Launching a business can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor. But passion and vision are not enough. You also need the right tools and strategies to get your business off the ground and turn it into a lasting success.
Today, we’re interviewing author and entrepreneur Jenn Aubert for her tips on starting a business and researching your market. Her first book Women Entrepreneur Revolution: Ready! Set! Launch! explores the mindset, motivation, and behaviors of successful female entrepreneurs. She is also the co-founder and CEO of LearnSavvy, an online education marketplace and community for women business owners. Read the Q&A below to learn Jenn's practical advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
You talked to more than 100 women entrepreneurs while researching your book. Did you focus on certain industries or cover a wide variety?
I was purposeful in reaching out to women in a variety of different industries and geographies. I didn’t want to hear just from one sector such as technology or fashion. I was lucky that during the research of the book I was introduced to women in several different industries including construction, breweries, financial services, and consulting.
Why do you think so many people are choosing an entrepreneurial lifestyle or dream of starting their own business someday?
Fortunately, in this day and age it is much easier to become an entrepreneur, launch a business, or simply start a business on the side. The barriers to entry have all but disappeared thanks to technology and the Internet. We can build a site or online store with ease, people are deeply connected and shop, socialize, and research online, and we have direct access to our customer via social media.
The one downside is that the marketplace is very noisy, and in order to stand out, you really need to be clear on who you are, why you’re in business, how you’re different, and who you serve. It’s never been smarter to niche down and serve a specific population.
Simultaneously, people have realized that the traditional corporate route isn’t as predictable or stable as it once was (or at least as it was perceived to be), and many people are craving more freedom and autonomy. They want more control over their schedules, their work, and their creative output. It’s an amazing time to be alive and to be starting a business.
How can entrepreneurs find out if there is a market for their business — before diving in headfirst?
That is a great question because you can have all the passion in the world for something, but that doesn’t mean you have a market for whatever it is that you’re hoping to sell.
Research. Research. Research some more: First off, you really have to do some research. Google is clearly the first tool. Start a keyword search and find out what comes up. If there are others doing what you’re doing, that’s a good thing! Read up on the market itself. There are plenty of reports that are published on industries such as e-learning, wearable technology, and so on. Read the reports! Then set up some Google alerts on your industry and competitors and see how they’re performing, how they connect with their audience, and how much they typically sell (and how much and how often they discount) their product or service. Research doesn’t stop at the beginning — continue to keep these alerts alive because you’ll learn a ton from paying attention to how other companies behave.
Ask your ideal customer: Let’s get one thing straight, your mom, best friend, or spouse is typically not your ideal customer, so don’t delude yourself by asking them if they think your idea will fly. They love you and will nod their head affirmatively even if they don’t understand a word you’re saying. If you have an audience via your email list or social media, begin to share your idea. Survey your tribe, get feedback, ask questions, and listen closely. You can also poke around Facebook groups, Quora, or other forums and ask questions and get feedback. If your audience (the audience that your product/service is targeted to) doesn’t respond favorably, it’s worth taking a harder look at what you’re planning to create. You may not need to give up just yet, but you may need to refine your idea, change your ideal customer, or tweak the offering.
Talk with competitors: Contact your potential competitors to chat about the market. Be upfront with your intentions when you reach out. Find out how well they’re doing and what hurdles they’ve had to overcome. Ask them what advice they would give to someone just entering this market. You may have competing products, but you may be serving a different market. It is always worth reaching out to connect because you never know where it might lead in terms of joint projects and potential collaboration opportunities.
Does it solve a real problem: Yes, you can say that Twitter didn’t “solve a problem,” but these types of companies are the exception — they’re creating whole new technologies and ways of behaving and thinking. But for most businesses, it is important to ask if you’re solving a real problem for your ideal market. Is this problem being solved in another way? Is it a problem that people know they have or one that may take a lot of persuading for them to realize it’s a problem? Are you providing an obvious solution, or a unique and creative one?
Test it out: You can run Google or Facebook ads and drive people to a landing page that shares with them what is potentially coming soon. See how it’s received. Test out ideas while also collecting great email contacts to potential customers down the road. Share with them that you’re in development and looking for input from the community. People love to be involved in the creation of things, so this can serve multiple purposes.
Are you in it for the long haul: This is really a personal question for you. Can you see yourself doing this (or some iteration of your idea) for three years, five years, or fifteen years? Do you love the idea enough to work on it without any accolades, no raving fans, and no income for the first 18 months? Does the building of this company work with the lifestyle you see for yourself? Are you a mom of two little ones but want to start a particular type of company that requires 18 hour work days outside the home? Are you ok with that? Do you want to start a venture that requires you to be in one place for a set period of time each week, month, or year? Will that make you happy or insane? And can you sustain the energy and patience that is needed to build something great knowing that very, very few companies (if any) become overnight successes?
Are there any common red flags that might indicate whether a market is already saturated?
I think it is easy to see red flags if you’re looking for them. People are so apt to say “Well it’s all been done before,” and that excuse forces them to give up on their dreams. I believe that if you have a burning desire to serve and you have a target audience that is willing to pay for what you have to offer, you can continue onward. The market is slowly becoming more interested in niche products. Do you have a product for men who love to knit? Do you have a service for moms over 40-years-old in urban areas? Find your tribe, deliver tremendous value, share more of your own story, and you’ll find your sweet spot.
What are some research strategies that more seasoned entrepreneurs tend to incorporate into their business planning, that newer entrepreneurs might not consider doing?
Many people and companies are testing products through crowdfunding these days. It’s a great way to not only test if your product has legs but also show proof of concept and active customers to investors. When it comes to crowdfunding, though, people often launch campaigns without a lot of thought or investment. Crowdfunding takes a significant amount of time, and you want to be thoughtful, creative, and willing to invest a bit of money in a quality video before you jump in. You also have to understand crowdfunding is a huge marketing exercise, which in many ways is great practice for building your business.
You write about the importance of mentors and role models in your book. How can role models help entrepreneurs be more successful?
Many people believe they can just do it on their own by sheer will. Research shows that role models can actually be a wonderful tool in one’s personal and professional development. And that certainly holds true when starting and building a business. The problem most people have with the word “model” is believing that it's another form of copying. Which isn’t necessarily true. For people starting businesses who have never done so before or who haven’t been exposed to a parent, friend, or family member who is a business owner, it is great to find role models — either in their community or even in the public sphere — that they can learn from.
Let’s say you want to learn how to start a food business — you might want to identify someone who has done it successfully and read, watch, and listen to everything they’ve written or view interviews they’ve done. That way you can discover how they have found success and use strategies or tips they’ve shared. One role model isn’t enough, and it’s great to have several that serve different purposes. For example, you may watch someone you admire who is an amazing public speaker (if you want to do more public speaking), or you may follow someone who writes spectacular copy and see how she is able to engage with her fan base. You may want to read everything you can on someone who resonates with you that took their company public successfully, or, you may follow someone who has a knack for balancing family and business that really fits with your values.
When it comes to women, it’s important that we seek out other women entrepreneurs as role models, too. We have unique challenges that come up when starting and growing businesses, and it’s great to learn strategies and tactics for navigating those waters from others who have been there and done that — because when we see what’s possible for others, we know it’s possible for ourselves.
Where to Find Additional Tips
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