Skip to cookie consent
A woman selling eels and other fish in Hsipaw, Myanmar. Photo: Andrew Philip

From: Entrepreneurship – Footsteps 103

Practical advice on how to run a successful business

Choosing a business idea is one of the most important parts of your journey as an entrepreneur. Many people rush this stage, but it is worth taking the time to ensure your idea has the best chance of success. 

Could you learn a new skill to give you a business opportunity? Photo: Andrew Philip

Could you learn a new skill to give you a business opportunity? Photo: Andrew Philip

There are two main ways to generate business ideas: firstly by looking at the market around you and secondly by considering your own interests and skills. Both are important. You should offer goods or services that there is a demand for and that you will have the ability and commitment to deliver. 

Method 1: The market 

The first way to generate business ideas is to look at the market. It is essential that you sell goods or services that people want and that there is demand for throughout the year. 

Demand in the market 

Solve a problem 

Look at the competition 

You do not need to come up with a completely original business idea. In fact, it is a good sign if people are already making money from a particular idea: it shows that there is a demand for it. However, it is important to try to make your offering slightly different so that you do not flood the market with the same product or service. If there are too many businesses selling the same thing, then the customers will be able to bargain the price down, as supply will be greater than demand. 

Method 2: Your skills, assets and interests 

The second way to generate business ideas is to consider your skills, assets and interests. Many people think that as long as there is demand for a product or service, then it is a good idea. This is partly true; however, you also need to find the right idea for you. 

Skills are often learnt and can therefore be added to if you are missing something important for running your business. Some of the key skills needed to run a business are: sales, marketing, negotiation (with customers and suppliers), book-keeping, organisation and specific technical skills, such as carpentry or tailoring. For tasks such as book-keeping, it may be possible to hire someone to help you. 

Assets are the resources that people use to produce their livelihoods and to cope with any crises. They can be split into six main categories: 

Write down a list of assets you have or that you can access. You can then use that list to come up with business ideas. For example, if you have access to land, think about ways you could use this to earn an income. 

Now you can consider your interests and use these to come up with business ideas. Think about these questions: 

Product or service? 

The final thing to consider is whether you would prefer to offer a product or a service. A product generally requires more financial investment at the start and often takes longer to get to the selling stage. You will need to link with suppliers and potentially manufacturers, develop the goods and then transport them to your customers. However, it can be very profitable. If you provide a service, you do not need to go through these stages, and often service businesses need less financial investment. However, as you are trading your time for money, there will be a limit on how much you can earn, as you have limited time. In order to grow your business, you will need to take on staff. 

The process of coming up with a business idea can be quite overwhelming. But every idea, no matter how small or silly, is useful, as it can result in other ideas. Carry around a notebook and write down ideas as they come to you. You will soon see potential business ideas everywhere you go. 

Woman doing market research. Illustration: Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Illustration: Petra Röhr-Rouendaal

Market research 

Once you have chosen a potential business idea, it is important to carry out market research to make sure there is enough demand for your product or service. 

Market surveys 

Design a simple questionnaire to find out what your target customers want, with a maximum of ten questions. You need between 30 and 60 respondents for a reliable survey. Use the survey with people who represent the likely customers. Do not choose people you know. 

Discussion groups 

Get together a small group of your target customers to have a conversation about your business idea. You can ask them more complicated questions, such as which competitors they currently buy from and what would make them change to a new business. 

Testing the market 

It is a good idea to test your products to find out if the quality is acceptable, whether the price is right and if the selling location is appropriate. Test using free samples, or try selling samples. Ask customers for feedback if possible, such as whether they would change anything about the product or service. 

See Footsteps 65: Adding value to food for a longer article on market research. Visit to download a free copy

  Helen Munshi

Helen Munshi is an enterprise strategy and training consultant. She has worked with organisations in Malawi and India, and has written a self-employment training course for entrepreneurs in Tanzania.

Similarly Tagged Content

Share this resource

If you found this resource useful, please share it with others so they can benefit too.

Sign up now to get Footsteps magazine

A free digital and print magazine for community development workers. Covering a diverse range of topics, it is published three times a year.

Sign up now

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.