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Finding a Market for Your Services

Does anyone need what your business is offering? To find out, the best approach is the direct approach.

Q: I'd like to start a bookkeeping, tax and payroll service. If I were to conduct a survey to see if there's a need for my service, how should I proceed?

Name withheld

A: Business services like bookkeeping and payroll have the advantage of enabling you to identify specific prospective clients whom you can interview face-to-face, by phone or using a mailed survey. Chances are, you'll be able to talk with quite a few business owners by going door-to-door in an office building or store-to-store with locally owned businesses. Your questions may actually prompt some businesspeople to become clients.

Also consider asking the opinion of "gatekeepers" in the small-business community. These might include staff members of business organizations such as the chamber of commerce and leaders of merchant associations.

Phoning is another choice, but you may find it's easier to talk with people when you actually meet them at their place of business. It's difficult to make the kind of impression over the phone that would cause a prospect to say, "I could use that right now."

Unless you offer a small gift or prize drawing, don't expect much response from a mailed survey questionnaire. If you choose to use a questionnaire, use snail mail and include a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Unsolicited e-mail can cause resentment.

You'll spend more time exploring these direct approaches, but it will cost a great deal less money. You'll also get a better idea of whether there's really a market for your business.

Paul and Sarah Edwards' latest book is Why Aren't You Your Own Boss? Leaping Over the Obstacles That Stand Between You and Your Dream. Send them your start-up questions at

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the May 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Finding a Market for Your Services.

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