“I want to start something online, but I lack an innovative business idea”. Well, actually, the innovative idea is *nothing*, you can be innovative with an *old* idea

I hear this quite a lot. People looking for the perfect idea, for the perfect circumstances and the perfect wind. And not only the perfect circumstances don’t come, but people tend also to have difficulties in coming up with «good» ideas.

My general answer to this? It’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. Allow me to make a demonstration on this.

Do you need to be creative? Yes, but “creative” can be on many levels.

  • You could differentiate on satisfying the need of the client. Generally, a business satisfies a need of some sort. But even this is uncertain. You can “play” with this:
    • There are very useful mobile phone apps, like scientific calculators, or applications which help you monitor your fitness or health level.
    • There are some mobile apps which are just for fashion, people buy them because they cost quite a few money and it’s a status symbol.
    • There are some mobile apps which push the limits on being social, asking and inviting their users to invite their Facebook friends, for example, to join their network.
  • You could have a different product than others. Let’s say you want to build something useful, instead of being creative and finding another purpose for your business.
    • Let’s say you want to build a tool for SEO professionals to enter a web site and gather some information. You can vary your core business a lot. There are lots of web sites which give you some basic information about a certain web site, but you can come up with new ideas and criteria. For example, you can greatly improve on the requirements for the Meta Descriptions (most sites ask for minimum and maximum size, you can go deeper – avoiding special characters, including brand name, avoiding gerund). (the tricky part in here is the costs of the development)
    • Let’s say you want to build a web site which sells articles for children. You could differentiate from other stores by only selling the products for which you would vouch. You would have perhaps 10% of the number of products other web sites have, but it would have your brand written all over it. (the tricky part with this is ignoring some good products)
    • Let’s say you have an offline business of doing theater classes with children, and you want to build an online community to support your business. You can do, each evening, a 20 minutes YouTube video, based on questions posed by children from all over the country, not being able to come to your city, and, also, perhaps not having the option of doing theater in their cities. Then, at the end of each video you would invite the children to post video responses to yours. In here, the product you differentiate is the online presence, since your business is mostly offline. (the tricky part with this is personal information, you should know how to handle this)
  • Even if you satisfy the same need as others, and you have the same product as others do, you could differentiate on the promotion / communication.
    • Most of all, try to make a community of people following your brand, a community of people enjoying some time together. Be the brand which manages to gather around it people. They can be in a Facebook group, comment on your blogs, you can talk with them on social media, they can read news about you. But they want to be in touch with you and you want to contact them. Or make some room in which these people can meet. Organize these meetings.
    • Also, you could try and have a communication message different. Be the bank who uses fairies in their communication message. They’re the same as others (actually, not quite), their communication is different.

Take Apple for example. They invented a new product (iPhone), but they differentiated on different levels, also:

  • You buy, alongside the product, a status symbol. (differentiate on the need for the customer)
  • Their customer service is different. (differentiate on services)
  • Their communication is different. (see Steve Jobs’ public speaking, or Apple’s relation with the press)

They had success with lots of innovations.

Samsung innovated little to none. They copied Apple on pretty much everything they could, although not successfully. Where did they innovate? Their pricing scheme was “lots of products, lots of sales, low margins”. Thus, their phones are much better for the dollar than Apple’s.

Small, personal, conclusion? It’s not really about inventing a new type of phone, a new tablet or the next Web. Facebook wasn’t the first of its kind. Google wasn’t the first search engine. You can differentiate on lots of things, not just the initial idea. Sure, if you have the idea for the next big thing, bring it on. But if you don’t, get an “old” idea and make it better. It’s easier than it seems. :)

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An ad for a creative bank http://goo.gl/0iC6dQ

Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

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