Finding Inspiration for Invention in Life's Major Annoyances

To paraphrase a well-worn idiom, annoyance is the mother of invention.

So, mompreneurs, if your revenues are dwindling and you need to develop new products or services, you might follow the example recently set by a group of "kidpreneurs" in Southern California. Jot down a list of everyday pet peeves and ask yourself: Is this an entrepreneurial opportunity?

That approach helped launch Sanitation's Solutions Inc., which pitched its I-Flush product proposal to a panel of venture capitalists on May 21. What does the I-Flush do? It provides a solution for one of the longest-standing annoyances perpetrated by mankind: the habit of leaving the toilet seat up. The I-Flush's pulley-based system prevents toilet users from flushing unless the toilet seat and lid are down. Sanitation's Solutions is made up of senior high school students at the California Academy of Math and Science in Carson, Calif.

As part of a class project, seniors at the school worked in teams of nine to design products, write business plans and develop marketing campaigns. The project culminated in a presentation to a panel of venture capitalists -- a group of local business people and investors who served as judges. This competition, developed by high school teacher Greg Fisher, was recently featured in the Daily Breeze newspaper.

This school exercise drives home a concept that every mompreneur needs to integrate into her everyday life: Pet peeves, whether they are yours or a prospective client's, can translate into entrepreneurial opportunity. You just have to train yourself to think that way, and to have the commitment and patience to take full advantage whenever it's feasible.

Consider the example that Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, set. The idea for Spanx first came to Blakely in 1998, while she was preparing for an open-mic appearance at a comedy club. At the time she was a 27-year-old office-supply sales manager who moonlighted as an amateur comic. Blakely was planning to wear a pair of white slacks and sexy sandals on stage. The annoyance she encountered while getting dressed: visible panty lines and the less-than-perfect contour of her backside. So she opted for a do-it-yourself solution. She grabbed some scissors, cut the feet out of a pair of control-top pantyhose and slipped them on. "That's when I had my epiphany," she says.

Blakely later researched and wrote a patent for footless pantyhose. That led to Spanx, a one-time home-based business that eventually outgrew the confines of her apartment and made her a multimillionaire. Blakely's story is featured in a new book, The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies for Success.

As a mompreneur, you can also use your "annoyance radar" to develop ways to improve your existing product offerings. During sales calls, really listen to prospective clients. Pose questions that will draw out what irks them about the product or services they're already using. Use that information to exploit your competitor's weakness and make it your strength.

This approach can also help you tap an underserved niche. You can develop products and services that are much more tailored to meeting the needs of a specific group of clients. With some savvy marketing, you can ensure that customers in a particular field come to view you as a specialist. For example, if you're a graphic artist, you may discover a need for a bundle of products tailor-made for local architects, or restaurant owners, or ski resort operators.

Keep in mind that some market niches are just too specialized for large corporations to consider. But you as a small business owner can exploit that fact by identifying the needs and the pet peeves of people in that niche. Your business is nimble enough to quickly adapt to their specialized needs.

Remember this during your next sales call. If a prospective client starts whining, don't tune out. Tune in and use your creativity to develop a solution that gives you an edge over your competitors.

© 2010 Renee Martin, co-author of The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Who Built Great Businesses Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies For Success

Author Bio
Renee Martin, co-author of The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Who Built Great Businesses Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies For Success was a dynamic real estate broker when she switched careers entirely, to work in community service. She became a rape counselor, a court-appointed special advocate for The Children's Court (CASA), a director of community relations of a child abuse crisis center, and a public relations spokesperson for many community organizations. After publication of the book, she and Don coauthored, The Survival Guide for Women, she became a frequent and popular speaker at women's seminars across the country.

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