Are you struggling to come up with a viable business idea? Does it seem like everyone is already offering the same product or service that you want to offer? Or maybe nobody is offering it? Do you have so many ideas that you just don’t know where to start?
Do you look around at blogs, ETSY shops, or other small businesses and think to yourself, “I could do that.”
Well, guess what?
Whether you’re opening an ETSY shop, writing a blog, or offering a product/service, starting your own business truly gives you the freedom to define your lifestyle. Imagine being able to take sick days, give yourself a raise, or finally take that vacation you’ve been planning - all without having to give notice or ask permission. Even if you just want to make a little extra cash on the side, you know that being your own boss will make all the difference. The independence to build your work around your life, instead of the other way around, is truly priceless.
Don’t let the uncertainty of entrepreneurship keep you from creating the life you’ve always dreamed of. Jump into the deep end and take these first simple steps to help you narrow down your product offering, understand your industry, and position your business.
1. Decide what products or services you can offer
To narrow down what exactly you want your business to offer, take out a sheet of paper (or download the Free Business Building Worksheets above) and write a broad list of your skills, talents, qualifications, and passions. List everything that comes to mind. Ask a friend or family member to give you input.
- Under “Skills” you would want to list items like: website design, book keeping, painting, carpentry, or writing. Skills are anything that you can perform or create. Add sub-points beneath each skill that you list to further break down the exact skills you possess. For example, under “carpentry” you may add “hand carved clocks” or “dining room tables” to your list of sub-points.
- Add qualifications or certifications next to your skills. For example, if you added "meal planning" as a skill, maybe one of your qualifications is that you've been the mom of 7 for the last 20 years. OR maybe you've got a degree in the culinary arts. Both qualify your skill and both give you a unique perspective.
- Your talents are things you are naturally good at. These will probably overlap with your skills a bit. For example, if one of your skills is creating custom jewelry, then you may have natural artistic talent. Of course you may also have some skills that don’t flow from a talent at all. A skill of mine is reading sheet music, but I have no musical talent. (like, at all!) For more examples on what separates a "talent" from a "skill" check out this article from Career Pivot.
- Finally, think about your passions. You may be surprised to see how closely related to your skills and talents your passions are. Your passions could be anything from wanting to correct social injustices to creating beautiful paintings to brighten a person’s day. Maybe your passion is crafting the perfect wedding or teaching people how to cook. The great thing about our passions is that they are usually linked to a problem that we just love to solve. Which leads to the next step…
2. Narrow down your product offering
Take a good long look at the list you’ve just made. Has anything lined up? Are there any combinations that stand out to you? Narrow it down to your top three possibilities and ask yourself:
“What problem does this solve for people?”
“How would providing this product/service help someone?”
"How does my product/service make someones life better?"
List all the problems that your top skills, talents, and passions could solve. Think about sustainability. Which option would you be excited to get out of bed to do every day. Consider possible pricing. Which option do you think would be profitable?
Select your favorite option and let’s see if it’s a good idea by doing a little market research.
Note: If you get stuck on any of the following steps, return to this list to select a new product/service.
3. Discover your industry
Is anyone else offering the same product/service that you are? Open your internet browser to your favorite search engine and type in key words about your new business to see what pops up.
- Things to consider: Is your offering limited by geography? If you’re a piano teacher in Seattle, then researching piano teachers in Boston is not going to give you a good feel for your particular market. If you can only work in a single geographic area, make sure to add that qualifier to your search.
Search for your product or service with many qualifying words. “Seattle piano teacher for children,” or “In home Seattle piano teacher,” or “Seattle Suzuki certified piano teacher for children.” You’re looking to identify who your potential competition would be – and potential clients.
Feel free to start with broad search terms like, “piano teacher” to get a feel for your industry as a whole. Then dive down into the many niches you feel your skills, talents, and passions make you uniquely qualified to serve. (a niche is a small subset of your industry – usually the narrower the better…)
Do not get hung up on this exercise, but do make a list (use the Free Business Building Worksheets below) to keep track of what you’ve learned about your industry and niche. Items to keep track of would be: who the 3 big hitters (industry leaders) are, what they charge, and the quality or value of the product/service they offer. (to discover quality, you can always search for reviews.)
If applicable, make a note of which platforms your competition is using to sell their product or service. Don’t be discouraged if there is competition in your niche. This means you’ve chosen a niche that is able to support a business. That is a good thing!
Take a look at your list. How do you stack up against the competition?
Hold that thought and move on to the final step!
4. Position your business
I like to use a Perceptual Map for positioning purposes. (You can read more in-depth about what exactly a “Perceptual Map” is here.) Basically, this is a two-dimensional map that juxtaposes the main value offering of your product or service with its cost or another qualifying adjective.
Marketers use these to asses the public's perception of a product, but I like to use it to get an overview of an industry. The goal of using a tool like this is to get a clear visual representation of your industry and where your new business will fall. You’ll be able to narrow down who exactly your competition is and this will make it easier for you to differentiate yourself.
Take a moment to create one or two of these charts for your industry to see if there are any viable openings or untapped markets that your product/service can easily fill. Look a little deeper and see if these markets are untapped for a reason – maybe they are not cost effective or perhaps there is not enough demand.
If you place yourself close to your competitors, take a particularly close look at that segment to see if there is a more specific niche that you might be missing. For example, a caterer may find their niche rather crowded, but a caterer in Seattle who specializes in vegan meals may find an emptier niche, simply by going a little deeper.
You have just determined your product/service offering
and identified space for your business in your chosen industry!
Your new understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry will give you an edge over more inexperienced brands. All of the research you have just done will make targeting your audience, crafting your business plan, and defining your brand infinitely easier. You are a few steps closer to starting your own business, being your own boss, and creating the lifestyle that you have been dreaming of!