This is an excerpt from Lean Retail 101, the definitive guide to running your small business like a fast-moving, data-led startup. Written by ShopKeep’s Founder.

A lot of people will tell you that the best business ideas ‘just come to them’. They’re probably lying.

The best business ideas are often the result of a long analysis of the needs and desires of customers. Shopkeep’s Founder shares below some of the places you can start looking for that killer innovation for your small business.

1. Your Business Data

Your numbers are your new best friends.  If sales are flagging in the morning, try and understand why.  If you always seem to have great sales on Tuesday nights, try and find out where the rush is coming from.  Analyzing and interpreting your numbers can inspire you to see things about your business that you may not have noticed otherwise.

2. Customer Research

Ask your customers what they like and what they don’t like about your store.  What’s their favorite thing to buy from you? Why? What wouldn’t they buy from you? Why not? Thoroughly look through your Yelp and/or Google+ Reviews.  (If you aren’t up and running yet, look through the reviews of similar businesses).

3. Competitor Reviews

Coca Cola spends millions every year tracking every move Pepsi makes.  Even for those on the cutting edge of retail, the chances are high there is someone doing something pretty similar to you.  There is a lot to be learned from taking a close look at your nearest competitors – both what they are doing well and what they are getting wrong.

Note: One of the great things about local business is that you can find people who are doing what you’re doing in a different location and use them as a source of knowledgeable advice.  If you’re opening a wine store, find the wine merchant two towns over and take them for a coffee – you’ll be amazed how open most people are and how willing they are to help (and often for less than the price of a cup of coffee).

4. Insider Knowledge

Asking your customers can really only get you so far.  They frankly don’t spend all day, every day thinking about ways of making your business more profitable.  You are your own best resource. It is really important that you spend time developing your industry expertise – take courses and read widely about business in general.  The Small Business Association is a great place to find learning opportunities.

5. Openness

Perhaps the most important thing is that you are always open and on the look-out for new ways to make that incremental improvement that will drive your business forward.

A lot of retail businesses suffer from a kind of inertia, simply because experienced owners have found ‘their’ way of doing things and are closed-off to new ideas.  Always keep yourself open to change and embrace those hundreds of half-formed ideas. I guarantee business will be better and more fun if you do.

This is an excerpt from Lean Retail 101, the definitive guide to running your small business like a fast-moving, data-led startup.  Written by ShopKeep’s Founder.  To find out more about lean retailing, you can check out the rest of the guide by following the link below.

About the Author

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate, and Head of Marketing at ShopKeep point of sale’s UK headquarters. Paul uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.