Behind every successful business you'll find at least one great idea. For most people, the definition of a successful business is one which is profitable, and a profitable business is built upon ideas that have been properly researched.
Here are some steps you can take to research your idea and turn it into a profitable business:
1. Make a list of the reasons why you want to go into business for yourself. Look at your list critically. Does starting your own business help you realize these things?
2. Make a list of the things you like to do with your time. Success can be elusive if you're not truly excited about your business. What are your interests and hobbies? What are you good at? What do other people say you are good at? This list represents broad business models which will give you the greatest joy over time. Decide which item(s) on your list you would most like to develop into a business.
3. Focus on filling a niche. It is your expertise, uniquely practiced and applied within your business field, that creates your niche in the market. Throughout the research stage of your idea, pay close attention to how your business can fill a niche.
4. Talk to friends or family who own or work in a similar business. Get their input on your idea. What needs improved on? Why should it be improved and how? Talk to business owners in neighboring towns - so you won't be perceived as a competitor - and get their input on your idea. These people will likely have insights you never considered.
5. Participate in discussion forums. This is a great way to take the pulse of your potential customers. You can also see trends, get feedback, and establish working relationships with like-minded people.
6. Evaluate the demand for your product or service. You need to understand the pace and direction of your industry. This understanding alerts you to shortcomings with your idea and helps you channel your energies correctly. It also helps you approach your business with innovation and vision.
For a snapshot of demand by Internet users for your product of service, try the search tool at Overture.com. It shows how often people are searching for terms related to your business idea: http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/
You should also analyze the available research data. There are several professional organizations which gather data on a wide variety of subjects. Here a few starting points:
Nua Internet Surveys http://www.nua.ie/surveys/
Forrester Research http://www.forrester.com
National Association for the Self-Employed http://www.nase.org/
National Foundation of Women Business Owners http://www.nfwbo.org/
Fortune Small Business http://www.pathfinder.com/fortunesb
National Federation of Independent Business http://www.nfib.com/
7. Research businesses in your surrounding area in order to size up the competition. Look for ways you can gain a business advantage over your competitors. Ask yourself how your business will be better and different.
8. Visit your competitors online. To speed up online searches, utilize Dogpile's multiple search capabilities. Dogpile queries the top engines for your search term and returns the top 10 listings for each. http://www.dogpile.com
Another valuable tool you can use to monitor your competitors is The Informant. This free tool uses search engines to find web sites fitting your description. Whenever a new site is added to the top search results they will notify you by email. http://informant.dartmouth.edu
9. Define the operation of your business. Here are some key questions you should answer:
What skills and experience do you bring into the business?
-- What are your fixed costs and expenses?
-- How long will it take to make a profit?
-- What laws do you need to comply with?
-- If you need financing where will you get it?
-- Do you need insurance coverage specific to your business?
-- What will be the legal structure of your business?
For help with these questions try these resources:
Budget Calculator from IdeaCafe http://www.ideacafe.com/getmoney/fgr_budget.html
Startup tutorial by the Small Business Administration http://www.sba.gov/starting/getting.html
Free email counseling from SCORE http://www.score.org/
10. With the information gathered from the steps above, you now have the means to begin writing a comprehensive business and marketing plan. For help in this area try the resources and software available at:http://www.bplans.com
At the root level, the small business owner has a burning desire to succeed, a "never quit" attitude, and the ability to attract and implement needed resources. All you have to do is throw your research and planning into the mix and you're well on your way to a successful business.
By Brett Krkosska