All businesses succeed by solving real problems, but most people have no idea where to start. How do you pick the products or services you’ll turn into your problem-solving enterprises?

Here’s an idea I can roughly guarantee: Look at the work you’ve done in the past. Where were the choke points? What were problems people avoided because of the work you did?

No matter how you spent the first part of your life and career, you’ve learned to be good at something. It can be anything from gardening in small spaces to designing fire safety systems. We all have a specialty. This doesn’t mean you have to be the world’s authority on a subject; it just means you can talk competently about solving problems in that niche of the world.

The goal of your startup’s marketing efforts will be to find a sufficient number of people who are interested in that niche and then to connect with that community in ways that are valuable to them. You don’t want to market to everyone — you want to market to the folks who respect the value of the knowledge you have on a focused topic.

For example, when I cofounded an engineering-based business at the age of 45, I leaned on know-how and tricks of the trade I’d learned from my dad years earlier. I certainly wasn’t the brightest guy in the field, and I had far less exposure than other firms in that market. What I did have was a... (More)