If you don’t yet have an online business you might be wondering what online business should I start?

The range of different online businesses out there is bewildering and confusing. Not knowing which online business to start is a common early road block. In fact the majority of people don’t even manage to start their business and remain stuck in the “I  wish I could” stage.

What online should I start then?

The reality is the specific and exact business that you start is not that important.

At this stage in your online business journey (ie. no action yet!) the main thing is you get something started, regardless of whether it will be successful and regardless of what exactly it is.

Once you have momentum and are actually acting on your desire to have an online business it becomes much simpler to work out what exactly that online business will be!

This might sound counterintuitive: how can you start a business when you don’t know what it is?

But the truth of the matter is whatever business you start now will probably be unrecognisable a year from now. Most businesses go through a number of iterations before you land on a successful combination of product and market.

I’ve written another blog article about what online business is best to start for a beginner. The short answer is start something that will allow you to experiment, learn and progress in the skill of running an online business without spending a lot of time or putting capital at risk.

Next Steps: Getting Serious

However, once you have dipped your toes and are actually serious about creating an online business that works for you, it is vitally important that we work out what is the best online business for you personally.

Notice this is not the same as saying what is the “best online business”. This is too abstract. We need to personalise the online business to your particular interests and skills.

All of this is covered in exhaustive detail in the Business portion of the BATON model. In fact the Business portion of the BATON model is primarily focused on the question of what online business you should start!

You can access the full free BATON system for starting an online business at Udemy: Starting an Online Business.

However I’m going to use this blog article to run through the basic exercise you should be carrying out before starting an online business.

Find the sweet spot

In short we want to find the sweet spot between three different aspects:

We are looking for the intersection between:

  • What you are good at (Skills)
  • Thingsyou are interested in (Sustainability)
  • What people are willing to pay you for  (Market verification)

We are looking for the Goldilocks zone. We need to find an activity that falls between these three different areas. If you can find this you have the basis of a successful online business.

What are your skills?

First up we need to work out what you are good at. This means knowing what  your skills are and what value can you provide the world at large?

All businesses solve problems. This is what entrepreneurs actually do. They help answer questions and solve problems that the market has.

To be able to do this you need to have the knowledge and skills to be able to help others.

Yes, if you don’t have the particular skills you could acquire them and then use the skills to help the market but you are just adding additional time before you can launch your online business. As a result it makes a lot more sense to start with an inventory of what it is that you are good at already.

How do we go about doing this?

Let’s discuss three different ways to work out what your skills are.

What are you good at? Self-reflection

The first is simply to sit with a piece of paper and pen and list out – from your point of view -what you believe your skills to be. This will be a nice easy starting point.

This list might include what you do on a day-to-day basis, your accolades, any certification or degrees you hold or simply what you know to be your particular strengths.

We are not necessarily looking for for academic subjects here. Instead we are looking for general skills that are applicable across a range of activities.

For example maybe you know that when it comes to birthday parties in your friendship group you were always the organiser. If this is the case then you likely have a high level of organisational skills. You don’t necessarily need to have a project management degree for organisation and project delivery to be considered your skills!

Therefore the easiest place to start is simply with a bit of self reflection and self inventorying. Make sure to do this with pen and paper rather than on an electronic device as it allows your thoughts to flow more freely. We tend to self censor less when writing on paper which is important in this exercise because there are no wrong answers.

What are you good at? Ask Around.

The second way we can cover our particular skills is to ask the people around us.

This is important because sometimes we do not recognise what it is we are good at simply because we take it for granted.

For example I know that I can put together a website but I do not necessarily think of this immediately as a “skill” that I possess. It’s become so second nature so as to become unremarkable. As a result I might have forgotten to add this to the personal list of my particular skills.

However, when we ask people around us what it is that we are good at these forgotten aptitudes quickly rise to the surface. You might be known as the go to person in your particular social circle because of skills you now take for granted.

Asking other people is also vitally important if you lack self-confidence in your own abilities. If you know that you tend to be hard on yourself then you may have found the list of skills in the first part of this exercise is rather lacking.

This makes it all the more important to talk to people who know you and get their perspective on the issue. You might find yourself surprised because you’ve never personally thought of yourself are strong in these particular areas.

What are you good at? Formal Assessment

The third way we can uncover our particular skills is to more formalised assessments. For example the Strengths Finder 2.0 book and online questionnaire. Another useful exercise is to take a Myers Briggs test. 16personalities.com is a good place to start.

Whilst these assessments should not be taken as gospel they are often helpful for reminding yourself of certain aptitudes you have which you may have forgotten to include.

What you enjoy doing

By completing an honest self assessment, asking your peers and completing more formal tests you should the end of this process have a long list of your particular skills and abilities.

Put this aside for a moment.

The next major part of this process is to do a similar activity but instead to uncover what you’re interested in and enjoy.

It’s important that you enjoy or are at least interested in what your online business is about. This is not the same as saying “follow your passion”. In fact I do not recommend following your passion in a business. Instead we need to find the intersection between what you are good at, what are you interested in and what the market will pay you for.

Your passion may not (and it will tend not to!) fall in this intersection.

Instead what we are interested in now is sustainability. Whilst the online business does not need to be focused on your passion it should at least be something that you are interested in and enjoy sufficiently to make the business sustainable.

Why you shouldn’t start an online business you hate

Simply put if you hate the business there is no way that you were going to put in a sufficient amount of time and energy required to make it successful.

Starting an online business is already difficult enough but if you hate the particular area of the business it makes this process an impossibility!

As a result of this it’s important to find an intersection between your skills and something that you enjoy. If you are setting up an online business in order to escape the 9-to-5 grind then hopefully this will be good news. You may be a fantastic accountant in your 9-to-5 job but the whole reason you are setting up an online business is to escape the world of accountancy!

So if accountancy is something that you simply abhor and there is no use me telling you to start an accounting firm!

To uncover what it is that you enjoy we’re going to follow a similar process.

What do you enjoy? Self reflection

Again sit with a blank piece of paper and a pen and jot down things that you enjoy. This might be specific activities – for example windsurfing – or it might be particular processes or even feelings.

If you are the person in your group organises everyone’s birthday parties the particular activity that you enjoy may not actually be “organising birthday parties”. That may be too specific.

Instead, through self reflection you may realise that what you were interested in is getting like-minded people together.  Regardless of it being your friends and regardless of it being a birthday party; it it may be the activity of creating something communal from nothing that excites you.

What do you enjoy? Day parting

The second way to flesh out your list of interests is to look at what you actually do on a day-to-day and a week to week basis. Especially your free time.

We tend to gravitate towards activities that we enjoy, even if we do not recognise this. Therefore by taking inventory of our actual use of time we should be able to uncover further details about our interests. Do this properly using a timetracking app to get a realistic reflection rather than a subjective guess.

What would you enjoy if you did not have to work anymore?

Third, spent some time reflecting on what you would do if you did not need to worry about money on a day-to-day basis. This is often a very liberating thought exercise as it forces us to think how we would fill our days if work and money was no longer a concern. Most people never actually stop to reflect on this because we are so busy treading the hamster wheel!

Your initial thought might be “sod it” and sitting on the beach drinking mai tais for life. This tends to be the knee-jerk answer only because we are so busy working all the time that our idea of leisure is simply defined as “not working”.

In reality when someone doesn’t need to worry about money they will tend to find other goals and activities to fill their time. Otherwise human beings get extremely bored and despondent.

So go beyond the initial “doing nothing” answer and think about what you would actually spend your time doing once you got over the initial honeymoon period.

Pulling it all together: finding the intersection

Now you should have two nicely fleshed out lists.

One is a list of all your skills and what you’re good at. The other contains your interests and what you could do on a sustainable basis.

At this point I recommend putting your lists away and coming back to them in a few days so that they are fresh.

When you return to your lists what we’re going to do is look for intersections between the two.

Are there common themes? Are their certain topics, areas and activities show up in both lists?

Each time you find a connection write the intersecting activity on a new sheet of paper.

Easy overlaps

Chances are there are a few which appear on both lists. The reason for this is that we tend to do things that we enjoy. And by doing these things we tend to get better at them. This is a self reinforcing cycle which determines what we spend our time doing.

You see this with children at school. Those who enjoy playing football get better at football. The better they get at football the more they enjoy playing football. The more they enjoy football the more they will play football et cetera et cetera. It’s a positive reinforcement loop.

Niche Generation

Hopefully by the end of this intersection exercise you should have at least 5 to 10 intersecting activities. These are areas where you are both skilled and enjoy performing the activity. These are your online business starting points.

Each one of these is a potential niche for your online business. A niche is simply an area that we choose to operate in. The more specific and well-defined the niche the higher our chances of success within that niche.

A wide niche like “exercise” is going to be harder to succeed and then a narrow niche like “performing Turkish getups with a kettle bell” which is a very specific subset of exercise.

Hopefully your initial list of interests and skills were specific enough so that your intersecting list is full of specific activities rather than wide generalisations like “exercise”. If not go back and repeat the process. The more times you’ve done these activities the more specific answers you’ll get and the more potential business niches you’ll uncover.

Moving on to market verification

The third step of this process is to take these niches and verify whether there is a market for them. This is where we can actually answer the question “what online business should I start?”. We’re close now!

Remember we are looking for Goldilocks zone between what we’re good at, what we are interested in and what the market is willing to pay for.

It’s no good to simply be good at something and have a sustainable interest if nobody is willing to pay for the value we can produce in this niche.

It might be an extremely enjoyable and lifelong hobby but it will not be a business!

Because of this we now need to take our 5 to 10 niches and run market verification on each one in order to filter down to what could potentially be the basis of an online business.

I’ll cover this market verification in the next blog article. For now you have enough homework (completing your list of skills and interests) to get you started!

This is very much an interactive process and simply reading about it will not help you start your online business.

So get going!

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