Quick: name something that makes your blood boil - something that irks you enough to make your face turn red and wish there was an easy solution. Five years ago, that 'something' was business telephony systems for my team and me. We were working at a rapidly expanding small business when tasked with setting up an internal phone tree. Sounds simple enough, right? I wish.
Instead, we were taken on the same wild goose chase so many of us are familiar with when dealing with phone companies. The incessant telephone waiting game just to be transferred to your 11th customer service representative. (You know it isn't his or her fault that you've been given the runaround, but it takes every ounce of energy not to strongly verbalize a few choice words.) Then, there is the waiting for an in-person service provider to come out between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
So there we were, our blood boiling hot enough to scald a teapot. So steaming, in fact, that we decided to break off and start our own phone company, one that would hopefully meet the unfulfilled needs (read: good customer service) of our past experiences.
For those of you interested in breaking out of cubicle life and starting your own thing, I highly recommend tapping into your biggest pet peeves. But before you do, consider the following words of advice.
Become a customer
Sign up for services in your target market. Spend time patronizing several of your future competitors. How do they run their businesses? How do they support their clients? What holes need filling in their strategies both operational and service-oriented? What are they doing right and what could you do better?
Talk to other customers
Your biggest pet peeve has to do with cupcakes; no one makes them nearly as well as you do. Before launching your own bakery, try chatting with the customers of a few existing bakeries. Go in, become a customer yourself and, when out of ear shot range of the shop owner (maybe when you are outside, not chomping on a mini-red velvet), ask fellow friendly customers what they think about the bakery and what they wish was different. Go home and take notes. Repeat at another location the following day.
If in-person sabotages aren't your thing, try browsing industry-specific message boards for customer feedback. Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter are also excellent resources.
Posses more passion than pain
Attempting to solve a problem is one thing; sticking with it over the life cycle of a business (potentially decades or more) is another. Consider your idea. How much does it bother you and others? How much do you want to solve it? And, most importantly: how passionate are you about the industry, product and service that you are thinking of providing?
Behind the most successful entrepreneurs is undying passion. Starting a business is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. Don't underestimate the tremendous emotional (loss of time with family and friends) and financial (potential debt, lack of guaranteed salary) toll it can take. But with passion, everything - including success - is possible.