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How to find great ideas for your business

By Marty Minchin
Correspondent

Q: How can business owners come up with great ideas for their companies? Where can they find inspiration?

One of the best ways to come up with new ideas for your business is to get out of the office.

Even if you’re an expert in your field or passionate about the product you work with, learning about what other people in your line of work are doing can provide inspiration and motivation for new products, new business tactics and new opportunities.

Brad Rivers, director of the Small Business Center at Gaston College, offers these suggestions for coming up with great ideas for your business.

• Attend trade shows and read trade magazines: Thousands of trade shows are held annually all over the U.S., and they are a great place to learn more about the newest and best products and services in your industry.

Likely, you’ll find something new you could implement in your business that your customer base would like.

Trade magazines also will report on the innovation and news in industry-specific markets that can be fodder for new ideas for your company.

• Watch the trends: “You have to keep looking, reading and watching the market places to see what’s going on,” Rivers said.

Rivers uses the example of General Motors of mid-1900s, which got too comfortable making big, clunky cars.

When foreign companies such as Volkswagen and Toyota flooded the market with efficient, well-made models in the late 1950s and early 1960s, GM struggled.

“They were just excellent little cars, and they were running circles around GM,” Rivers said.

Eventually, GM began producing cars that competed with the popular foreign models. Rivers advises that all businesses keep an eye on the trends and not get left behind when the market changes.

• Get to know others inside and outside your market: Chambers of commerce and local business organizations can be an excellent place to bounce ideas off professionals who are not in your industry and to get an outside perspective on your ideas.

For help from peers, try connecting with like-minded business people in nearby urban centers such as Atlanta, Baltimore and Richmond where similar businesses likely are not direct competitors.

“Ask them for advice,” Rivers said. “Ask them what they would do if they had to start over again in today’s market. What have they done that has worked and not worked? What’s has been their biggest issue, and how did they handle it?”

Peers in other cities and states also can be excellent sources of helpful critiques for your business and discussions about what’s new in the industry.

• Jump on opportunities: Changes in the culture, market or even the weather can lead to new business opportunities.

A hardware store owner in Lincoln County revitalized his business after a friend suggested he affiliate with a national hardware store chain, which gave him new purchasing power, Rivers said.

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