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Selecting a Venture
The basic rule is simple: "Find a market need and fill it!" The process of finding the need, and the method chosen to fill it are where the difficulties arise.
Based on our opportunity scan, does the market need a product or service that is not currently being provided? Is there a needed product or service currently being provided in a less than satisfactory way? Is some particular market being underserved due to capacity shortages or location gaps? Can we serve any of these needs with some competitive advantage?
Remember that a business idea is not a business opportunity until it is evaluated objectively and judged to be feasible. You may wish to choose two to five of the ideas that seem most promising for more detailed study. Trying to consider too many would spread your time, energy and focus too thin. At the same time, if you focus too early on only one business idea, you are more likely to become "attached" to it, and could lose your objectivity.
Testing the feasibility of your top business ideas involves time and effort to collect key information. A first pass might consist of consulting recent journal articles that evaluate the market of interest; most libraries have computer-based indexes of periodical articles, such as InfoTrac. Other useful library resources include industry trade books, directories, and other sources of industry statistics.
Data collected from industry sources and journal articles is often referred to as secondary data, in that it was collected for purposes not directly related to our specific venture. Sometimes this can be sufficient, though we may find the need to fill the gaps with primary data. Collection of primary data can be very expensive. It generally consists of conducting market surveys, in person or by telephone, of a statistically significant random sample of our prospective clientele.
Craft an entry strategy. What type of business could best seize the chosen opportunity? Would taking in partners with complementary skills enhance my chances for success? What would be the optimum location? Whom would we serve, and how? Would my chances be improved by buying a franchise or an existing business, as opposed to starting a venture "from scratch?"
A small business is the usual product of entrepreneurship. Can a person start a large business? Only 4% of businesses employ over 20 people at start-up. What kinds of businesses are the larger start-ups likely to be? My sense is that most would be food service businesses, and many of those would be franchises.
Over half of business start-ups consist of 1 or 2 employees. What kinds of businesses can you enter with only 1 or 2 employees? Most would probably be considered professional practices (medical, law, accounting) rather than commercial businesses.
Small businesses are characterized by independent management, closely-held ownership, a primarily local area of operations, and a scale that is small in comparison with competitors. Many are small by design, or are "lifestyle" businesses, where the primary objective is employment for the principals.
Many are intended to be more "entrepreneurial ventures," with the intention of generating substantial growth in scale of operations and profitability. Successful entrepreneurs craft such an idea into a business concept that, hopefully, fills a void in the marketplace. You should enjoy your concept and be excited enough to relay your feelings to your market.
Your concept does not need to be a major breakthrough. It could simply be an improvement to an existing product or service. The improvement could be as simple as better service and/or quality than is currently available, a faster or otherwise better method of delivery, or a technological improvement.
Solicit input from friends and other consumers of the product as currently offered. Ask questions like: Is there a need? Would YOU buy it? What price would you expect to pay for it? Is there a better way to provide it?
Check out how the competition is providing the product to the market. Determine what makes your concept different from the competition. Why would the market be better off doing business with you? What can you give the market to improve their experience with the product? Does your product or service exceed the expectations of the market?
Define the needs of your market by listening to the customers and understanding how your product might fill that need. Is there something more you could do, to make it more attractive to your market? Is your product a solution to a problem in your market? How will you handle customer service complaints? What are your guarantees to your customers?
Statistics show that 80% of company sales come from repeat orders and referrals from satisfied customers. Exceed your customers' expectations and they will be back, and they will refer you to others.
Refining and improving your concept is an ongoing process. Maintain a high profile in your community to develop relationships that help promote the product and serve as a referral and constructive feedback network. This involvement will only produce these benefits, however, if you are sincere in your willingness to work hard for the community you live in. If you don't the available time to offer your community, perhaps you could give your product as a gift to local charities or sponsor a local event where your community would benefit.
John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has almost 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, author, and college professor. For 20 of those years, Dr. Vinturella was owner/president of a distribution company that he founded. He is a principal in business opportunity sites jbv.com and muddledconcept.com, and maintains business and political blogs.
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