4 Questions You Must Ask Before Starting A Business
If you're thinking about starting a business this year...congratulations! Business ownership is all about betting on yourself and creating your own opportunities. Whether you buy into a franchise, lease some space and start your own thing, or build an e-commerce website, doing it on your own has never been more alluring. But just because you have an interest in entrepreneurship, or an incredible skill, or access to merchandise does not mean you're quite ready to open the doors to your own business.
Starting a business without a strong foundation can hinder your success before you even start. If you open your doors prematurely, you risk making a bad first impression or targeting the wrong audience. That can be hard to recover from. So before you hang that open sign and roll out your welcome mat, make sure you know the answers to these questions.
What Makes You/Your Business Unique?
Unless you hold the patent to a never-before-seen product, it's likely you're opening a type of business that already exists. This isn't a reason to not start your business. But it is a reality you have to face. You are probably doing something that is already offered somewhere else by someone else. If you're fortunate, it doesn't exist in your town or area.
But chances are you likely have some sort of competition for what you’re offering to do or sell. If this is the case, how do you attract customers to come to your business instead of your competition?
You need to identify and be able to clearly communicate what makes you different. Many people claim their customer service sets them apart. Spend some time watching ads or reading them in your stream on social media. You'll realize that service is not a unique selling point. Everyone thinks they offer it.
Your unique selling point could be your sales environment, a guarantee, a pricing offer (although that’s a slippery slope to underbidding), something about how you perform your service, or what's included with the purchase.
Once you know what makes you unique, you want to create a plan to communicate that to your ideal audience.
Who Are You Selling To?
If you just answered "everyone," take a pause because there's a good chance you're wasting your time and money. There's at least one group of people - hopefully several - who understand, need, and want what you're selling. Marketing to the rest of the world is a waste of resources. For instance, if you own a yarn store and you market specifically to people who love fabric arts and knitting, you will most likely bring in new customers. However, marketing to those who prefer active, physical hobbies may only get you a handful of clicks on your Facebook posts and ads. Those clicks likely will not convert to sales. Focus on those you know you’ll have success with (your target market) before you consider converting others.
What Problems Are You Solving and Are They Worth It?
Are you actively solving a problem for your target market?Most marketing experts will tell you that you need to focus on a problem and present your business as the solution.
This is true no matter what sort of business you have. Even if you're operating a restaurant, you're solving a problem: satisfying someone's hunger.
But this advice is only the beginning. You have to ask if the problem you're trying to solve is actually worth solving. You have to know whether someone feels bothered enough by it that they're going to take action and pay money to make it go away.
I'm reminded of an episode of Shark Tank where a married couple lamented the problem of strands of her long hair sticking to the shower walls (and eventually clogging the drain). To remedy this, they created a shower brush. They used it to brush the hair off the shower walls. The hair then became trapped in the brush’s bristles, and it could be disposed of easily after the shower without clogging the drain.
None of the Sharks invested. Why? The product solved a problem. Sadly, it was a problem no one was inconvenienced enough by to be spurred into action.
Who Is Supporting You?
Of all the questions, this one might seem the least important at first...but it truly is the most important.
Take a moment to think about who is supporting you, not only from a financial perspective, but from a mental health and business resources perspective. You will be more successful in business if you have support of friends or family or someone within the community who can mentor you and help you with resources.
When Jeff Bezos wanted to build a larger bed, his mother didn't stop him. In fact, she took him to the hardware store and helped him get the pieces he needed to create the sleeping area he had dreamed of. She supported his vision when she could have just gone out and bought him a new bed. You need someone like that in your corner when you decide to become a business owner.
In addition to someone who will support your vision, you need someone to help connect you with resources and introduce you to people who can make a difference in your business. This is why we are here: your Lewis County Chamber of Commerce offers learning opportunities, networking events, and advocacy for businesses. In your quest to find support, we should be one of your first stops.
If you're looking to start your own business, answer these questions first. If you're someone who's already started a business, what questions do you wish you had asked before opening?
Written by Chris Bailey. Chris is the Executive Director of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. When he's not helping his community and businesses prosper, Chris enjoys hiking West Virginia state parks with his wife Carrie, having a good beer and barbecue, and solving the daily NY Times crossword puzzle.