Q: I'm considering starting an Internet dating service, but I'm on a very low budget. Can you tell me how to go about this?
A: Provided by Wally Bock, author, consultant and publisher of Briefing Memo (http://www.bockinfo.com/bm.htm), an electronic newsletter providing profit-boosting information.
Before starting your business, the most important thing to do is brainstorm. Make a list of your current resources, including money, time and associates. As you take notes, highlight specific questions about services, technology or anything else that comes to mind. Whom do you know who could help you? Have you ever used a personal introduction service? Have your friends used one?
Call dating services listed in the Yellow Pages. Get their materials and find out how long they've been in business. Pay close attention to the more established services. These long-running matchmakers are doing something right, so they serve as your best operational examples.
Ask everyone you know if they have ever used a dating service, Internet or otherwise. If they have, note their expectations, investments, results and feelings about the experience. What did they like and dislike about the program? Were there any services that enriched the experience?
For specific pointers, search for articles in your local library's database. Also visit small-business Web sites, such as Business Start-Ups (http://www.bizstartups.com), American City Business Journals (http://www.amcity.com) and the Smart Business Supersite (http://www.smartbiz.com).
Next, find out what's already on the market. Use search engines such as HotBot (http://www.hotbot.com) and Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) to find links to Internet dating services. Visit those sites, and look closely at what they offer. What benefits are free? What do customers pay for? In other words, how do Internet matchmakers make money? Bookmark the sites so you can find your way back to these important resources. If you want further details, sign up for a few of the services to see exactly how the programs work.
By this time, you should have a clear idea of what's out there and be able to answer the following questions:
*What are the customer's minimum costs?
*What does every dating service offer?
*How do services differentiate themselves? (You'll need to set yourself apart. Look at how those in business successfully market their programs.)
Finally, review your financial resources. Costs vary according to your type of site and services rendered. Some expenses, such as hiring a Web site designer, may be negotiable. However, after doing your research, you should be able to identify your assets, using what you've learned about the matchmaking business to achieve your goals.
Entrepreneur's Business Start-Up Guide #1393, Internet Entrepreneur, offers general information about starting an Internet-related business. It's available for $59 from Entrepreneur Media Inc., 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, (800) 421- 2300.
Q: I'm interested in opening a convenience store specializing in Asian food products. I need contacts for both Asian and American food distributors.
A: Provided by David Alan Coia, director of communications for Food Distributors International (FDI), a trade association in Falls Church, Virginia.
One way to locate distributors is through trade associations, which connect you with people who can help your business. Most distributors have programs for start-up retail operations that include marketing and in-store banking resources.
Visit FDI's Web site (http://www.fdi.org) to check out links to food distributors' and other industry sites. The National Association of Convenience Stores' Web site (http://www.cstorecentral.com) contains daily news, links and resources for members. Also try these reference books:
*Directory of Wholesale Grocers (Business Guides Inc., http://www.csgis.com)
*Thomas Food Industry Register (Thomas Publishing, http://www.tfir.com)
Food Distributors International, firstname.lastname@example.org