Starting a business is equal parts exciting, intimidating, frustrating and overwhelming. Even though you may have that “golden idea” that you’re toting around in your pocket, getting it out of your brain and physically onto paper or web poses an entirely new challenge. There’s a constant barrage of information, advice, tools and resources aimed at aspiring small business owners and entrepreneurs, and it’s hard to know where to start. As a result, too many ideas are launched prematurely, without effective planning, strategizing and testing, and the investment is all too often costly and emotionally draining.
Planning & Clarity is Key
The first step you want to take in starting any business is to start with gaining some simple clarity around your idea, and why you want to create the business in the first place. I like to utilize this basic exercise with my clients when they’re just starting out, for planning out the “5 Ws” (and “1 H”) that make up the core of your business. It will give you a basic starting point for understanding what your business offers, who your target customer is, whether or not it has potential, and where and when it makes sense to bring your idea into the market.
Think about each of the following areas as it relates to your business. Jot down notes, words, phrases, and any other thoughts that will help you come up with a clear summary that answers each of the 5Ws and 1H:
Who do you want to serve in your business? What kinds of people would you enjoy working with as your core customers, and you feel you have the most value to offer? Think about them in terms of age, gender, economic status, family/relationship status, geographic location, lifestyle habits, consumer habits, personal interests and challenges. Ask yourself, “Who is this person, and what kinds of interests and issues do they have going on in their life right now?”
What do you want to offer to this person, your ideal customer? Is your product or service something that already exists within that market segment, and if so, how is it unique to what might already be out there? If it’s something new and innovative, what about it makes if of interest to this person based upon what you know about them and their lifestyle? Think about the products or services that you want to offer in terms of physicality (is it virtual, or something physical that is bought or shipped), pricing, geographic location (is it offered in a store, online or both), competition, uniqueness and value.
Where will you offer your products or services? This is based upon knowing where you can reach and engage with your target customer, your “WHO”. If you have a virtual product such as consulting, will you offer it locally to clients in-preson, or over the phone in multiple geographic areas. If you’re producing a physical product such as artwork or jewelry, do you want sell your goods locally in a brick and mortar location, via an online channel such as Etsy that can potentially reach international customers, or even both? Think about costs and time associated with different options. Does it really make sense to ship internationally, or travel to meet with each client face to face?
When do you want to put your product or service out to the market, your “soft launch”? In doing so, you’ll want to make sure that you are as clear as you can be on your “WHO”, your “WHAT” and your “WHERE” to get the most out of your marketing efforts. One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced marketers and business newbies make is putting a product or service out to market prematurely before it’s truly ironed out and clearly focused, hoping that if they throw it out there to everyone, it will stick to SOMETHING. That’s a waste of time, effort and money. Get clear, get specific, and then get it out there! You can always refine it and refocus it as you go, but have a clear starting point with a well-defined intention or goal in mind.
Why is your product or service of value to the type of customer whom you’re targeting, enough that they would want to invest in it? This comes down to a specific need, interest, challenge or lack that your target customer is experiencing. Once you identify and understand what that is, you need to speak to it in a way that communicates the benefits of your product or service. How will their life be different, or improve, by investing in working with you, or purchasing your products? Think specific – “My diaper bag designs are cost-effective and handmade,” is not a benefit, it’s a feature. “My diaper bag designs are made from natural materials that are stain resistant and easy clean, so you will get more wear and usage out of them than most commercial products out there, and for less cost,” is most definitely a benefit.
How do you plan on getting the message out there, reaching your target customer and delivering that message around the benefits of your products and services? This is the foundation for starting to put together your marketing strategy, and you can begin to do some brainstorming around it. Go back to the “WHERE” – are you offering location-based or virtual/web-based goods? If you’re tied to a geographic location, you’ll want to research things like local publications, trade organizations, online forums, local businesses as potential advertising partners and resources. If you’re virtually based and primarily reach people online, think about the types of websites, online magazines or publications, and social media outlets that your target market is likely to use and engage in. What are their interests, and where are they “hanging out” online?
You may want to start out conservatively in your advertising and marketing spending in the beginning until you get a good feel for what types of channels and resources are most effective.
This is a good exercise that you can revisit on a regular basis to see what is and is not working, and where it might make sense to modify and shift your focus in any of the areas above. The goal is create total clarity around the foundation, purpose and focus of your business, so that you’ve essentially created a well-thought out and strategic roadmap for building a successful and sustainable venture that honors your individual interests, values and talents.
Photo by Smudgygiraffe on Flickr
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