Struggling to come up with a great business idea? The answer might be easier than you think...
I was 12-years old and eager to make money for the new shock-resistant Sony Discman which had recently been released at Future Shop.
Unfortunately, money isn't something 12-year olds typically have at their disposal, and I was ever-so-eager to listen to my new Dance Mix 93' CD!
As the youngest of the family, my older brother passed the torch, and it was now my duty to shovel the driveway each snowfall.
Anyone who has spent a winter in Ottawa knows the Ottawa Valley rarely gets the light, fluffy snow you see in movies. Rather, Ottawa is known for two types of weather in the winter: thick, heavy, and wet snow, or, freezing rain & ice. Either way, it sucks!
Motivated by my love of music and wanting that Sony Discman more than anything, I decided to start my own snow shoveling business, going door-to-door on snow days and shoveling driveways for $20 each.
Business was ok, but I often found myself beaten to the job by other kids with the same idea – it takes so long to shovel one driveway by the time I had finished two or three most potential clients had already done it themselves or hired another kid from the block. At this rate, I was going to have to work YEARS before getting that Discman.
When Spring came, I thought long and hard about this dilemma until I finally managed to come up with a solution!
Fast-forward to September.
School had returned and the days began to shorten. With winter only a few months away I spent one Saturday afternoon going door to door in my neighbourhood.
With the help of my Father (and our first ever Windows computer) I typed a contract for each client which ensured their exclusivity for the season. In exchange, I guaranteed their driveway would be cleared no later than 9 AM. As such, I charged them a flat fee of $250 ($150 due upon signing, and $100 due in February should they be happy with my service.)
This was no-doubt a gutsy move for a 12-year-old.
How was I ever supposed to clear all these driveways by 9 AM when it took nearly half-an-hour to clear just one?!
Throughout my months of summer brainstorming I had come up with a solution, and my clients happily signed-up.
Although I prayed for a mild winter, my prayers would go unanswered.
As early as late November the snow began to fall. Our first big storm of the season rolled-in and I awoke to find our street blanketed in nearly one foot of snow!
I laced up my boots and headed out with my shovel to start working on my first driveway. I was an early-riser but as soon as the other kids on the block noticed, they quickly followed suit.
Fortunately for me, as the other kids began knocking on doors they quickly realized there was no business to be had – I had locked all the neighbours into exclusivity agreements two months prior.
The other kids quickly became discouraged.
Having anticipated their frustration I used it to my advantage and was now in a position to offer the other kids an opportunity to work for me at a rate of $10 per driveway.
I could now sit back and manage the other kids as they fulfilled the work of my various snow shoveling agreements.
The best part: I got my Discman!
The story goes on into the following year as I expanded my business, but I'll save that for another time. The critical lesson is to realize: no matter how small or niche your business may seem there’s almost always a way to optimize and scale your model.
You might think to yourself, “but I don’t have an MBA or any experience in the business world. There’s no way I could ever start my own company.”
Everyone is skilled at something, even if it’s something you might not yet realize...
Can you walk? Do you like animals? – Start a dog walking business.
Do you enjoy knitting? – Create a series of instructional YouTube videos and monetize your channel with advertising.
Can you push a lawnmower? – Start a landscaping company.
Do you have a pickup truck? – Offer to dispose of peoples old junk.
There are endless options available and don’t worry if you think your skills aren't mainstream – 'Niche' is the new 'Big.'
No matter how crazy or unique your idea might seem I can almost guarantee there are other people out there with a similar interest or looking for a solution to the same problem.
eBay started as a place to sell unique collectibles, quickly growing into one of the world largest online marketplaces. Facebook started as a way for university students to connect with classmates – we all know how that turned out!
Key takeaway: Think about the simple tasks you perform on a daily basis. Then, ask yourself if it can be replicated and scaled into a working business model. The results may surprise you!