Q: After reviewing your 15 steps to starting a small business, I've decided to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. The only problem is that when trying to come up with a plan for my small business, I can't figure out what kind of products to sell. Other than my own preferences, what sort of small business planning resources can I find that will help me with picking a product to sell and defining my ideal target market?
A: If you've followed the 15 steps in my previous small business guide, you already have an idea of what kind of business you want to run (big or small, aggressive or relaxed, etc.), what type of manager you want to be what field you want to work in. Now it's time to actually start making a small business plan so you can turn this dream business into a reality. But to do this, you're going to need help picking a product to sell and defining a target market so that you can be successful in the marketplace. And how do you do that?
In terms or research, there are countless resources you can turn to that will help with your small business planning. When you're ready to explore picking a product and defining a target market, try starting with the following places:
Since you already know what industry you want to operate in, start reading industry publications in order to get you an idea of the general trends in your field, as well as highlight successful (and unsuccessful) competitors and suggest areas of heavy and light competition.
Professional organizations are another excellent source of information. Their meetings often feature speakers who discuss significant aspects of the industry or career field. Since most of these organizations are always looking for new members, you can usually find what you're looking for with a simple Google search. In addition, check your local Chamber of Commerce calendar, as it may offer some special programs for small business planning.
Talking to fellow entrepreneurs is a great way to save time and avoid mistakes when picking a product to sell and target market. Don't give away any of your ideas to a potential competitor, of course, but even small business owners in unrelated fields can give you useful advice on picking products and marketing. In fact, you may want to form a small business owners' group (if there isn't one if your city) to exchange ideas and contacts for your mutual benefit.
After you've gotten involved with your chamber of commerce and professional organizations, use them to help identify conferences catering to your specific industry, customers or career professionals. These conventions offer a variety of workshops, speakers, and panel discussions that should help with your small business planning. In addition, if you go to a conference that also features an expo (company booths selling products and services), be sure to make use of the opportunity to talk informally with other small business owners about their philosophies, customers, products, services, and plans for the future.
- Industry websites, periodicals and surveys
- Professional organizations
- Small business owners
- Conferences and Expos
Small Business Planning: Moving Ahead
After this research is complete, you should create a small business plan with 1 - 5 specific ideas for products to sell, along with their target markets. Once you've picked the products to sell, describe each one in writing and list its benefits, target market, ballpark cost and price, estimated demand, likely competition, possible pitfalls, and your personal feelings about its potential success.
Then try pitching the different products to some trusted friends (as long as you value their opinions, of course). If no one comes to mind, the Small Business Administration sponsors a corps of retired executives (SCORE) who volunteer to give free advice. Many colleges and universities also have instructors who teach courses on small business planning. Paying them for an hour or two of consulting time to get some constructive feedback can be money wisely invested. Some Chambers of Commerce offer partnership programs for small businesses, and will match you with well-established company as a public service. Talking with a franchise consultant may be worth your time as well, especially if you would prefer not to start your small business from scratch.
Once you've finally picked a product and target market, your small business planning can begin in earnest. Use some of the information you've gathered to put together a full-blown business and marketing plan. If you need help, both the SBA and many colleges and universities offer courses and advice on small business planning.
While this process of picking a product and target marked can definitely be a lot of work, the ends definitely justify the means. Owning a small business can be exhilarating and profitable, but more entrepreneurs fail in their first try than succeed. Engaging in detailed, specific small business planning will give you a solid foundation that many other entrepreneurs lack, and increase your odds of having a successful future.