Many fledgling entrepreneurs believe a lie. They assume creative business ideas result from some mystical process where discoveries only appear for the innately creative. Where they can’t be learned or repeated. People bestowed with some creative gene magically produce these ideas that the rest of us miss. This is far from the truth.

There are many ways to create a unique business. Some entrepreneurs find solutions to their own challenges then realize that other people can benefit from their experience. Others build upon existing solutions and mold the results into something new, something for a new audience or something delivered in a new way. The bottom line is that creating a unique business is a process of trial and error that often follows the same steps but may not perform them in the same order. The ingredients are critical but the way they are mixed is not.

The result will cater to a small, underserved, and discerning community. It will be unique. It will resist competitive pressure because the community is too tight-knit to allow interlopers. It will provide value to the community members that many outsiders do not appreciate. 

Ben M. is a veteran who wanted to be a general contractor after leaving the service. He didn’t have much success but realized that many of his service friends struggled to find housing that accommodated amputees so he decided to help. Ben buys, renovates, and rents one-level homes. He installs ramps, widens doorways, and lowers light switches and handrails. The trivial modifications exclude competition, promote a loyal group of renters, and help an underserved community. 

David C. Roy creates wooden sculptures that move without a power source. Like old windup clocks, his works harness kinetic energy to spin, bounce, and rotate. They often run for days while watchers marvel over the optical patterns they produce. 

Roy graduated with a degree in physics but his wife later convinced him to pursue woodwork art. His pieces could best be described as the product of an engineer, a woodworker, an artist, and a clockmaker. They are part art and part science.

Uniqueness is the combination of many skills, interests, and traits, not one. 

Few people are outliers in one area. We have average hobbies, live in average families, and possess average skills. We buy average stuff and work average jobs. In truth, we’re not distinctive because of one thing but a combination of many. You’re not uncommon because you’re a triathlete. You’re unique because you’re a 50-year old triathlete who runs on a replaced hip. You’re distinctive because you’re left-handed but play baseball with your right. Identifying this unique combination of elements is the starting point to unearth your niche because there will be a small and underserved community that shares them as well.

Get a notepad or app and answer the following seven questions. Revisit the list as necessary.

  1. List your traits – the things you can’t change (good and bad): age, sex, ethnicity, poor vision, limited mobility, etc.
  2. List your habits – the things you do without much if any thought. Do you smoke, workout, eat well, exercise regularly, read? 
  3. List your interests. Do you love Sci-fi movies? Music? Old books? Gardening?
  4. Identify your skills? Can you fix cars, work around the home, speak a foreign language? Can you find a bargain anywhere? Do you make gift crafts? Do you refinish antiques? Can you make furniture?

Products solve problems and your experience helps others. Whatever caused you to struggle then is causing others to struggle now. Guide them through the journey

5. What solutions would have helped you in the past? How did you stop smoking, start exercising, repair your finances, find grants for your kid’s education, balance work and family, or care for aging parents? What helped and why? What did not? What would you do differently?

Most people dismiss their abilities and believe what they offer is commonplace. They aren’t! Those around you are sometimes the best judges of your abilities and will ask you for assistance.

6. What do your friends request from you? Do they want financial advice? Technical assistance? Do they ask you to plan events?

Novel ideas never appear to be valuable initially and entrepreneurs get derailed when they validate the concepts. Surviving this phase requires asking the right customers the right questions in the right way. The first challenge is picking potential customers who benefit from the solution. Imagine you began a ride-share company decades ago and asked potential riders if they would use an unlicensed taxi. The answer would have been “No.” Riders were familiar with taxis, limousines, and other forms of travel that were heavily regulated. Now, ask the same group, “What would you need to use an unlicensed taxi?”  The second question promotes discussion rather than yes-or-no responses. 

7. Approach others in the community and seek feedback. Ask open-ended questions about your idea to identify the criteria it must satisfy to be viable.  Use words like “how,” “under what conditions,” and “what” rather than “would you.”

Revisit this exercise as often as necessary. Add to the list, remove items, and refine others. Your niche is in there.

Somewhere in the combination of answers exists an uncommon and underserved community. Identify one answer from each question and try different combinations until something comes to mind. You’re a former executive that left the corporate world to open a bar. Tell others how! You’re a mom of a special needs child who re-entered the job market. How do you manage? You love comic books, sneakers, and travel. Could you share your experiences? Could you tell others where to find unique items? Could you sell them yourself?

A niche is a puzzle with extra pieces. The trick is discovering which are essential and which are unneeded. You can start in the middle or on the corners. It only matters that you find the picture it hides.