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You're the Inspiration

Know what product or service you want? Chances are, others want it, too.

Creating a product or service to meet your own needs is one of the oldest business inspirations in the book. The thought, "Hey, I would like a service like this" inspires moms to invent nifty gadgets to make child rearing easier, and college students to deliver food to dorms. But how can you make sure a product or service you want will translate to the masses? How can you get the public to open their wallets for something you initially conceived just for you?

"You can't assume that what excites you about the solution is going to excite them," says Kristin Zhivago, author of Rivers of Revenue and founder of Zhivago Marketing Partners Inc., a revenue growth consulting firm in Jamestown, Rhode Island. You have to communicate to potential customers what is important about your product or service, says Zhivago. She notes that many entrepreneurs immediately go into salesperson mode--forgetting the crucial step of going into buyer mode.

Stepping out of your vantage point can be a challenge, notes Zhivago, but she suggests simply interviewing your potential customers. A phone survey can help you get clued in to your target market's needs, what they're looking for in a product or service, and what would move them to try something new.

Detailed research certainly helped Debra Myers learn about her target market. Though she originally created Enfusia, a specialty bath and body products manufacturing company, after her own personal struggle with eczema symptoms, she believed there was a larger market out there for nonirritating skin-care products. She began asking her family and friends to try out the shea and cocoa butter lotions she was creating in her blender. "My friends are the biggest circle of high-maintenance people on the planet," says Myers, 38. "I knew if they would like it, most of the world would like it."

Myers, who has a background in cosmetology, commissioned a friend to help her concoct the lotions, and she officially started the company in 2002 in The Woodlands, Texas. She also focused on contemporary labels and packaging--though her products are all-natural, she didn't want to emulate the plain packaging used by similar products. The strategy helps her market to everyone, not just people with skin irritations. Today, with the Enfusia line available online, in some Whole Foods stores, and in gift stores and hospitals nationwide, 2005 sales should hit $250,000.

Though stepping out of your own mind-set to get into the minds of your customers is a challenge, it will be well worth it. While you're convinced you have the coolest new widget around, Zhivago suggests checking out your competition and creating a grid-type list detailing the price, benefit, brand recognition and other general attributes of both your product or service and theirs. It's important, she says, "so you're not kidding yourself about where you fit into that grid." Forcing yourself to be honest will allow you to target your customers' needs--not your own--and that will dictate your market-to-the-masses strategy.

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This article was originally published in the September 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You're the Inspiration.

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