I originally published this article on Entrepreneur.com.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You come up with a new business idea and head over to Google to do your research, only to find that there are already about 10 other people doing what you thought was a unique idea.
So what do you do?
Assuming you haven’t closed your browser window in disgust and disappointment, the next logical step on the road to idea abandonment is to try to convince yourself that your idea is somewhat different than the others. Maybe your idea is better in some way because of a few added features you just came up with on the fly.
Of course, the more you research, the more you see just how similar your idea is to the ones already on the market. You’ll eventually close your computer in a fit of rage and think to yourself that it’s hopeless; that all the good ideas are taken.
The truth is, no matter what you come up with, your idea will almost always be taken. But, many times, that’s actually a good thing.
One of my least favorite phrases in the world is “that’s already been done.” Of course, it’s already been done. Practically everything has already been done, unless you’re in an industry that’s completely untapped. But that’s rarely the case.
One of my favorite sayings, on the other hand, is a quote from the Bible. Solomon says “… there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s difficult to hear at first, but it’s true.
Once you can accept the fact that coming up with brand new ideas isn’t the thing that differentiates most businesses, your mind really becomes open to what’s possible and what you can truly accomplish. It also helps you clarify what your goal should be instead of trying to come up with the next big thing that’s never been done.
After all, many of the business people we hail as innovators today actually piggybacked on existing ideas. For example, Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer, mobile digital media player or cell phone. But he made all of them a heck of a lot better, and he’s known as an innovator because of it.
The question really becomes, how do you use competition and existing ideas to your advantage as an entrepreneur or freelancer?
One way to do it is to “out-listen” the competition. Here’s what I mean. We all tend to see competition as a bad thing, but competition is actually a wonderful thing. When you decide you want to do something that other people are already doing, your idea has already been validated. It means you already have a benchmark, or a starting point, from which your idea can grow.
Having competition also means you have a group of people you can listen to in order to find out what they truly want and need. Then you can make something that actually sells instead of a product that you think will sell. It’s market research made easy.
Let’s say you want to sell baby clothes. But not just any baby clothes, oh no. You’re unique, so you want to sell southern style baby clothes because that’s a cool twist. You start researching and learn quickly that it’s not a unique idea at all. What do you do?
This time, instead of getting depressed, closing your computer and binge-watching Netflix, you make a list of every southern style baby clothes website, Facebook page and online community you can find. Then you start asking those groups what they want, what they would change if they could and what they dislike about the products they’re currently buying. See where this is going?
The cool thing about people is they love to tell you what they want. When there are already businesses or freelancers doing what you want to do, go directly to their customers and ask them how you can serve them better. Not only will you have a winning idea, but you’ll have a customer base to sell to from day one. We call that a win-win.
So if you want to be unique, and you want to create something people genuinely want, start making it your mission to find the missing pieces in the market instead of trying to create a new market altogether.
And do yourself a favor — stop freaking out every time your amazing new idea is already being done by someone else. Instead, celebrate whenever you see other people already making money doing what you want to do.
After all, if you come up with an idea that no one else is doing, there’s probably a reason for that.