I think there are two basic steps in coming up with business opportunities.
STEP ONE: BUSINESS IDEATION
The first step is to come up with a list of possible business ideas. Here are some techniques for business ideation:
The Problem & Solution Method - Look at the world around you and seek out problems without solutions, or with poor solutions. If you can solve those problems well, such a solution could mean a good business opportunities.
The Market-First Method - Strive to deeply understand a specific target market you want to serve and seek out unsolved problems they face. Interview and research people within this market as well.
The Personal Strengths Method - Analyze your innate talents, learned skills, and experiences. Books like "Now, Discover Your Strengths" can help you do this. Brainstorm some ways you could offer your strengths to those in need of them.
The Mix & Match Method - Take two seemingly unrelated concepts, products, or services and see if you can combine them. For instance: fast food + package delivery = overnight shipping services. Photocopiers + telephones = fax machines. Etc.
The Importation Method - Travel the world and explore other countries for ideas. Perhaps you can import a product or service from one country to another.
The Lateral Thinking Method - Examine an existing problem and apply lateral thinking to its solution. This involves thinking about alternate possibilities, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.
The Godin Method (or The Edgecraft Method) - Seth Godin, author of books such as Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside, has a method called "Edgecraft." This is the concept of “going all the way to the edge” of an existing product or service.
The Christensen Method (or The Disruptive Innovation Method) - Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, offers two types of disruptive innovations:
Low-end disruptions - These serve less demanding customers with low-priced, relatively straightforward offerings using low-cost business models. Look for markets with over-served customers and offer a simpler product or service.
New-market disruptions - These serve new customers by making it easier for them to do something that previously required being or hiring specialists. Look for unfulfilled needs and create new products or services for them.
The Borrowed Ideas Method - There are lots of sources of free ideas all around you, such as existing companies. So you could borrow & improve upon someone else's idea.
If you'd like a little more detail about each of these methods, you can refer to the source article I wrote some time ago.
STEP TWO: IDEA VALIDATION
Once you have a handful of ideas that interest you, next, you'll have to validate those ideas to vet out those with potential vs those that aren't as viable.
The Product Opportunity Assessment - Author Marty Cagan offers a lightweight opportunity analysis in his book Inspired. Here is what goes into such an assessment:
- Value Proposition: Exactly what problem will this solve?
- Target Market: For whom do you solve that problem?
- Market Size: How big is the opportunity?
- Metrics/Revenue Strategy: How will you measure success?
- Competitive Landscape: What alternatives are out there now?
- Differentiator: Why are you best suited to pursue this?
- Market Window: Why now?
- Go-to-Market Strategy: How will you get this product to the market?
- Solution Requirements: What factors are critical to success?
- Go or No-Go: Given the above, what’s the recommendation?
The Innovator's Scorecard - Author Thomas McKnight offers a heavy-duty assessment in his book Will It Fly? called the Innovator's Scorecard. This method is pretty involved. I have an online version of his scorecard, though you may need the book to make sense of it.
Customer Discovery - Educator Steve Blank offers a popular method in his book The Four Steps to the Epiphany called Customer Discovery. A second and closely-related step is called Customer Validation. Both are all testing and iterating your business model with actual customers. Much has been written about this process, so instead of a recap, here are some great tutorials:
I hope this helps. Good luck!