Sometimes we spend too much time with the whiteboard -- literally or metaphorically --
drawing up the perfect angle for a business.

But the most important thing to consider is that you don't have to sell anything that doesn't already exist. There's no magic product needed. Instead, your connections, knowledge, and expertise are most often your best product to start a business with. 

What does that mean? Much like Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 hours, where you spend your time and where you practice is where you are going to be most knowledgeable. As an example, I know a ton about social influencers because I've worked as one for years.

Now, I consult with large brands on their corporate influencer strategy. My knowledge of what matters to an influencer, what doesn't work, and how to effectively communicate with them is my value. 

I didn't seek out this path. I never put it on a whiteboard or a notepad. And I'm pretty sure if I had tried to build an app or a software company, I would have failed miserably. But still, my connections and self became my most valuable asset and ultimately became my big business idea.

Reverse engineer from your strengths.

Your background can lead you into a lot of opportunities. This was the case for Ann Marie Geissel MEd, the national special education director for Therapy Source, a nationwide provider of special education and therapy staffing and services.

As a former school principal and director of pupil services, she had regularly experienced the struggle to remain in compliance. Now, in her role at Therapy Source, she shares her experiences with school administrators who are coping with shrinking budgets and growing special education needs.

Geissel is able to dig deeper into a complex situation because of her previous experience. She can ask the kinds of questions only someone accutely familiar with their space can ask. What she already knew became the most valuable asset she could bring to a business.  

Be honest about your abilities.

Recognizing your weaknesses can be a hard conversation to have with yourself. I resisted. Like most entrepreneurs, I never like to admit that I'm wrong about myself or my ambitions. But any good entrepreneur will tell you that you'll have to pivot at least five times in your career, and the more time it takes you to pivot, the less successful you'll be. 

Knowing what you can't do is just as important as knowing what you can do. If you were taught by loving parents that "you can be anything," they weren't wrong. You can, but it takes a lot of time, energy, and practice. Over time, we tend to settle into what we're great at doing because that's where we have concentrated our energy. 

What you do next should have at least something to do with what you've done before, so you can utilize your past contacts and network to help you succeed.

I like to remodel houses and build things in my spare time, but it will never be my main business because I'm only average at it and I don't have nearly the network I do in communciations. 

And that's the main point. Don't swim upstream into a new world that requires new contacts and new expertise if you don't have to. 

How to get started.

Tactically, when coming up with a business for yourself, start with your value. What's the one thing you can do that most can't? That's your value.

Then assess the contacts you have in that space that can help you succeed. Your value and your contacts will steer you where to drive business. Then, and only then, should you start thinking about what the product or service is. 

This may seem counterintuitive, but it will put you in the best position for success. 

So, the next time you're considering what business or side hustle to begin, remember that your relationships and industry knowledge may be your best asset. 

Published on: Jan 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.