Does your product or service have a market? No, does it really? Is this market growing, what is its exact size and potential? Don’t have the answers? Don’t leave it up to a vacant shop or quiet sales line to tell you.
All to often, these sorts of questions catch the new business owner off guard. This is surprising considering that you would expect an immediate and emphatic ‘Yes!’ Those that don’t have an answer are effectively walking blind – very dangerous.
The reason why answers to these questions are not forthcoming is that small business owners do not plan. There are simply not enough hours in the day to do so. Instead, even the most critical business decisions come down to a gut feeling. And, without any evidence that a decision is the right one, these gut reactions are often nothing more than a gamble – sometimes they will pay off, but, sometimes they won’t.
It may be time to start asking questions.
If you have invested any amount of time and/or money in your venture, you owe it to yourself to take a quick reality check, if only to reaffirm that you have a real opportunity to provide something special/valuable to your customers.
Do I have competitors? Are any more entering the market?
Competitors are fantastic. Their existence provides you will clear cut evidence that there is an existing and receptive market for your products and/or services. As more and more enter the market, you can rest confident that there will be even more opportunities to expand.
This is not to say that competitors do not warrant concern. But, if you can find a niche within the market and grow it, half the uncertainty is taken care of.
Are substitute/alternative products luring my customers away?
The economy is dynamic. No questions about it. Over the years, and at an increasing pace, entire industries have come and gone. How many film cameras or typewriters are sold today?
When customers start doing business with other firms, who are not direct competitors, you may need to start making plans. This does not mean that you need to abandon your business, but, perhaps your products may be attractive to another non-traditional market.
Are customers making their decisions based purely on price?
If so, you are failing to add value to your product or service, and so, are unable to charge a reasonable amount. What is your customers number one priority; speedy delivery, consistent quality, product customisation? Make this your priority too, and they will always pay a premium for your ability to meet there most important needs.
How am I planning to shake things up?
Changes in the market are unsettling, that is, for everyone but the company driving the change! When you develop your business strategy, make sure you have a plan to not simply service the needs of the market, but, to change them by raising expectations. This can be as simple as dispatching goods for same-day delivery, producing product under a customer’s name, or keeping your service support phone line open a few minutes later than usual.
If you can do this, and do it regularly, you’re in a position to drive market change causing other competitors to incur expenses to catch up. The beauty, of course, is that they would not have budgeted to do so.
A business, almost by definition, exists for the sole purpose of serving customers. While it is sometimes easy to take for granted that those customers exist, past success is by no means a guarantee. The only way to minimise the risk of unexpected surprises is to create them yourself. If someone has to make life difficult for competitors, why should it not be you?