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How to find a business idea (from no idea to 6-figure business)

Ramit Sethi

Sometimes the things that are holding us back are just in our minds.

How many of us have looked at a pile of papers in our living room for weeks, building up how long it would take to clean…

…and then when we finally tackled it, it took 5 minutes?

I know the feeling. Sigh. (I love creating piles of paper.)

A little while ago, I sent out a survey to hundreds of thousands of readers. I asked if they wanted to start their own businesses. Can you guess how many said yes?

Do you want to start a business poll

90%! Nearly everyone.

When I asked what was stopping them:

  • 25% said “I don’t have an idea.”
  • 30% said “I don’t even know where to start.”

Think about that. About HALF of the people who want to start a business and start living their own Rich Life…blocked before they even start.

Then I asked another question.

“How long have you been thinking about starting a business?” The answers: Many said 2 years, 3 years, even 5+ years.

How long have you wanted to start a business

HOLY SHIT.

90% want to start a business, but over half have been “thinking about it” for years

Guys, a month is OK to be stuck. 6 months is OK. Years is too long.

Sometimes we need someone to pat us on the back, gently affirm how tough it is…and then look us deep in our eyes and say, “Let’s cut the shit.”

If you’ve wanted to start a business, and you don’t have an idea, today I want to help you break through. 

I want to show you how, if you follow the right system, you can build a successful business — even if you don’t have an idea yet.

And I’ll demonstrate how this works using one of my verified 6-figure students.

Want to fire your boss and start your dream business? Download my FREE Ultimate Guide to Business.

From “no idea” to 6-figure business

Meet Zack.

Back then: No idea. (Does this sound familiar?)

Today: He earns 6 figures on the side from his fulltime job. His recent launch generated $44,000.

Zack, who’s been a Hollywood editor for shows like Glee, Cobra Kai, and Empire, teaches busy people in the film industry how to improve their health and mental focus so they can be more creative and successful in their careers. 

Zack Arnold
We’ve verified Zack’s 6-figure earnings from his business. Zack came to us with no idea. Now, his business, Optimize Yourself, generates 6 figures per year.

When Zack started, he didn’t have an idea. And he was stuck in his head, spinning. I showed him my system for finding an idea and turning it into a profitable business — and I told him 2 things:

  1. Trust the system
  2. No judgment right now! Brainstorm ideas without judging them at this stage — that comes later

Let’s do an abbreviated version together right now. I’m going to show you exactly how Zack followed this process to come up with an idea that turned into a 6-figure business.

How to generate 20 potential business ideas overnight 
I want you to start off by thinking of something you love. Something you just do for fun, and you know you’re good at.

One of my friends, John, lives in San Francisco. I call him when I need to know how to have a difficult conversation. He’s incredibly patient and he knows how to get the message across without causing people to become defensive. (Is this you? What would people call you to ask your advice about?)

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For my friend Julia, it’s clothes. She reads fashion blogs on her commute to work. Her apartment has stacks of Vogue and her Pinterest is full of outfit ideas. Her friends go to her for outfit ideas if they have an event coming up.

But you know what? Neither of them have ever thought of turning their interests into a business. And if I suggested they start a business, do you know what they’d say? 

“Why would anyone pay me for that?” 

Most people don’t connect their skills & passions with a business. We think, “I need to create an app” or “I need to start a restaurant.” But it’s often the ideas right in front of our nose that have the most potential.

How Julia could create a 6-figure business. Let’s just take Julia, who loves fashion. If she created an e-book with her best outfit combos for fall, do you think people would pay her $50 for that? I definitely think she could create a small passive income stream with that. Some of those people would pay her $100 for a 1-on-1 virtual fashion consultation. And I bet some would even pay her $5,000 to be their personal stylist. 

Pretty amazing isn’t it? Here’s someone who does something just for fun, who doesn’t even realize she could turn this into a thriving business. 

Just think about things you do naturally:

  • Maybe you’re amazing at organizing events 
  • Maybe you’re awesome at critiquing your friend’s resumes (I’m good at this and turned it into a multimillion-dollar product)
  • Maybe you’re great at doing handstands — I’m serious! 

Whatever it is, what if someone would PAY you for those things?! And yes, people really do get PAID to teach people how to do handstands! 

This is pretty hard at first, because we take our own knowledge for granted.

How my mom generated $1,773.46 teaching people to cook. For example, my mom never thought anyone would PAY her to learn how to cook…it was just something she did every day for our family. But people did pay. She made $1,773.46 teaching her first live-streamed cooking class to a small group of viewers.


Nothing better than seeing your mom sharing what she loves with the world…and people showing up, thrilled to learn Indian cooking

We let our minds play tricks on us and minimize how important our skills are. Here are some of the most common things we tell ourselves:

  • “There are lots of other people doing this”
  • “I don’t have any formal training in this”
  • “Why would anyone pay ME for this?”

We call this your Brilliance Blindspot. You’ve been doing something for so long that it comes so naturally to you and you can’t even remember what it feels like to NOT know how to do it. You just take it for granted! 

For example, I’ve spent so much time studying personal finance that sometimes I just assume everybody knows how low-cost investing beats trading. It seems like common sense to me. But guess what…that’s not obvious. And when I think about it, it took me YEARS to really understand. Would people pay for advice on that? Absolutely. 

The point is, whether we realize it or not, we each have highly profitable expertise inside of us. We just have to get those ideas out! Soon you’ll have a list of at least 20 of those ideas, tailored for YOU and your business. 

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Try this exercise right now. Think of someone you know well — could be a friend, a family member. Got ‘em? OK, good. 

What are some things that they’re amazing at? What do you always go to them for advice on? Maybe they’re so good that you even think they could get PAID to do it. Let’s list them. 

  • Maybe they’re great at giving relationship advice. 
  • Or they always know the perfect stretches to do when your back hurts. 
  • Or they’re an absolute whiz with Microsoft Excel. 

Isn’t it funny how much easier it is to do when it’s somebody else? If I asked you to create the same list for yourself, you’d go blank. “Uhhh. I’m not good at anything. Nobody would pay me for this.” 

But the truth is, you have those ideas inside you. It’s just hard to see them for yourself. So guess what you’re going to do? You’re going to bypass your own Brilliance Blindspot and ASK YOUR FRIENDS! 

It doesn’t have to be anything formal — you can simply shoot a text to your 5 closest friends right now. Here’s a script you can use:

“Hey, I’m taking a business class and one of our assignments is to ask friends a question, so I’m reaching out to you. If you had to point out 3 things you think I’m good at, what would you say? Thank you!”

It’s always good to give people an example so you get the answers you’re looking for. So you might add, 

“For example, I always go to you for advice on investing. What are some things you’d go to me for?”

Then, take note of the ideas that come in. 

  • “Omg, you’re always the first person I call when I have relationship problems!”
  • “You’re so good at knowing what to wear” 
  • “I still remember when you helped me ask my boss for a raise” 

Don’t worry if some of the responses are vague, like “You’re really thoughtful.” Just note them down for now. 

I like to call these “nuggets.” They aren’t fully fleshed out business ideas. And they don’t need to be. All we’re doing now is brainstorming, or “mining” for these little “nuggets.” 

We have much more detailed material on finding a profitable idea. Best of all, we’ve created a way to go through this process much faster than before. For now, you’ll soon have a list of at least 20 “nuggets” of expertise that we can grow into something later in the process. 

For example, remember Zack and his 6-figure business from earlier? 

Here’s his actual list of nuggets that he originally wrote down:

Skills developed:

  • Organizing my general day, eating nutritious foods with limited time
  • How to stay active in a small office with minimal equipment
  • How to develop systems and routines
  • Ways to manage stress
  • How to organize an Avid or Premiere pro project for editing scripted television
  • Strategies to “make it” in the film industry
  • How to create a paperless workflow as an editor
  • How to break down a large goal into small manageable steps
  • How to raise funds for an independent film on Kickstarter
  • How to organize footage for a documentary film
  • How to edit a movie trailer
  • How to approach editing a dramatic scene
  • How to approach editing an action scene
  • How to train for Spartan Race with limited time
  • How to make a nutritious smoothie

Knowledge acquired:

  • Martial arts
  • Yoga
  • Strength training
  • Nutrition science
  • Film editing
  • Motion graphic design
  • Using OmniFocus
  • Using Evernote
  • Using Google Calendar and Apple’s Calendar
  • Using Trello
  • Podcasting
  • Building a WordPress blog

Now the key question: Are there some skills in Zack’s nuggets that people would pay for? 

YES! For example…

  • For editing a movie trailer, he could consult with filmmakers to help them create a killer trailer. Or, if he wanted to create more passive income, imagine if he created a course that taught independent filmmakers how to create their own amazing trailer.
  • He mentioned being introverted. He could coach people 1-on-1 on how to have better conversations at events or network at work. Or he could create an e-book.
  • How about overcoming back pain? He could create an e-book with step-by-step instructions on how to do away with back pain. He could even niche it down for different target markets that he’s also an expert in, like back pain for yogis or back pain for people with desk jobs.

He actually ended up creating a coaching program to help people in the film industry improve their focus and creativity, and he charges $2500 for it. 

It’s truly amazing what people will pay for if you find the right idea. 

As Zack says: 

“I built this business in a niche that didn’t exist before me: ‘I know, let’s sell products and advice to film editors who prioritize their health!’ said no marketer ever. 

But somehow I’ve managed to not only make it work but also become a household name in my corner of the world…and all thanks to what I’ve learned [from Ramit].”

The best part of all: This has given Zack the means and flexibility to pursue his own Rich Life. For Zack, that means more time with his family, more money, and a better quality of life.

Ok, now it’s your turn…

If you’ve wanted to start a business but you don’t have an idea, follow the advice in this email right now.

Here’s what I want you to do. This exercise should take you 1-2 days:

  1. Spend at least 20 minutes today writing down ideas. 
  2. Keep this list somewhere handy and go about your regular routine. (What happens is that now that you’ve gotten into the mindset of looking for hidden skills, new ideas will continue to pop out at you. You’ll get them while you’re working, taking a shower, going for a walk, cooking dinner. I get some of my best ideas when I’m walking home from the gym.)
  3. Any time a new idea comes up, mark it down. 
  4. Come back to your list tomorrow with fresh eyes, and see if you can come up with even more. 

The #1 rule: Don’t critique yourself, just get them on paper. 

It’s very possible that your future business will be in that list.

Remember, Zack started out just like you — stuck in his head with no business idea. But he wanted to make a change and he trusted the process.

Is it time to make a change? If so, I’d like to help you.

Here’s to your Rich Life!

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3 Comments

 
  1. avatar
    Rithik

    A very misleading and baseless article

  2. avatar
    Kristian

    Seems like you didn't even read the whole thing.

    There's nothing misleading or "baseless" about the value of the information you got here… that is, if you had taken the time to read it. Which you didn't.

    All the best.

  3. avatar
    Jerome Evans

    Yes I agree with that looking at the over all pile of work stops people from even wanting to get started and it’s funny how everybody knows something needs to be done but are just not motivated enough to do it. But when I lost my own job do to artificial intelligence I knew it was time for a change, so that computer that I have known for years was the way to start a online business lead me to digital marketing.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=g9sDY7nT_ho