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.
The grocery store
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.
Your child's school or day care
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.
This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated Feb. 3, 2016.