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Targeting Your Business’ Product or Service to Market Needs

Q: Other than my own ideas and inclinations, what external resources can I use to determine my new business’ products or services?

A: With your ideal job description in mind, begin researching your product or service and target market.  Reading industry websites, periodicals and surveys is a good way to start.  They will give you general trends, highlight successful (and unsuccessful) companies, 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.  In your case, google contact info for of the Administrative Management Society, Association of information Systems Professionals, Data Processing Managers Association, Sales and Marketing Executives International, and the Society for Marketing Professional Services.  Also check your local Chamber of Commerce calendar for programs it may offer for owners of small businesses.

Talking with other entrepreneurs will often reduce time and error in picking your product or service and customer base.  While you may not choose to discuss your ideas with potential competitors, entrepreneurs in every field make marketing decisions.  They can give you solid advice based on their experiences.  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.

Often, chambers of commerce, professional or trade organizations, or for-profit special event companies sponsor conferences with expos (company booths selling products and services) catering to specific industries, customers, or career professionals.  These conventions offer a variety of workshops, speakers, and panel discussions, and booths provide the opportunity to talk informally with other business owners about their philosophies, customers, products, services, and plans for the future. The Infomart, a technology industry showcase located in Dallas, for example, hosts regularly scheduled events for IT professionals and their customers each year.

After some concentrated research, you should focus on one to five specific ideas for products and services and their target markets.  Once you've defined your options, describe each of them writing.  Include their attributes, benefits, market, ball-park cost and price, guesstimated demand, likely competition, possible pitfalls, and your personal feelings about the potential success of each of them. 

Then make appointments with business acquaintances whom you trust to evaluate your alternatives.  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 have instructors who teach courses on starting a business.  Paying them for an hour or two of their consulting time can be money wisely invested. Some Chambers of Commerce offer partnership programs for new businesses, matching a well-established firm with a fledgling one as a public service.  You might consider using your banker, attorney, CPA, or financial planner as a sounding board as well. Talking with a franchise consultant may be worth your time as well, especially if you would prefer not to start your business from scratch.

            If you receive conflicting opinions (it's inevitable that not everyone will agree), use your best judgment.  You may choose to ignore feedback from other experts if your initial findings strongly point to a specific product or service and market.  Advice from others isn't critical to the process, but it can sometimes provide valuable perspective, particularly if you have little experience with small-business issues.

            Once you've focused on your product or service and market, it's time to develop full-blown business and marketing plans.  If you need help, both the SBA and many colleges and universities offer courses and advice on how to prepare them.

            While the process for finding your niche is a lot of work, the end justifies the means.  Owning a small business can be exhilarating and profitable, but more entrepreneurs fail in their first try than succeed.  Developing specific plans for your fledgling enterprise will give it a solid foundation and increase its odds for a successful future.

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