Sarah arrived in France five months ago. She first looked for a job, but quickly realized it wasn’t for her in her new environment. She decided that now was the perfect time to pursue a dream: launch her own business. But where to start? What to do and most importantly what should she sell?
Sarah doesn’t exactly know what she wants. She’s toyed with the idea of selling jewelry online, but she also enjoyed being an HR specialist back in the UK. Feeling torn, she’s turned to friends, family, and research online but she’s not advancing her goal and feels stuck.
Even with an idea, many women starting their own business are unable to get it off the ground.
Entrepreneurship often equates with freedom – to choose your business, schedule, location, clients – but unlimited options can also lead to feeling overwhelmed and analysis paralysis.
Starting a new business is like organizing a meal
There are two ways to go into business, much like how a hostess organizes an upcoming meal with a new friend.
One is to totally improvise, go with the flow, not prep anything, cook what’s in the fridge with the spur of the moment inspiration. On the plus side, it may be a success, particularly if you’re good at improvising and course correcting. But if your guest doesn’t like the baked lasagna with peas, you may end up having to serve them bread and cheese, wasting time, effort and money in the process.
The other way is to go about it more methodically, taking more time upfront to prepare: figure out what recipes you know, what ingredients you enjoy cooking with, what equipment you have and ask your guest about what they enjoy eating. With this approach, come D- day, you can be quick in the kitchen and serve a meal that your friend adores and will rave to others about. The outcome is less random.
This whole process is customer-centric; your objective is to focus on your guest, not on your collection of recipes, ingredients or equipment. If the guest doesn’t want or need a detox smoothie, however skilled you are at making it, it won’t work or it will take too much effort to convince them to drink it.
If you focus on your friend, you’re less likely to go wrong – it won’t be a hard sell and they are more likely to ask you for your recipe or come back for another great meal.
This method may feel counter intuitive because the reason you want your own business is to do what YOU enjoy but the #1 reason businesses fail is lack of need for the product. So a successful approach needs to combine your motivation with what can work.
Take a deep breath. There is an effective and proven 3-step process to forging great and viable business ideas.
1. Cook up a plan by finding your pain point
When exploring business ideas, focusing on your customers is THE key to a profitable business. You have to know their struggles and needs and how you can bring value.
To zero in on this, breakdown your skills, expertise & the market.
If you were cooking that meal, you would look at the ingredients available, the possible recipes and the cooking utensils in place to cook.
- Brainstorm which skills you want to use in your business
- Identify how that could translate into a market need
- Match it to the most likely targets with this need
2. Figure out what works
What are the most viable options for me? What recipe inspires me and will my friend like it?
Position each idea within the diagram
- Motivation: I love this idea, I’m happy to dedicate the next 3 years to it
- Skills: I know what skills are required to help my customers, I have them or know how to acquire them quickly
- Need: I have rock-solid proof of market need – successful competitors, market trends, people looking for a solution.
If, for some of your most motivating ideas, you’re unsure of the market need, don’t panic. You can drill down in the next step.
Discard ALL other ideas, they are not viable.
3. Crash test for the final menu – ask your guest
You will have assumptions on your market, but until you can prove them, they are just opinions. Your may think your idea is THE solution, but you need to check if people have the exact pain point you’re addressing with your current idea (Hint – it’s rarely the case).
The last step is therefore talking to potential customers to validate all their needs, willingness to pay and ease of access. This isn’t about asking them about your idea but rather about getting into your targets’ heads and understanding their current situation. It’s an iterative process.
Be prepared to be disappointed if the need for your idea is not strong enough. It may be painful, but it’s better to know it upfront than after you’ve slaved away in the kitchen for hours just to be met with a tepid and polite “this was good”, never to be repeated.
Validate your three assumptions:
1. Who are my customers?
“Parents of young babies” is not enough. “Time-poor working mothers of children under 2 years, mostly taking average quality photo on their smartphone and feeling frustrated by it” is OK.
2. Where and how to access them?
Should I reach them within my personal network or content marketing? Do I set up a partnership with someone already selling to this target ? Many businesses fail because they have a great product but they can’t seem to get it in front of the right customers.
3. What are they struggling with? What is their current solution?
What is the current solution to their needs, is it good enough or not ? Can you state the problem in their own words?
You will only be able to sell something to someone who:
- Has a problem or need
- Knows they have it
- Are actively trying to fix it
Building a business requires a lot of trial/errors as you start honing in on your market and getting to know who your clients are.
You may end up changing your idea or who your target is or both. It’s good thing. Learn as much as you can so that when you launch your product – like when providing a good meal – people will be clamoring for more.