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Category Archives: Business

Ways Tablet Make SMBs Faster and Lighter

1. For content creation, just add keyboard

Tablets are great for content consumption. Hit the button, and you’re immediately scrolling through Web pages, YouTube videos, annoyed avians and the like. This can lead to the impression that tablets are only good for passively consuming; that they’re no use for creating content, such as documents, spreadsheets and other staples of business life, but that’s short-sighted.

Obviously, tablets’ on-screen keyboards aren’t easy or ergonomic typing tools. However, there’s a wide range of Bluetooth options available that can turn an iPad or Android tablet into a lean, mean, writing machine.

But if you’re going to add a keyboard to your tablet, why wouldn’t you just buy a laptop? The next three reasons answer that…

2. ARM = light weight + long battery life

PC and Mac laptops are built around the Intel processor architecture, using chips from either Intel or AMD. Often known as x86, the architecture is great for compatibility with the PCs we’ve used for years, but it’s encumbered with historical baggage that makes x86 machines hot, heavy and hungry for battery juice. Modern laptops have improved but are still a world away from today’s tablets.

Most tablets break from Intel’s historical hegemony by using chips designed by ARM. These so-called system-on-a-chip architectures use much less power than x86 – especially when idle. This and modern battery technology can give tablets a 10-hour life and weeks of standby readiness, which means you can get more work done on the go.

Intel is fighting back, though the jury’s still out on whether it can compete. Intel tablets will at least be able to run the full version of Windows 8, as opposed to the cut-down, ARM-only Windows RT.

3. Cellular data: a first-class citizen

Today’s tablets often include access to 3G and 4G/LTE networks. The data networking technology is seamlessly integrated, so that you can switch between it and Wi-Fi with no noticeable interruption.

That’s much cleaner than the typical Windows or Mac laptop with an add-on 3G dongle; the difference being that cellular data was designed into tablets from the get-go. So there’ll be fewer excuses to not get the presentation finished on time.

4. Seriously cool sci-fi toys today

Who can forget countless Star Trek episodes where an impractically uniformed ensign brought a portable device to Capt. Kirk for him to sign off on some Starfleet paperwork? These sort of science-fiction visions drive gadget designers to invent the future… and who doesn’t want to live in the future?

Don’t deny tablets’ “cool factor.” Your users want to use them, they want to be seen using them, and they’ll thank you for letting them use tablets in business. (However, make sure you stay safe by protecting against Romulan malware and the Klingon drive-by.)

5. The phablet trend

There’s also a place in some users’ hearts for a tablet that’s also a phone. In today’s Brangelina world, some refer to these hybrid phone-tablets as phablets: big phones that are also small tablets. Why carry two devices, when you can have one?

We first saw this trend emerge in 2010, with the 5-inch Dell Streak. More recently, Samsung made a splash with its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note. They’re not for everyone, but they do have a growing niche and could translate into greater productivity.

Business Plan Templates for Startups

Business plans can seem daunting to someone who has never written one. The business idea itself might be fairly simple to explain, but if you want to apply for a loan, raise investor capital, or simply have a solid, documented direction for your company, you’re going to need to write a business plan.

Luckily for entrepreneurs, there are templates out there that allow you to plug in all of the information, instead of struggling with formatting and figuring out what you need to include. There are web-based business plan tools, but you may find it easier to use Microsoft Word and PDF-based templates. Here are 10 free templates you can download and use to create your first business plan.

Bplans.com, known as the authority on business plans, offers a free Word business plan template, complete with instructions and a table of contents. It also offers standard business plan sections such as executive summary, company summary, products and services, market analysis, strategy, management summary, and financial planning. Once you register, you will be able to download the materials and choose from a wide range of businesses in different industries in which to base your plan. Whether your business is online, service-based, or a food establishment, Bplan’s Word business plan templates are comprehensive and are a great option for beginners and new business owners.

Entrepreneur.com provides business tools, with a collection of business plans free in PDF, PowerPoint and Word. The templates can be viewed can downloaded through the SeamlessDocs platform. The site includes a template for a variety of specific business types, a business plan model that outlines the different parts of a business plan, and customizable templates that allow users to add their logos and business information. If you need a guide to writing a business plan, Entrepreneur.com also provides a download for that.

This step-by-step business plan builder, offered by Law Depot, covers structure, product marketing, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), operations, and details specific to your business in their templates. Once the template is complete, you can download and print. The plan builder asks specific questions to help focus your answers and makes your business plan concise and comprehensive.

MOBI, or My Own Business Institute, is part of Santa Clara University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. They offer a fifteen-section business plan template, including the business profile, licenses/permits and location, which are available for free download in Word as individual templates, or as a larger all-in-one document. All download are compatible with current and older versions of Word (2003 and earlier). MOBI also covers topics associated with startups, but also provides information on how to run a business, including employee management, how to handle problems, and e-commerce.

Office Depot’s Business Resource Center contains free business plan samples for retailers, manufacturers and service providers. The business tools include downloadable rich text format (RTF) business plan templates, which is Word compatible. Excel business plan financials are also available for manufacturers and service providers, while the retailer business plan template is complete with forecasting and financial tables, but this requires Microsoft Word version 6.0 or later.

Catering to businesses owned by women, Oprah.com’s free one-page business plan templates can be used by anyone who wants to start a business. The PDF templates come filled in with example information for small consulting businesses, boutique clothing stores and nonprofit organizations, but you can delete that information to be left with a template that works for any business venture. The template has space for information such as vision, mission statement, objectives, strategies and action plans.

When you create a free business plan with Rocket Lawyer, you get the advantage of an attorney’s advice to make sure your document is legally sound. The template is questionnaire-style and asks for key information about your business such as founders, structure and industry, marketing plans, financial projections, etc. Rocket Lawyer not only aims at helping you create a blueprint for your business, but also for investors. Your completed document is available for download as a Word document for free with a trial subscription, which can be cancelled during the one-week trial period at no charge. The document is $10 on its own without a subscription.

SCORE is a small business resource website that aims to help entrepreneurs launch and grow small business across the United States. Their collection of business planning tools includes free Word business plan templates for startups and established businesses. They also provide a sales forecasting template, competitive analysis charts to determine your business’ strengths and weaknesses, and financial planning templates such as startup expenses, profit and loss projections, and financial statements. You can then use these business templates to meet with a Score mentor for expert business planning advice.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers an online business plan template and guide to help you build your business plan, step by step. Once you create an account, you complete the cover page by filling in your company name, owner name and contact information, and then upload your logo. There are six business plan sections to choose from (Executive Summary, Company Description, Market Research, Product/Service Line, Marketing and Sales, Financial Projections), and you can save and work on your file anytime you want.

Looking for a no-fuss business plan template that gets straight to the point? The $100 Startup, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller, offers the One-Page Business Plan, a simple form that asks several questions you can quickly answer to get up and running.  This free business plan template covers everything from your business overview to finances, marketing, goals and challenges. Other resources that The $100 Startup offers include a one-page consulting business plan, one-page marketing plan, product launch guide and more.

The Financial Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

1. Fully utilized hardware

Cloud computing brings natural economies of scale. The practicalities of cloud computing mean high utilization and smoothing of the inevitable peaks and troughs in workloads. Your workloads will share server infrastructure with other organizations’ computing needs. This allows the cloud-computing provider to optimize the hardware needs of its data centers, which means lower costs for you.

2. Lower power costs

Cloud computing uses less electricity. That’s an inevitable result of the economies of scale I just discussed: Better hardware utilization means more efficient power use. When you run your own data center, your servers won’t be fully-utilized (unless yours is a very unusual organization). Idle servers waste energy. So a cloud service provider can charge you less for energy used than you’re spending in your own data center.

3. Lower people costs

Whenever I analyze organizations’ computing costs, the staffing budget is usually the biggest single line item; it often makes up more than half of the total. Why so high? Good IT people are expensive; their salaries, benefits, and other employment costs usually outweigh the costs of hardware and software. And that’s even before you add in the cost of recruiting good staff with the right experience.

When you move to the cloud, some of the money you pay for the service goes to the provider’s staffing costs. But it’s typically a much smaller amount than if you did all that work in-house. Yet again, we have to thank our old friend: economies of scale.

(In case you worry that moving to the cloud means firing good workers, don’t. Many organizations that move to cloud computing find they can redeploy their scarce, valuable IT people resources to areas that make more money for the business.)

4. Zero capital costs

When you run your own servers, you’re looking at up-front capital costs. But in the world of cloud-computing, financing that capital investment is someone else’s problem.

Sure, if you run the servers yourself, the accounting wizards do their amortization magic which makes it appear that the cost gets spread over a server’s life. But that money still has to come from somewhere, so it’s capital that otherwise can’t be invested in the business—be it actual money or a line of credit.

5. Resilience without redundancy

When you run your own servers, you need to buy more hardware than you need in case of failure. In extreme cases, you need to duplicate everything. Having spare hardware lying idle, “just in case,” is an expensive way to maximize uptime.

Instead, why not let a cloud computing service deal with the redundancy requirement? Typical clouds have several locations for their data centers, and they mirror your data and applications across at least two of them. That’s a less expensive way of doing it, and another way to enjoy the cloud’s economies of scale.

Bonus benefit: climate change

Whether or not they believe in global warming, many organizations want to do something about it. This is either because their customers want to do business with green companies, or simply through a genuine desire to emit less CO2 , or other gases believed to warm the planet.

By moving to the cloud, you’ll be greener in two ways. First, you’ll be saving energy, as we talked about earlier. Second, you’ll be taking advantage of the work that your cloud service provider has done to reduce its data centers’ carbon footprint. Think of it as saving money that you might otherwise spend on carbon offsets.

Business Models for the Digital Age

Digitization, which is of course happening all around us, is opening up a whole new spectrum of opportunities to create value. But how do you navigate this new horizontal world?

Peter Weill and Stephanie Woerner offer some useful insights on these challenges in their 2015 Sloan Management Review article, “Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem.” In exploring these insights, and some of their implications, leaders can gain a fuller understanding of the landscape they face.

Opportunities for companies in every industry are occurring on two critical dimensions: knowledge of the end customer and business design, i.e., breadth of product and service offerings. These dimensions combine to form four business models for creating value (see exhibit): Suppliers, Multichannel Businesses, Modular Producers, and Ecosystem Drivers.

Suppliers, in the lower left quadrant, have little direct knowledge of the preferences of their end customers, and may or may not have a direct relationship with them. These companies sell their products and services to distributors in the value chain. Due to the ease of digital search, they are vulnerable to pricing pressures and commoditization as customers look for less expensive alternatives. Washing-machine manufacturers are a good example of Suppliers, as are companies that create mutual funds sold by someone else.

If you are a Supplier, you need to make sure your operations are as efficient as possible, but that’s only the first step. As digitization continues, end customers will increasingly expect you to cater to their likes and needs. So if you don’t know much about your end customers and aren’t intent on solving their problems, you’ll need to find other ways to ward off commoditization. That means making sure that your product is highly differentiated or that it goes through a distribution channel other than one controlled by an Ecosystem Driver, another of the business models, which has a broad supply base. Otherwise, you risk losing all the value your enterprise has created.

Haier, the world’s largest manufacturer of white goods, has deployed various strategies to differentiate itself from competitors. It has developed a variety of niche products, including washing machines that accommodate the long gowns worn by women in Pakistan, and freezers that can keep food frozen for 30 hours in the event of a power outage in Nigeria. More recently, Haier used the Internet to open up its innovation process to people outside the company, enabling an unprecedented level of customization.

Multichannel Businesses, in the upper left quadrant, have deep knowledge of their consumers because they enjoy a direct relationship with them. Companies in this category provide access to their products in various digital and physical channels to ensure the seamless experience their end customers have come to expect. Many banks and brokerage houses are Multichannel Businesses, as are some retailers and insurance companies.

If you are an Multichannel Business, there’s no such thing as too much customer knowledge. Broadening your understanding your customers’ life-event needs is essential for building out the integrated experience that will retain existing consumers and attract new ones.

IKEA, the world’s largest furniture company, is an example of an Multichannel Business that continues to find ways to enhance the range of offerings within its value chain. Building upon its global presence — currently more than 300 stores in 41 countries — IKEA used its extensive knowledge of its customers (gleaned through visits to homes, for example) to develop “products for an everyday life” — from bedroom furniture to prepared food, all under IKEA’s iconic brand. After decades of focus on the customer experience in its stores, IKEA recently launched online shopping, making the purchasing experience truly seamless and gaining a way to learn even more about its customers.

Modular Producers, in the lower right quadrant, offer a distinct capability that spans the ecosystem, but they have little direct knowledge of the end customer. Their plug-and-play offerings can work with any number of channels or partners, but they rely on others for distribution as well as for guidance on what the customer needs. A good example is payment companies that enable the consumer to pay for a wide range of goods and services, such as groceries and college tuition.

If you are a Modular Producer, you need to be the best at everything. As is the case with Suppliers, competition is fierce, so your offerings need to be innovative and well priced.

Square Inc. fits the profile of a Modular Producer. Founded in 2009, the B2B payments company has continuously launched innovative software and hardware products that are ecosystem-agnostic. Square’s point-of-sale, payroll, employee management, and appointment apps can be used on Apple and Android devices alike, as can its chip and magstrip readers.

Ecosystem Drivers, in the upper right quadrant, have the best of both worlds: deep end-customer knowledge and a broad supply base. They leverage these dimensions to provide consumers with a seamless experience, selling not only their own proprietary products and services but also those from providers across the entire ecosystem. Thus, they create value for themselves while extracting rent from others. Large internet retailers in the U.S. and China are good examples of Ecosystem Drivers, as are some healthcare providers.

If you are an Ecosystem Driver, you’ll want to keep pushing the boundaries in both dimensions, increasing your knowledge of end customers and the breadth of offerings available to them.

As Weill and Woerner’s research demonstrates, the prospects for creating value are greatest for companies that participate in ecosystems rather than in value chains, so Ecosystem Drivers have the greatest potential for value creation and Suppliers the smallest. All four paths are viable routes to enduring success, provided you are clear on what your generic strategy is and what that strategy requires. If, however, you are losing customers or growing more slowly than your market, you should consider moving to a different quadrant, either by expanding your knowledge of your end customers or by becoming more of an ecosystem.

Or even by doing both: GE is moving from being a Supplier of industrial products to an Ecosystem Driver in the Industrial Internet of Things, with the help of Predix, the cloud-based operating system it launched last year. Serving as a platform for services provided by third-party vendors as well as GE business units, Predix helps companies collect, analyze, and leverage operational data so they can optimize the performance of their entire system. As Predix’s customer base grows, so will GE’s status as an Ecosystem Driver.

As digital becomes the new normal, the paths to success are there for the taking. But be sure you know your destination before setting out.

5 Elements of the Company’s Program BYOD

The corporate workforce is changing: Employees used to stay chained to their cubicles, plugging away on company-issued PCs. Today, remote workers perform the same tasks on their own high-tech tablet or laptop while soaking up the atmosphere at their local coffee shop.

Employees are increasingly using their own devices as the mobile workforce grows in importance. A Computing Technology Industry Association study found that 84 percent of professionals surveyed use their smartphones for work, but only 22 percent of their companies had a formal mobility policy. The upshot of this mobile shift is that corporate networks will be increasingly vulnerable, unless these devices are reined in with a BYOD enterprise program.

If your company lacks a mobility policy, consider incorporating the following five elements into your BYOD program to save time and money.

1. Include clear, written rules

Eliminating risky end user behavior through clear BYOD policies saves IT expenses right off the bat. Some of the most salient points to cover in writing include:

  • Prohibited devices, such as jailbroken phones
  • Blacklisted applications
  • Procedures for lost or stolen devices, including the possibility of wiping out all data on a device
  • Privacy disclosures, such as what personal information the enterprise has access to on a device

Some of these issues, like whether the company can legally wipe out data on a device they do not own, should be cleared with your human resources and legal departments to minimize the risk of lawsuits.

2. Make sure it’s formally presented

It is not enough to have employees sign off that they have read the policies – formal classroom or online training is recommended to ensure comprehension and compliance – especially for less tech-savvy workers who might not understand that seemingly innocent actions can expose the company to risks.

3. Ensure that it’s scalable and flexible

Make sure your security software can be painlessly installed on new devices. Cloud-based services do this particularly well and are typically available on a per-user subscription model, which saves money by protecting only what is needed at any given time.

Also, consider exceptions to rules, such as allowing peer-to-peer networking programs for certain users who might benefit from these tools. Otherwise, employees may risk bypassing your security protocols in order to use forbidden applications.

4. Secure against the greatest number of threats possible

Risky behavior such as opening email attachments from strangers or visiting dubious sites on BYOD devices should be addressed in the written policies and further safeguarded via antivirus software.

There are other exploits to be aware of, which might not be as obvious, such as fake antivirus scanners that users might innocently install, and social engineering (or phishing) threats. A good endpoint protection program will keep employees up-to-date on these lesser-known attack vectors and continually inform them on how to best protect their devices. This does not require much expense but does involve staying abreast of threats and implementing a solid communication plan.

5. Allow for remote monitoring and control

You have to have a degree of oversight over which BYOD devices are accessing your corporate systems. This is where a third-party mobile device management tool (MDM) can pay valuable dividends. MDM services provide benefits such as malware blocking, policy enforcement, logging, encryption and remote wiping, all from a single, centralized platform.

In summary, leveraging the benefits of BYOD while minimizing potential pitfalls is a tightrope act, but the BYOD trend can’t be ignored. Each business must strive to develop a program to protect its systems and data from breaches, while allowing workers the freedom and convenience they seek.

Ways to Register a Business Name

The first step to creating your small business is choosing the right name. The name should represent your industry, field or expertise while being catchy, memorable, and relevant to your customers or clientele. However, there are a few simple steps to consider before registering an official name for your future business.

Although you might already be infatuated with the name of your small business, you must ensure someone else hasn’t already claimed it. This helps you verify your company’s name is unique. Otherwise, it could violate trademark law by being too similar to the name of an existing business, in your state or any other, and whose operations are in close relation to your product or service.

Conducting a thorough due diligence check before registering the business entity or buying the domain name will help you avoid future costs in marketing, rebranding and even a possible lawsuit.

Before conducting even the simplest of searches, brainstorm a short list (preferably of five to ten) of possible business names. If you’re stuck, use different words and phrases to say your business name. Get creative! Play around with adjectives, nouns, and adverbs. Not only will this list help you search for pre-existing business names, it will also come in handy if someone else has already claimed your business name. To be sure that you are in no danger of encroaching on a business name or trademark, also add variations in spelling or wording of your potential business names.

Now it’s time to conduct a basis online search with a major search engine, because similarities to your chosen moniker will likely show up here. You should investigate further to see if that business offers a product or service comparable to yours. If there are no readily apparent matches, it does not necessarily mean you are in the clear.

Continue your investigation by entering your business name in more specific and targeted databases. For instance, consider searching in the following business databases, which offer ways to locate a matching or similar business name before you commit to it:

  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  • ThomasNet
  • Network Solutions
  • Trademarkia.com
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark

When you are nearly certain you can use your business name, go to the Small Business Administration’s website and find the contact information for each state’s secretary of state’s online business registry database. Search your selection as well as variations in each one. If there are no matches, then move to checking with your county clerk’s list of Doing Business As (DBA) names.

Don’t panic if your preferred name is already taken. You may still be able to use it if you are offering a clearly different product or service or are in different states. You can contact your state’s secretary of state’s corporations division. They can work with you to determine that you meet the legal requirements to still use the name.

Once you have a confirmed business name, register it right away, even if you are not ready to conduct business operations. The name may not be available six weeks or six months from now, and the small cost of ensuring it is yours to use early in your preparation will be worth it.

You can register your name through your state government. Procedures will vary depending on your chosen type of legal entity (sole proprietor, LLC, corporation, etc.). Most states require you to at least register as a DBA if you are conducting business under any name other than your given legal name.

Your business name will be the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. By protecting it from the beginning, you ensure it will stand strong against any branding or legal challenges along the way.

Things that Surprised Every Business Plan

If companies focus only on themselves in their business plan, they are making a big mistake. Businesses should use their business plan partly to address the competition and how their idea differs from what’s already out there, said Steve Martorelli, CEO of Turnkey Processing, a payment processing provider.

“First, identify your X factor — what can you do 10 times better than your competition?” Martorelli said. “Next, test your hypothesis by talking to potential customers. Do they value what you are proposing to offer them as much as you think they do? Finding the answer to these two questions is the most important planning anyone can do.”

Companies that value innovation must make it a priority from the start. Your business plan should highlight the ways in which your startup will be original and groundbreaking, said Amy Hutchens, business strategist and CEO of AmyK International, which specializes in executive development.

“Innovation must be a critical component of every business plan,” Hutchens said. “By making innovation part of the plan, the process becomes intentional, not reactive or accidental, and sets the stage for a culture of creativity and innovation for the long run.”

It is highly unlikely that everything about your business will go according to plan. Justin Palmer, founder and president of HomeLife Media, which operates pet-focused websites, said entrepreneurs should have a “contingency plan” that allows them to make any necessary business-model changes should something not go as anticipated.

“An example of a contingency might be, ‘If we do not have 1,000 paying customers within six months of operations, we need to shift product focus,'” Palmer said. “A metric such as this is especially vital if your business operates on the Web or builds software. A business plan is great, but there’s no point in sticking with a failing plan for too long.”

On the other hand, businesses also should prepare for unexpected success. Your business plan should account for normal scenarios as well as highly successful, best-case scenarios, said Elle Kaplan, CEO of LexION Capital Management.

“When I started my business, I was in no way prepared for the success and level of growth we obtained,” Kaplan said. “I should have planned bigger and prepared for faster growth versus being surprised and having to rework my plan.”

A typical business plan will discuss a company’s target market, usually in terms of demographic information such as age, gender and income level. However, businesses should consider looking even further to define their target customers by factors such as lifestyle, needs and desires, said Amber Goodenough, co-founder of fourfour media, a Web design and development company.

“Psychographics ― customer values, lifestyles, habits and interests ― give you a deeper insight into your customers’ needs, wants and frustrations, which then helps you create products and services that really meet those needs and solve their problems,” Goodenough said. “The better you do that, the more money you make.”

As social media remains a dominant force in marketing and customer engagement, a business plan needs to highlight how the company will use social media to its strategic advantage, said Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder and chief brand officer at Voices.com, an online marketplace that connects businesses with voice-over talent.

“No business plan should be without a section dedicated to the use of [social media] as part of their marketing efforts and channel for supporting and engaging customers,” Ciccarelli said. “These efforts may also tap into a company’s advertising, search engine optimization and customer service efforts.”

If your business is going to have employees, you’ll want to spell out how you’re going to keep them engaged and focused on their responsibilities, said Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond, a provider of employee skills training. “The plan must include ways to show employees [that] their well-being aligns with that of the company,” Rosenthal said. “Establish metrics for everyone’s performance, and spell out the rewards for meeting the metrics.”

Although it may be the last thing on your mind when starting a business, providing an exit strategy with your business plan can be a great help if you decide to sell the business later on. A well-researched exit strategy can also help you land investors, said Mike Scanlin, a venture capitalist and CEO of Born To Sell.

“As an early-stage company, you need to show investors a path to 10 times their investment,” Scanlin said. “Make a list of exits — mergers and acquisitions or IPOs [initial public offerings] — in your space … to help convince [investors] that if they invest in you, there are plenty of people who will want to buy you in three to seven years.”

One of the key challenges for businesses is actually implementing their plan, said Linda Pophal, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Strategic Planning” (Penguin, 2011). All business plans should include a guide to implementing the plan’s ideas, she said.

“Often, by the time the planning process is over, the team is exhausted and burned out, and they have a tendency to just go back to doing things the way they’ve always done them,” said Pophal, who also serves as CEO of her company, Strategic Communications.

Working out a detailed business plan won’t do much good if you and your employees don’t stick to it, so companies and employees should be committed to following the points included in a business plan, said Bob Shirilla, co-founder of online retail stores Keepsakes Etc. and Simply Bags.

“The business plan should include a signed commitment by the leadership team,” Shirilla said. “This ensures that the leaders understand and will support the business plan. Consensus decision making is key to moving a company forward. Many organizations fail to achieve their goals because of a lack of understanding and buy-in to the plan.”

How to Start a Business

Every new business starts with an idea. Maybe there’s something you’re really knowledgeable and passionate about, or perhaps you think you’ve found a way to fill a gap in the marketplace. Wherever your interests lie, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a way to turn it into a business.

Once you’ve narrowed your list of ideas down to one or two, do a quick search for existing companies in your chosen industry. Learn what the current brand leaders are doing, and figure out how you can do it better. If you think your business can deliver something other companies don’t (or deliver the same thing, but faster and cheaper), you’ve got a solid idea and are ready to create a business plan.

Another option is to open a franchise of an established company. The concept, brand following and business model are already in place; all you need is a good location and the means to fund your operation.

David Silverstein, a global business consultant and CEO of operational strategy consulting firm BMGI, cautioned would-be entrepreneurs against starting a business just for the sake of being a business owner: You need a viable business model, not just an idea, he said.

Now that you have your idea in place, you need to ask yourself a few important questions: What is the purpose of your business? Who are you selling to? What are your end goals? How will you finance your startup costs? All of these questions can be answered in a well-written business plan.

A business plan helps you figure out where your company is going, how it will overcome any potential difficulties and what you need to sustain it. A full guide to writing your plan can be found here.

Starting any business has a price, so you need to determine how you’re going to cover those costs. Do you have the means to fund your startup, or will you need to borrow money? If you are planning to make your new business your full-time job, it’s wise to wait until you have at least some money put away for startup costs and for sustaining yourself in the beginning before you start making a profit.

While many entrepreneurs put their own money into their new companies, it’s very possible that you’ll need financial assistance. A commercial loan through a bank is a good starting point, although these are often difficult to secure. If you are unable to take out a bank loan, you can apply for a small business loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) or an alternative lender.

Startups requiring a lot more funding up front may want to consider an investor. Investors usually provide several million dollars or more to a fledgling company, with the expectation that the backers will have a hands-on role in running your business. Alternatively, you could launch an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise smaller amounts of money from multiple backers.

You can learn more about each of these capital sources and more in our guide to startup finance options.

Unique Business Ideas to Inspire

Container-free local food shopping

Many consumers are concerned about how much resources are wasted in the food packaging process. Often, cardboard, plastic, Styrofoam and twist ties are not recycled, leading to environmental waste. In.gredients in Austin, Texas, solves this problem by offering container-less shopping for locally-sourced, sustainable, organic foods. The company claims to divert 99 percent of materials from the landfills and has produced zero food waste since 2012. In.gredients also offers personal care items and hosts events in its beer garden.

Glass art with ashes

Believe it or not, many companies, such as Artful Ashes, create glass art using the ashes of deceased loved ones. This memorial business has been operating since 2012 and offers mourning customers a way to remember their lost loved ones or pets. Using just a tablespoon of ashes, you can order glass art in the form of hearts, spheres or pendants. Each piece is hand-created in Seattle, Washington. Death, though not a popular topic, is inevitable, so businesses like this will never run out of customers.

Odor-free sponges

Stinky sponges are disgusting. Folcroft, Pennsylvania-based Scrub Daddy solves this problem with a scratch-free, non-smelling sponge. This company had a rocky start when it was formed in 2012, but since their 2014 Shark Tank appearance and the assistance of Lori Griener the business has really taken off. Now you can find Scrub Daddy’s products in big box stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond, Lowes and Walmart.

A four-course daily special

Located in the heart of the Napa Valley, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc offers a unique, four-course daily menu of comfort food dishes, such as spicy fried game hen, pot roast and coconut pudding. Each for-today-only menu is handwritten and posted in the restaurant and online. This popular eatery has been open since 2006.

Free lunch (with a side of marketing)

Manhattan’s Lunchspread takes everyone’s love for free food in the office and adds a genius marketing strategy for local restaurants. This company helps new and under-the-radar restaurants build up their customer bases by matching businesses in the area to food they’re likely to enjoy, and delivering free samples right to those businesses’ doors. After the samples are delivered, the recipient group fills out a survey about the food. Then, Lunchspread schedules you for another surprise sample delivery. Each delivery comes with coupons and a card full of details about the restaurant. That way, you can learn more about where your food came from and reorder from the restaurant if you and your employees enjoyed the meal.

Shareable office space

Every day, technology makes it more and more possible for employees and entrepreneurs to do their jobs and run their businesses from anywhere, which means businesses don’t necessarily have to invest in their own office space. WeWork provides office space for the office-less, with flexible month-to-month membership options for everyone from individual freelancers to large companies. Freelancers who prefer to work outside of their homes can have a more reliable work space than a local coffee shop, and companies and other teams can have a place to collaborate and hold meetings and events, for example. WeWork, which was founded in 2010, has locations in more than a dozen cities across the United States as well as locations in Israel, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The company also fosters a sense of community among its members, so you can network with peers and customers while saving money on rent and other fees that come with maintaining your own office space.

Tinder for dogs

Borrowing a page from popular dating app Tinder, BarkBuddy makes it easy to find and adopt the perfect dog for you. Users tell BarkBuddy what they’re looking for in the perfect pup, and then swipe yes or no on different profiles of dogs in their area. Once you’ve found the right dog, you can set up a meet and greet through the app.  The company ensures that everyone using the app is qualified to adopt, too. You have to fill out an adopter profile to be approved first; otherwise, you won’t be eligible to adopt.

Education a la carte

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could go back to school, or maybe even teach a course in a subject you’re skilled in? Skillshare, founded in 2011, makes both of these things possible. The company allows experts to teach online courses on any subject they choose via short videos, while students can watch classes at their own pace and use the community to get feedback. Students can even take classes off-line via smartphones and tablets if they’d like to learn on the go. And unlike college or graduate school, with their high tuition rates, Skillshare costs a small fee of $10 per month, with a free 14-day trial. Half of that fee goes toward paying the company’s teachers, so if you’re an expert at something, it’s a great way to make some extra money, too. Skillshare also gives back; according to the company’s website, for every annual membership purchased, Skillshare gives a membership to a student through the company’s scholarship program.

Bedside service

Being pregnant can be a physically and mentally exhausting nine months for many women. Hoping to make pregnancy a little easier, Stephanie D. Johnson founded Bed Rest Concierge. The business provides a wide variety of pre- and post-delivery services, including creating and managing a baby registry, birth announcement creating and distribution, nursery design, diaper delivery service, laundry service and hospital preparation. In addition, Bed Rest Concierge offers a number of “pampering services,” such as manicures, pedicures and facials.

Individually packaged small items

While bigger might be better for some, Minimus takes a different approach. In operation for nearly a decade, the online company offers more than 2,500 different individually packaged products, including travel-size toiletries and individual servings of various food items — everything from chips to Tabasco sauce. When it was founded, Minimus did not have any employees and was housed in 500-square-foot space. Today, the company takes up two large Los Angeles warehouses and employs dozens of workers. In addition to the individual items, Minimus sells premade kits specially designed for different uses, such as baby and family kits, outdoor kits, first-aid kits and military care packages.

Places to Find a New Business Idea

All successful entrepreneurial ventures have one thing in common: They solve a specific problem. Whether they fill a gap in the market or improve upon what’s already out there, good business ideas demonstrate what the issue is and why they have the unique ability to address it.

If you’ve been racking your brain for a way to start your own business but keep coming up short, you might just need a change of scenery. You never know where inspiration will strike, so get up and explore these 10 places to find solvable problems — and, therefore, great business ideas.

Think you’ve found your perfect startup? Do some research to make sure the idea is legal and feasible, and then visit our step-by-step guide to starting a business.

In the “there’s an app for that” era, it may seem like every mobile application under the sun has already been thought up and built. But that’s not necessarily the case, as many people discover when they scour their smartphone’s app store searching for something that doesn’t exist. Perhaps an app you recently downloaded doesn’t function the way you’d hoped it would, or doesn’t offer a certain feature you wanted. To find out if there’s interest in the newer, better app you want to create, ask friends, family and others in your network. Once you’ve done your due diligence, you can use a DIY app maker or, if you have very little tech experience, hire freelancers to build it for you.

If you’ve ever done an exhaustive Internet search for a specific item that returned no results, you have three options: settle for something close enough, give up entirely or do it yourself. If you’re the kind of person who chooses the DIY method (and can do it well), you have the opportunity to turn a frustration into a lucrative business. Check forums to see if others are searching for the same product(s), and then open up an online shop to sell them. This can also work well for specialized service-based businesses.

If there’s one thing people like to do on social media, it’s air their grievances about everyday life. Most of the time, these types of updates are mundane (and probably a little annoying), but if you pay close enough attention to those hashtags and status updates, you might start to see some patterns emerging. Look for phrases like, “Why isn’t there a … ” or, “I wish there was a …” — you may be able to offer a solution.

As with social media, people love to talk about the products they’ve purchased and places they’ve visited on sites like Amazon, Google and Yelp. Most consumers will read and use negative reviews to determine if they should avoid the product or establishment, and that company’s loss could be your gain. See what people are complaining about, and try to come up with a business idea that would fix the problem.

Look around your house or apartment. What are some of the frustrations you encounter there? Dusty air vents? A messy bathroom? Unraked leaves on your lawn? If you’re noticing these things in your own home, there’s a good chance other people are experiencing the same problems. By launching an in-home service business, you can help others take care of these time-consuming household tasks.

The people who live near you can be a great inspiration for business ideas. Think about the demographics of your neighborhood or local community. If your town has a lot of working parents, a service that offers to run errands or provides child care might be in high demand. A neighborhood with a lot of senior citizens could use independent home health aides. Are there a lot of dog owners nearby? Try a pet-care business like pet sitting or dog walking.

If you want to start a part-time business outside your current job, ask your co-workers what kinds of products or services they’re missing in their lives. Maybe someone else with a side business is looking for a bookkeeper or financial adviser. Others might be looking to enroll their children in affordable art or music classes. Small talk in the break room is bound to lead to at least a few viable ideas.

Are you a food lover? Seeing what’s missing from the shelves at the grocery store or farmers market could help you come up with a made-to-order culinary business idea. Jams, baked goods and specialty diet items (gluten free, vegan, etc.) are especially good choices for an artisanal food startup. Alternatively, you could test your gastronomic skills with ingredients from the supermarket and open up a restaurant or food truck.

While you might not actually open up a brick-and-mortar retail location, perusing your local mall might give you some ideas for a business of your own. You could launch a line of homemade natural cosmetics to rival the pushy salespeople from that kiosk, a clothing line to produce something different from the same old items in every apparel store window or an online craft shop to offer personalized alternatives to generic card-store knickknacks.

If you’re a parent, you know that any product or service that will help your child is worth the money. Think about the gaps you see in the market, and next time you pick up the kids from school, ask other parents if they feel the same way. Not a parent? Ask family members or friends with children what kinds of things they want (or want improved) but can’t currently find for their kids.