Grow a New or Existing Business with a Tour of Needs

Finding places to care, create, and serve as creators, solopreneurs, and jacks-of-all-trades

We have them in spades and so do our fellow humans: an abundance of needs — many of which can’t possibly be addressed all the time or even some of the time. We all have limited time, resources, networks, awareness.

Businesses are all about filling needs. We know this. It’s basic stuff, but we can so easily forget it and overlook that potential in the busy-ness of life and performing our roles. I like returning to the contemplation of needs periodically to re-focus and re-energize my business offerings and attitudes.

  • It’s caring — demonstrating concern for others and being present to their desires, hopes, shortcomings, and frustrations.

  • It’s creating — generating beneficial solutions and solving real problems.

  • It’s serving — tending to what really matters for others and extending ourselves in support.

  • It’s a remedy for underemployment — increasing personal significance and providing measurable results.

  • It’s defensive entrepreneurship in the face of automation and AI — caring, serving, and creating are all areas where we can especially thrive as humans.

  • It’s an antidote to despair and disruption — enhancing one’s sense of agency and providing concrete ways to make a positive difference.


A Grand Tour of Needs

Here are places I like to investigate to get a sense of the current, urgent, and recurring needs around me; to remind myself of the expansive spectrum of general human needs; and to seek new insights on how my skills, interests, and preferences overlap with these. Where and how I can care, create, and serve better, next.

Tour your neighborhood Think about your neighbors and your neighborhood. What are people talking about on Nextdoor and in local Facebook groups? What’s being covered in your local news? Head outside and walk around. What do you notice? Overhear? Talk to people everywhere. Over the backyard fence. In your building’s elevator. In stores. In parks. At school. At church. Standing in line.

What do those around you need? Where are they hurting? Where can they use a hand? What are they striving and hoping for? What would make their lives better, easier, more satisfying?

Tour your personal contacts Open your phone and/or email contact lists and scroll through, pausing a few moments at each name. Make a list of every need that comes to mind — even if you’re just guessing or imagining. It’s an exercise in awareness; you’re not specifically trying to solve specific things for these particular contacts.

For example, here’s what I came up with just looking at the first 20 names under “A” in my business contacts: attitude adjustment, free time, career coaching, childcare, senior care, fun, concierge services, household management, vacation planning, marriage counseling, landscaping, lawn care, resume writing, financial planning, tutoring, self-awareness, general contracting, proofreading, PTSD support, social outings.

Tour your social media feeds One by one, spend some time on the social media sites you frequent, taking notes on expressed and implied desires, problems, frustrations, sources of overwhelm, unmet needs. Some needs I took note of on my sample tour: beauty and aesthetics (personal, fashion, home, garden, as a generic concept), creativity, validation, personal expression, editing, time, household help, communication skills, negotiation skills, relationship skills, problem-solving, brainstorming, wisdom, perspective, connection, relaxation, existential support, mental health services, cancer support, fitness training, accountability, time management, transitions, change management, adulting lessons, small business strategy, higher income, jobs, more clients.

Tour your triggers Make a list of your known pet peeves as well as everything you complain about in the coming week. Or would vent about if you didn’t censor yourself. The things that raise your blood pressure while sitting in traffic or riding public transportation. What makes you roll your eyes or groan while at the store. The news stories and social media threads that make you slump, sigh, cuss, or even cry.

Tour global problems and their local manifestations What global issues immediately come to mind? Flesh out that initial list by heading to Google News or other broad source of the world’s current events and scrolling and skimming for even just a few minutes. Now consider how global events and trends are manifesting locally. Is automation eliminating jobs in key industries leaving many unemployed? Is global warming causing destructive flooding, horrific fires, or changing which plants flourish in local gardens? Are political, economic, and climate refugees bringing people with a range of needs to your city’s doorstep?

Tour the inventory of human needs The Center for Nonviolent Communication has an eye-opening inventory of dozens of nuanced human needs on its site that should be consulted for a range of personal and business applications. It identifies seven broad areas of human needs: connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy, and meaning. Even a cursory glance over this list will reveal places to care, create, and serve — and assist with developing attractive offerings for your customers. Under the connection heading are such sub-needs as stability, trust, inclusion, and intimacy. You’ll find joy and humor under play; ease, order, and harmony under peace. Meaning includes awareness, celebration, challenge, efficacy, learning, mourning, and stimulation.


Organize Your Data and Explore the Possibilities

Let’s move on to organizing everything you’ve collected from the various tours mentioned above and exploring what possibilities they open up for your existing business/es or freelance offerings or something new you may want to create. Here are some approaches.

Common themes One way to organize and explore your data is to write each need you noticed on a sticky note, then play around with organizing and rearranging the notes into categories that seem related, taking note of what comes up. In the world of Quality, this is a tool and it’s known as an affinity diagram because of your search for affinities among large number of items.

Personal appeals Even when the focus remains on what other people need, there’s no reason not to evaluate your next moves based on what most appeals to you. In the information that surfaced, what made you smile? Your heart race positively? There is something to the idea that if it’s not a hell yes!, it should be a no.

Natural overlap You can experiment with Venn diagrams for finding natural overlaps in the needs data you collected. Take it to the next level, though, with the concept of Ikigai (Japanese for “reason for being”), which looks at the specific overlaps in four areas: what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.

Natural extensions How can you easily extend products and services you already offer to incorporate new information from your tour of needs? In my most recent tour of needs, for example, I finally sparked upon the way I could re-format my coaching/consulting website to incorporate my growing stash of creator, publishing, and small business articles, as well as how I could further tailor my writing to better address the urgent needs and pain points I uncovered. The review also prompted me to share the concept of a grand tour of needs so you could benefit from the practice too.

Straddling worlds If you straddle different cultural, economic, or professional words, you likely already know it, but perhaps you never considered how you could meet the needs of others who straddle those same worlds or the advantages you may have in connecting different worlds. There are therapists, for instance, who specialize in cross-cultural marriages; coaches who support corporate types transitioning to self-employment or entrepreneurship; and relocation experts who help families move to new countries. Having many relatives in the skilled trades and having professional friends and neighbors with more money than time and handy abilities, I could probably start a business matching the needs of the first group for clients with the needs of the second group for household repairs and renovations. What bi-cultural, split-word needs arose in your tour of needs?

Grab bag roulette If you’re really stuck, spur your creativity with grab bag roulette. In one bag, put slips of paper naming each of the needs (both the concrete ones and the broadly human ones) you discovered. In another bag, include different slips of paper where you’ve written your various skills, interests, services, and products. Now, pick two from each bag at random and see what ideas the combination inspires.

Household management + celebration + photography + your Spanish language skills? Perhaps you can manage at-home events (weddings, quinceañeras) for busy, upscale Hispanic families, hiring other service providers for the range of responsibilities while you stick with photography.

Career counseling + parents with no free time + resume writing + coaching? Maybe you can provide a range of career transition services to other parents you meet at school activities while you both sit through sports or music practices. (See Side Hustles Around Your Kids’ Schedules for more such ideas for parents.)

Climate change + lawn care + landscaping skills + creative problem solving? What about offering garden consulting, landscaping, and upkeep services around switching to plants better suited for new climate realities and requiring fewer chemicals and less water to maintain?


Put Your Findings to Work

So, writer, creator, freelancer, solopreneur, professional service provider, microbusiness owner, jack-of-all-trades: You’ve finished the tour and explored a range of possibilities for growing, extending, or establishing your business and its offerings.

  • What are all the ways you now want to address others’ needs?

  • How can you provide, demonstrate, and amp up your care?

  • How will you serve your community better? Make other lives easier, better?

  • Are there things you can create to meet those needs?

  • How will you accomplish these new developments? What steps will you take? How will you measure results and impact?

  • How will you meet your own shortage of clients, income, satisfying work with this new awareness?

  • How will your choices increase your own sense of agency and protect you against despair and other debilitating emotions in the face of disruption and change?