Sunday, December 30, 2007
- Find business partners, co-founders, executives and board members
- Network with other entrepreneurs and small businesses
- Ask for and offer up advice
- Find commercial real estate
- Find service providers for your business
After registering (which is free) and taking a look around their site, I think that one of the most helpful parts is simply being in a place where you can find others to collaborate with. I know many people that either come up with any idea (but don't have the business skills and/or financing) or have the business skills (but don't have an idea). This is one solution or shall I say --- an opportunity! That said, there is also a little risk in putting yourself out there online.
Businesses are not started in solitude, but rather through a network of people. Even in small businesses where there is a sole owner/founder, that individual is relying on a network of others to give referrals, offer quality support, provide professional services, etc.
I am curious as to what others think of this site or other online networking sites for entrepreneurs, as I do feel the need to connect people together in an entrepreneurial capacity (for the human capital side of things rather than the financial capital) is an important one and much more could be done here.
Friday, December 28, 2007
(1) Think BIG - If there were absolutely no constraints, what would you really want to have/do? I think this must be how MetroNaps was discovered - the founders thought it would be nice to be able to take a nap in a comfty place in the middle of their work day!!!
(2) Examine available space - Take a look around your community at which space/buildings are vacant and then think about what would be ideal there. Another source for available space are the many realtor site listing the specifications of different properties available for lease/sale.
(3) Forced relationship - This is for those creative, non-linear thinkers out there! Select two objects and then examine every way in which the two objects can be combined (adjectives, nouns, verb-correlates). For example, take a grape and an apple - you would come up with a 'grapey apple, grape apple, or graping apple.' Now, that might sound silly to you, but so does the grapple (an apple infused with grape flavor) offered for sale at the grocery store!
(4) Problem analysis - Focus on what really annoys you and then try to think of ways that you could solve the problem.
(5) Imitate an existing business model - There are a lot of innovative business that work. Now, instead of trying to reinvent yourself, copy their business model in your area of expertise! For instance, Netflix has an awesome business model that really works. We are now seeing the Netflix model being applied to other sectors - such as books on tape. Where else could you apply it? What about other great business models such as Dell, Amazon, or Ebay?
One last tip is to keep a running list of your ideas, whether it be in a notebook, computer file or cell phone. Then, revisit them from time to time so that you can develop them further.
Best of luck!
Monday, December 17, 2007
If you do a search at Amazon.com for books under the topic of 'business plan,' you will find a staggering 69,736 titles. Likewise, if you google 'business plan,' it comes up with 91,500,000 results!!! But, my question for you is - what really is a business plan?
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a plan is defined as 'a scheme, program, or method worked out beforehand for the accomplishment of an objective.' So, if we apply this to a business plan, it essentially is figuring out beforehand how you are going to successfully start up your business. There are many different business plan outlines, because figuring out the how question can vary depending upon the type of business and how complex it is. That said, most business plans address the following questions:
Company: How will you be organized and bring in the personnel to exploit this opportunity?
Product/Service: What are the features and how will they benefit the customer?
Target Market: What is happening in the industry and how will your business fit into the mix?
Competition: Who are your existing and future competitors and how will you compete?
Sales and Marketing: How will you create an effective strategy to attract and sell to your customer?
Operations: How will you actually get the business up and running?
Financials: How will you make money and maintain financial feasibility?
It is important to note that technically, a business plan does not need to be written. Why? Because nothing about the definition says anything about being written. It is about planning! Of course, I suggest writing down your business plan because it is a lot of planning to keep in your head, and research does show that if you write down your goals/objectives, you are much more likely to achieve them. You will also need a written business plan to pitch your idea to important stakeholders such as investors, lenders, and key partners. Interestingly, there is a study out by Honig and Karlsson published in the Journal of Management in 2004 that found that the mere writing of a business plan is not linked to survival or higher levels of profitability in the first two years of a business. Why? My answer is that what is more important than going through the act of writing the business plan is how well you answer the how questions.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The most obvious starting point is the competitor's website. Here, you can find out details such as their logo, sales and marketing strategy, promotions, pricing, hours of operation, etc. However, don't just stop there.
Next, do a search of newspaper and magazine articles. It is here that you might find out more important details such as estimated sales, any negative occurances, management changes and more.
Then, it starts to get fun. Do a general web search (such as google or my personal favorite dogpile.com) to see what you can find. Pay special attention to blogs. People share a lot of information in their blogs - for both personal and commercial usage. Some of the more interesting ones to read are the personal blogs where current and prior customers talk about how good/bad their experience was.
You can also look for industry related websites that offer ratings. Make sure you not only look at the ratings, but also the comments included as they can also give you some insight into how they are doing. For example, on milwaukeemoms.com, the members (mostly females with children) have rated how kid-friendly restaurants are in the area. On dine.com, you can see customer ratings on restaurants across the U.S.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
For those of you considering opening your own business, it begs the question of whether or not the web is a good 'starter' market to assess your opportunity. You can see what works and what doesn't. You can also collect some data to more accurately determine whom your target customer is and what their precise needs and preferences are. Then, if success seems to be coming your way, you can continue to capitalize on the online market while also entering the bricks and mortar retail market. Your chances of success in the more costly bricks and mortar market will hopefully be improved based on the previous business experience, growing reputation and more overall knowledge about the opportunity. It will also likely help you obtain the financing necessary as you can show more support for your business plan.