Ready, Set, Go!

101 Great Ideas: 76-101

76. A Taste for Food Design Franchises: Food design companies offering floral-like candy, cookie and fruit arrangements are continuing to grow. Such gift bouquets and baskets serve as a creative substitute for flowers that wilt quickly or the standard box of mystery chocolates. Buying one of these franchises is a sweet way into the profitable retail gift industry. --E.W.

77. Connect with Other Women Entrepreneurs: Started by Victoria Colligan and Beth Schoenfeldt, Ladies Who Launch, an organization dedicated to women entrepreneurs, features a message board, an online magazine, an online marketplace and other useful educational tools. Meet up with others by signing up for monthly regional "incubators," sell your wares (or buy) in the marketplace, or sign up to attend a "Ladies Who Launch Live" event featuring celebrity keynote speakers and networking opportunities. --J.P.

78. Buy a Franchise or Biz Opp: Lack the business know-how to start up on your own? "Franchising is popular because it's an avenue for people with little or no experience to be able to go into business and have training available," says Andrew A. Caffey, a franchise lawyer. "It shortens the time involved [in startup] and addresses the concerns a lot of new entrepreneurs have about who they can turn to for help. In a franchise [system], you have a built-in support network--you can turn not only to the franchisor, but also to other franchisees."

If the structure of a franchise sounds too restrictive for you, a business opportunity might be a better match because it imposes fewer restrictions. However, it also provides less ongoing support. "A business opportunity tends to be a one-time transaction in which you buy a package of materials that you can then use to generate your own business," explains Caffey. One big plus: The financial barriers associated with purchasing a business opportunity are significantly lower than with a franchise--startup costs are typically around a few thousand dollars.

79. Start Selling: Demonstrate to prospects how your product or service specifically meets their needs--and pump up how it differs from their current solution. Will it save them more money? Can it give them more specialized service? Is it faster and more efficient? Be clear on your offering's competitive advantage. And don't automatically discount prices to jump-start early sales--instead, focus on how your product or service will save prospects X dollars a year or cost less in the long run. If they want an extra incentive to be one of your first customers, keep the price the same but offer something extra for free, such as delivery or installation.

80. Plan for Your Business Plan: You don't have to go it alone when writing your business plan. Check out Palo Alto Software's Business Plan Pro 2007. The standard version of the software ($99.95) includes more than 500 sample plans and more than 9,000 industry profiles to help you get started on your plan. Also check out Business PlanWriter Deluxe ($99.95) and PlanWrite ($120). --A.C.K.

81. Try the eBay Test: Put your great retail idea to the test by evaluating the demand on eBay. Instead of jumping into a storefront or opening an independent online store right away, place some of your merchandise on eBay to help gauge the public demand and pricing for your products. You'll gain exposure to a large pool of potential buyers without having to make a big upfront investment. It's also a smart way to learn more about the competition. --A.C.K.

82.Buy a Sandwich Franchise: It's not news that Americans are battling a serious obesity problem these days, and people aren't reaching for greasy fries and calorie-filled hamburgers anymore--so what can you serve up to the health-conscious? Nutritious and satisfying sandwiches. Gourmet is the way to go right now, so offer plenty of meat and veggie options paired with unique spreads and fresh bread. Not the type to create your own recipes? Buy a sandwich franchise and adopt its healthy motto. --C.H.

83. Start Selling Wings: Newcomers in the chicken wings biz have flown into juicy territory as some of this year's most rapidly growing franchises--not surprising, considering that Americans (pint-size and portly) love these saucy treats. No Super Bowl Sunday is complete without a platter of barbeque wings on the table, and what happy hour menu doesn't include buffalo wings? Take flight with poultry's not-so-paltry success by getting involved with franchises that specialize in chicken wings. --J.Y.

84. Give 'Em a Reward: Since it may cost as much as five times more to win a new customer than to retain an old one, customer reward programs are a lower-cost alternative to acquisition marketing. So create and actively promote a loyalty program that rewards upon enrollment and then provides increasingly greater incentives to your best customers. To keep them coming back for more, be sure to provide in-kind rewards rather than gifts from other vendors.

85. Locate Suppliers: You can find suppliers through trade shows, wholesale showrooms and conventions, buyer's directories, industry contacts, the B2B Yellow Pages and trade journals, or online. One good source for finding suppliers is ThomasNet.com. This comprehensive directory lists manufacturers by categories and geographic areas.

86. Use the 5-5-5 Marketing Method: To find the balance you need to keep your business afloat, use the 5-5-5 marketing formula from Paul and Sarah Edwards' book Getting Business to Come to You. Initiate five different marketing activities each day, then follow through every day on five activities from the prior day or week. For instance, if you sent a mailing to someone, follow up with a phone call the next week. To keep business flowing, initiate and follow through on five activities per week instead of five per day.

87. Stay in Touch: E-mail is a low-cost, high-return way to enhance customer relationships and increase sales. E-mail campaigns can be conducted for a fraction of the cost of other tactics and can be executed in weeks, not months. The key is to e-mail as often as twice monthly, but only to an in-house list of members who have agreed to receive e-mail from you. Keep the content extremely relevant, and you'll see response rates climb.

88. Look Online for Employees: Looking for your first employee? Posting an opening on online job sites offers you advantages like 24-hour access to job postings, unlimited text for postings and quick turnaround. They also allow you to screen candidates, search resume databases and keep your ad online for a long time (30 to 60 days) vs. a newspaper ad, which runs for only one weekend.

89. Save on Legal Costs: When you're starting a business, you're short of money for just about everything--including legal services. Many law firms have realized this and offer a "startup package" of legal services for a set fee. This typically includes drawing up initial documents, attending corporate board meetings, preparing minutes, drafting owner-ship agreements and stock certificates, and offering routine legal advice.

90. Back it Up: Your business data is precious, and you should treat it accordingly by starting regular computer backups from Day One. An external hard drive is not a bad idea for backing up your computer in your office, but you should also consider an online service such as Carbonite. Carbonite automatically backs your computer up over the internet and keeps your files safe and secure away from your office. If anything should happen to your computer or office, your valuable data can be quickly recovered. --A.C.K.

91. Know Your Rights: In today's litigious society, waiting until something goes wrong before consulting a lawyer isn't the smartest idea. It's generally worthwhile to consult with an attorney before making any decision that could have legal ramifications. These include setting up a partnership or corporation, checking for compliance with regulations, negotiating loans, obtaining trademarks or patents, preparing buy-sell agreements, reviewing business forms, and exporting or selling products to other states.

92. Partner Up: When money is tight, it often pays to partner with another company that targets the same audience as yours. You can forge marketing partnerships with businesses that offer complementary services by pooling your prospect lists or sharing advertising costs. A kitchen appliance retailer could partner with a remodeling contractor to market full-service kitchen upgrades, for example, or neighboring technology companies might jointly promote their region as a tech corridor.

93. Market to Pet Lovers: With 64 million households owning a pet as of last year, according to Pet Age magazine, man's best friend is quickly befriending the American economy. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, Americans spent $39 billion on their pets last year, and the numbers are increasing. Break into the industry by tapping into the luxury supplies segment (think upscale carriers, food and apparel) or high-end services such as day spas for the pampered pet. Or jump in with a franchise, and welcome new customers with open paws. --C.H.

94. Laser for Less: Printing costs can add up quickly, especially if you're using an inkjet. To save, think about bypassing color and go for a monochrome laser printer to handle your needs. They're inexpensive investments that will save you big bucks on cartridges in the long run. Consider going for an all-in-one printer/fax/copier/scanner to handle all your office needs with a single device. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 for a solid starter laser printer. --A.C.K.

95. Bounce Ideas off Others: It's sometimes hard to be objective when analyzing your own ideas. If possible, get outside help. Try setting up an informal advisory board, including a lawyer, an accountant, a banker and some colleagues. Ask them for their input. These people can act as a sounding board, helping you make smart business decisions.

96. Get Into Pub Franchising: Sixty-four percent of Americans enjoy drinking, and these days, they're willing to put their cash where their mouths are. The combo of good food and good drinks seems to be where consumer wallets are heading. Maybe you should already be there when they arrive. --J.K.

97. Buy an Existing Business: This can be a great way to make your start as an entrepreneur. You get an operation that's already generating cash flow and profits, with an established customer base and reputation, as well as employees who already know all aspects of the business. If you are looking for a business to buy or a business broker who can help you with your purchase, check out bizbuysell.com. In addition to searching some 48,000 businesses for sale and broker listings, you can read up on topics like business valuation and financing.

98. Save on Mail: Trying to reach consumer households in specific market areas? Launching your own direct-mail campaign could cost a small fortune. Instead, use "marriage mail"--send your ad or coupon in a joint mailing with other advertisers. A leading provider is Valpak, which designs, prints and mails more than 20 billion offers each year, providing an affordable alternative to stand alone direct mail.

99. Start a Coaching Business: Business and personal coaches start by getting professional coach training, says Karen Kimsey-House, co-author of Co-Active Coaching. Find International Coach Federation-accredited training programs at coachfederation.com. Determine your niche by examining your background, your strengths and the kinds of people you're drawn to helping. Use your network to find your first clients as well. Says Kimsey-House, "It's the personal relationships that you need to build a practice." Explore networking groups and your target industry trade shows, too. --N.L.T.

100. Spend Marketing Dollars Carefully: Creating your business image can be costly, but you don't have to splurge on all the works at once. To save money on marketing, start with key items that the public will see immediately. If you expect to attract most of your clients through sales calls, for instance, put more money into your business cards; if you expect to lure people with your sign, put the money there.

101. Think It Through: Before you start a business, you have to examine the potential, what your product or service is and whether the opportunity exists to make a good deal of money. It may be a "hit and run" product, where you are going to get in, make a lot of money and then get out. That's not necessarily a bad thing; fads have made some entrepreneurs incredibly wealthy. But you need to know if your product has the potential to become a classic, or if it's simply a fad.

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This article was originally published in the December 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Ready, Set, Go!.

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