Your Start-Up Business
By Jay Arthur
With so many people out of work during this recession, it
should come as no surprise that many are thinking about starting
their own businesses. And with so many jobs moving offshore, even
people who are still employed might consider starting a business as
a back-up plan. Even if you’re the owner of a successful start-up,
the recession might have you worried. So how can long-standing
business owners and first-time entrepreneurs survive these tough
times? There’s an easy way to mistake-proof any business – all it
takes is a little time using free online tools and search engine
research with Google.
Mistake 1: Not
Listening to the Voice of the Customer:
Most entrepreneurs become enchanted with an idea and pursue
it without thinking it through. They end up with a garage filled
with unsalable merchandise and wonder what went wrong. Others open a
store and name it something cute, like a hair salon named Curl Up
And Dye. Or they start an Internet business but don’t bother to
understand what customers really want. Why do they fail? The answer
is simple; they didn’t understand the “voice of the customer.”
Businesses large and small can collect and analyze the voice of the
customer to understand what customers want and how to deliver it.
Toyota uses this to design better cars, and you can use it to design
a better product or service.
First, figure out where the crowds of customers are going and
then get in front of the crowd. In the old days, this would involve
lots of market research, focus groups and money. Today, these
answers can be easily found on the Internet for free with Google’s
key word tool.
Let’s say you want to start a pet food bakery that makes
healthy treats for dogs and cats. Just search Google’s keyword tool
for “pet bakery” and “pet food.” You’ll quickly discover that there
are over 500,000 searches a month for “pet food” but only 8,000 a
month for “pet bakery.”
There are also 33,000 searches a month for “wellness pet
food.” From this one might conclude that “pet food” is too broad and
would have to compete with the big chains; “pet bakery” is too
narrow; but “wellness pet food” might be just the niche to explore
because these customers are probably willing to pay a premium.
Mistake 2: Not
Speaking Your Customer's Language:
As learned from Mistake 1, customer language can differ from
our own. Based on the search terms above, it might be smarter to
name your store “Wellness Pet Food” (customer language) instead of
“Bow Wow Biscuits” (your language) because that’s what the crowd
wants. Don't paraphrase (using healthy instead of wellness);
use the customer's exact words. Then check domain name availability
for “wellness-pet-food.com” or “wellness_pet_food.com.” If it's
available, register it (try a site such as www.GoDaddy.com); if not,
try adding other key words likely to attract customers such as your
Be aware that Google cannot identify compound words, so
registering a site like “WellnessPetFood.com” won’t be as effective
as “Wellness_Pet_Food.com.” Separate the words with a dash or
underscore to improve the site’s search engine ranking.
This "get in front of the crowd" strategy also works for
service businesses. Let’s say you are a hypnotherapist in Denver
with “HypnoDenver.com” as your site. Many other hypnotherapists in
town also have hypnosomething.com as their site name. What
are prospects searching for? They don't want “hypnosis;” they want
to “stop smoking” or “lose weight.” Domain names like
“Stop-Smoking-Denver.com” and “Lose-Weight-Denver.com” would be a
With more than 100 million Internet users in the U.S. and
billions of Internet-capable cell phones, no business can afford to
ignore the power of the web. Even if you don’t plan on having a Web
site, you will want to own the domain name to prevent others from
using it. And if the business succeeds locally, having the domain
name will make it easy to expand into a regional, national or global
Mistake 3: Not
Making Your Product or Service Better, Faster and Cheaper:
entrepreneurs try to enter an already crowded market. Search the
Internet for your product or service to find out how many
competitors are out there. When searching for the key words, "pet
food Denver," Google finds 726,000 results. "Wellness pet food
Denver" yields 149,000 results. If Google reveals too many
competitors, consider another line of business. If Google reveals
no competitors, that can be just as bad. Someone, somewhere
should be offering a similar product or service. If not, there
are no customers.
“Pet food” for example, is crowded with low cost super
chains. From the voice of the customer perspective, customers want
you to be better, faster and cheaper than the
competition. Are you more innovative? Do you provide better customer
service? Are you more effective and efficient? When customers can't
distinguish one business from another, they default to the familiar
or low cost one. If you’re not sure what customers want in a
particular product or service, start by asking your friends, family,
neighbors, and even people on the street. Capture their responses.
In general, are they saying:
“I want better
________ (e.g., pet food).”
“I want cheaper
________ (e.g., cell phone service).”
“I want faster
___________ (e.g., healthcare, service, delivery, repair, etc.)
Then ask: “What is the competition offering (better, faster
or cheaper)? What can we do differently?” If you can’t answer these
questions, neither can your customers.
Mistake 4: Not
Testing the Business Concept:
Once Google has revealed what customers want (in their language, not
yours) and you’ve identified a unique value proposition from the
voice of the customer (better, faster or cheaper), it’s time to test
the concept. For this, Google offers another powerful tool: Adwords.
Google makes its money by putting ads around its search results.
Many entrepreneurs use Adwords to test business and marketing
concepts before they throw a lot of money at it.
Tim Ferriss, bestselling author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,”
used Adwords to test various titles for his new book. He bought
pay-per-click ads using various titles (Adwords will alternate them
for you) and each ad took the Internet user to a different Web page
about the book. Ferriss let the “wisdom of crowds” choose the best
title for him. All of this research might take a few weeks and a few
hundred dollars, but it’s a lot cheaper than wasting your
hard-earned money on a doomed startup.
Mistake 5: Not
Bootstrapping the Business:
Most people start looking for a "business loan" (3,350,000
Google searches) before they think about a "business plan"
(1,500,000 searches). Entrepreneurs don’t always need a lot of money
to get started. If Mrs. Robin Andrew's third grade class at Pelham
Elementary School in Pelham NH can start The Bow Wow Biscuit
Company, you can too.
If the business is a product, don't make 10,000 of them. Put
up a Web site; bake a few in your kitchen and sell them online or
give away free samples to test the response. Or make a prototype and
get people to try it and provide feedback. Post-it™ notes are a
classic example of this and look at how successful they are. When
customers start clamoring to buy your products, then get money to do
a production run.
If the business idea is a service, print some business cards
(carefully crafted with the crowd's keywords and phrases) and pass
them out at local business meetings. This is how entrepreneurs
bootstrap businesses that grow. It's also how they avoid sinking
huge sums of money into bad ideas. This “crawl-walk-run” strategy
works as well for new businesses as it does for new babies.
If the first business idea doesn't click, try another one.
Walt Disney went bankrupt several times before succeeding … but then
again, he didn't have Google. Good luck with your start-up!
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