If you aren’t serving them, sales will be low.
If sales are low you’re out of business. So to borrow from a recent popular commercial – Don’t go out of business from low sales – know your market.
To know your market, you need to do marketing research! Surprise, surprise, right? And yet many business ideas are created with very little understanding of the market.
Most new solo entrepreneurs I have met started a business based on the fact that they are good at something, rather than based on the fact that a particular skill they have, or product they could create, is in hot demand.
I’ve been guilty of it myself.
If you know your market, you can even make money from something as unlikely as self-published poetry
When I think back to my own first venture, I fully understand this. About 17 years ago, I was, of all unlikely things, a poet. I’d won awards, been paid to perform, and people bought enough of my photocopied poetry books (we called them chapbooks) for me to have a second income from poetry. It was only a few hundred bucks a month, but at the time, it seemed like a small fortune to me.
Around that time, there was a renewed interest in spoken word that went far beyond the slam poetry circuit. Peers of mine organized themselves to make money from their craft and so I did too. It wasn’t long before I realized that they’d organized themselves in a way that I hadn’t.
On my first website, I put up a chapbook for sale. After a few months of being the only visitor to the site, I started to read about marketing. Eventually through study, trial and error, I learned that the top buyers of poetry books were other poet and word artists – including many hip-hop artists, who were actually poets at heart.
But I also found out that some of the best poets tended to be the most sensitive, and had trouble finding a home in rap-related forums. So I built a community for like-minded artists to gather, and hone their skills in a safe space.
A few short years later I was running what was then the number three poetry site in the world, making money from sales of my own poetry ebook, and an advertising partnership with About.com. With ad sales I was making an extra two paychecks a month. I became so good at marketing, particularly search marketing, that it became my main focus.
Basic things to research when creating a new product line or starting a new business
Sometimes it’s only after a failure in sales in the short-term that we solo entrepreneurs discover what we need to do in order to earn a living from our endeavors. After all, even those of us who go to business school aren’t necessarily there to learn about marketing.
We can avoid many of these failures by answering a few small basic questions, every time we start a business, create a new product or offer a new service.
To be successful we need to ask ourselves:
Who is my ideal client or customer?
What are their pains and struggles that relate to my product line somehow?
Why is my solution to their problem better than competing products?
Does my ideal client even want this product or service?
If they do, how much is my solution worth?
If they don’t, what could I change to make my solution fit, or should I start over?
Sometimes we assume we know the answers to these questions. Or we know our market so well from a non-marketing perspective that we think we can guess at the answers. Circumstances can change rapidly though, so it’s essential to continue to do marketing research, even if you’re just making improvements to an existing product that is already selling well.
My main obstacle, when I learned that marketing research was essential, was where to find the answers. I didn’t have the budget to do a huge survey, and I didn’t track my in-person sales, so had very few existing customers to query.
Today, there are many digital tools, some of them free, that you can use to do enough marketing research to get started, Next time, we’ll look at some of the top, mostly free tools from Google that can be used for marketing research.
Flickr Image courtesty of Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com