Starting a successful business is hard, but let’s not presume that entrepreneurship itself is intrinsically riskier than other things that popular culture deems as “acceptable.”
You’ll never be able to completely avoid risk, either in your personal or professional life, but you can mitigate it significantly by having a solid game plan in place. You need a proven system that will help you determine which ideas are worth pursuing so that you don’t become a statistic of America, Inc.
You want to be as certain as possible that your business will succeed before you launch. In other words, you need to “fail proof” it. Luckily for you, I’ve developed a process to get you as close to 100 percent sure as humanly possible.
I call this process “Three Question Validation.”
At it’s core, Three Question Validation involves answering three pivotal questions to determine if your business idea is viable and likely to succeed. It’s a compact method to test if your idea holds water before you waste the time, energy and money on something that isn’t going to work.
If you can say “yes” to all three of them, you have an idea that’s likely to do very well. If you can’t say “yes” to all of them, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
1“Is there competition in my space?”
Contrary to popular belief, you want competitors in your space. If you find a market that’s 100 percent unoccupied you’re either the first one there (risky in that nothing has been tested) or you didn’t get the memo (other people have tried unsuccessfully and abandoned the market).
Being the first isn’t horrible, but there’s less of a roadmap to follow. Being last doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to make your idea work in the marketplace…but that will take considerably more work.
Remember, the purpose of this freelance business doesn’t have to be finding the #1 thing you want to do for the rest of your life. It’s a bridge to freedom. It’s a tool to earn some more money as you get the rest of your life in order. Over time, you may find other things you like more. That’s totally OK.
For now, let’s try to pick something that has a high probability of succeeding so that you can build your confidence, business savvy and skill set.
Pick something where there appear to be many other people doing what you’d like to do. If you can answer “yes” to this question, it’s time to move on to the next question.
2“Are my competitors making money?”
A bit of a no-brainer, but very important to consider: Even if there are people doing what you want to do, you need to make sure they have enough clients and are making the type of money you’d like to make.
This step will ensure that it’s worth your time to invest in your idea. There are a bunch of different ways to tell how well your competition is doing. You could look on their website for testimonials and client success stories. Browse through their portfolio if they have one.
Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!
You could stop in (if they are local) and talk to them, or give them a call over the phone. Ask about rates, schedule and typical client experience. (Obviously, don’t tell them why you’re doing the research.)
I love looking at unbiased third party sites like Yelp to see what their rating is, and what customers have to say. You don’t need to get exact revenue numbers. The point here is just to get a general sense for how they’re doing. If other people are successfully getting clients and customers, so can you.
3“Can I do my product/service/idea differently and/or better?”
This is the question that ties everything together. You’ve found your competition. They appear to have some business. Now what?
It’s time to make your stand by standing out.
For customers to buy your idea instead of, or in addition to, another company’s, you must show why your product or service is different and/or better. If you can show why you’re unique, you’ll attract just the right customers who are perfect for your business. The type of clients who will buy from you time and again, and who will continually refer you to all their friends.
This point of difference between you and your competition is called a USP, short for “Unique Sales Proposition.” Here are five examples of how to stand out with a Unique Sales Position:
- Better/lower price
- Better quality/aesthetic
- Better variety
- Better customer service or guarantee.
There’s no “right” USP, and you don’t only have to stick to one. Test your market. These are some ideas to get you started immediately.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk
Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…
You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.
Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.
It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.
There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…
Step 01: Do your research
No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.
Step 02: Understand the costs
Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.
A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.
Step 03: Know when to walk away
As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.
You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.
Mind The Gap
The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.
Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.
Here are five…
It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.
2. Look for pain
Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.
Be the Panado that fixes these pains.
This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.
4. Luck needs courage
You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.
Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.
5. Pay attention
This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.
5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business
As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.
Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.
Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”
As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:
1. This too shall pass
Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.
2. Appreciate what this phase brings
The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.
3. Establish boundaries
Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.
4. Take a break
Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.
5. Give it space to make mistakes
While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.
During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.
While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.