Q: How can I determine if there's a need for my business idea in my local area? I've been conducting my own market research by asking local people about my idea, and I've gotten a huge positive response. I think there's a large market for my idea, but I'm not sure how to begin the process.
A: Your hunch about the need for your idea may be right on. However, your research efforts shouldn't end here. There's more data you can uncover to support your expectations about a business's success as well as to uncover any potholes in your thinking.
You should cover the bases more thoroughly by examining a variety of information sources. Once you've squeezed out more details from both conventional and unconventional sources, then you can confidently move ahead. Here are more strategies to consider:
- Contact the appropriate industry or trade association. Inquire about research reports or survey data available to members. Information gleaned from these resources can help you connect with more local hobbyists and shop owners, spot trends, and circumvent unprofitable or problematic situations. Industry organizations often provide a business with a start-up resource package upon request-so ask for one. You'll find more industry groups listed in the reference book, World Directory of Trade and Business Associations, which you can usually find at your local library.
- Hire an MBA team. Through the Small Business Institute program, qualified graduate students are assigned projects to tackle for local businesses, including market studies. The work team gives you a detailed report and an oral presentation. Located at nearly 250 colleges and universities nationwide, some schools collect nominal fees from their clients. Any small-business owner or manager is eligible to participate. For information on a local program, call the Small Business Advancement National Center at (501) 450-5300.
- Call on a business research center. There are sites nationwide that provide inexpensive research services to businesses. These facilities are usually affiliated with an academic library. For example, the Center for Business Research (516-299-2833) at Long Island University in New York has researched projects from the organic food market to high-tech firms moving to Silicon Mesa. The Internet-Plus Directory of Express Library Services: Research and Document Delivery for Hire lists 500 libraries that provide low-cost research services.
- Study a set of old and current phone books. A shop may not exist today, but are you sure there's never been one in the area? Look to see if there's a category heading for your idea, then confirm how much competition exists and the movement of other businesses-those who've closed their doors or have grown or moved to other locations. Old phone books can be found at public libraries.
- Visit your "first stop" business information center. These offices can provide information about licensing, permits, your particular business type and running a business in your community in general. Check the government listing in your phone book.
Go through these additional steps, and you'll be on your way to business success! -Kimberly Stansell