life as opportunities, you’ll find yourself
with many potential ideas to choose from.’

You might discover the idea for your business by turning conventional wisdom
on its head. Karen Darby decided that instead of cold-calling customers to
persuade them to switch energy suppliers, she would set up a comparison service
called Simply Switch so that the customers themselves would want to pick up the
phone and make the call to see if they could get a better deal. Her company now
has an annual turnover of £6m.

Deirdre Bounds created an entirely new business model when she decided that
people might be willing to pay to do volunteer work overseas. Her company i-to-i
now offers people the chance to do everything from working in orphanages and
building houses to conservation work, and will have a turnover of £8m this year.

Source of inspiration

Or you may find inspiration from a successful idea in action overseas and
decide it might work in the UK too. Stephen Waring decided to offer a grass
treatment service in his home town in North Wales after seeing the huge demand
that already existed for green lawns in the US.

His company, Green Thumb, now has a franchise operation with combined sales
of £5m. And David Sanger started selling high-quality hotdogs in the UK after
seeing how popular they were in Copenhagen. His company, Rollover, now sells 25
million hotdogs a year, with sales of £10m.

Emma Harrison, a business mentor and founder of A4e, a training and
employment organisation, says:

‘You can’t just sit in your room in isolation and come up with an idea. You
have to be out there travelling, talking, reading, watching, listening,
experiencing. It is then that you will spot something that you don’t like and
decide to do it better.’

Inspiration for that winning business idea is all around you. You just have
to look carefully and spot it before someone else does. So what are you waiting

Rachel Bridge is enterprise editor at The Sunday Times.


Case study

When Will King was made redundant from his sales job because of recession he
decided to find a product which people would still want to buy even in tough

He realised the answer lay right in front of him. King had always had trouble
shaving because he had sensitive skin and the razor would leave his skin itchy
and bleeding.
One day his girlfriend suggested that he put some bath oil on his skin before
shaving and see if it made a difference. It did.

‘It felt fantastic. I thought if this works for me, it will work for other

Inspired by the discovery, he bought a selection of exotic and essential oils
from an aromatherapy shop and mixed them together at home to create a shaving

Then he tracked down the supplier and bought large quantities of the oils,
funding his venture by taking out a £10,000 loan and borrowing £30,000 from two
friends in return for shares in the business.

After filling each bottle by hand King managed to persuade Harrods to stock
his product, which he called King of Shaves. But it was a slow start. By the end
of the first year King had made of £30,000.

He also had to overcome much scepticism. ‘We had this tiny little bottle of
oil and nobody believed it would work. When I told people I was going to go up
against Gillette and change the face of shaving, they would yawn and say how are
you going to do that?’

Fortunately in 1994 he persuaded Boots to stock his oil and when magazines
started to write about his product too the business took off. King of Shaves is
now set to have sales of £15m in 2006.

Now 41, King thinks the secret of his success has been to create a product
which people actually need ­ and to have a large dose of self-belief.

‘You can do anything if you believe you can do it – and if you have the
persistence to actually get on and do it.’

Rachel Bridge’s second book ­ My Big Idea ­ reveals how 30 successful
entrepreneurs found inspiration’ is published by Kogan Page

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