Q: I want to sell products for dogs, but after reading your books, I realize I don't really have a "fire in the belly" or any great passion for this business, so I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing. I'm very creative and have a million and one ideas, but follow-up is hard for me, since I always tend to go off on a new tangent. Thank you for any advice you can give me. -- Joanne Wannan
A: We frequently get letters and e-mail from new business owners who are frustrated that their businesses aren't taking off. They often send descriptions of their products and services, or samples of their brochures. One brochure we received listed more than 50 different services the entrepreneur offered.
In contrast, the 107 successful homebased entrepreneurs we've been studying since 1989 have one thing in common: While they're in different fields, come from all parts of the country and vary widely in age, background and experience, they all have specific, tightly focused niches.
Finding a niche and committing yourself to it appears crucial to successful business ownership. But for many entrepreneurs who, like yourself, are highly creative and full of great ideas, making such a commitment isn't easy. We should know. When we conducted the first round of interviews with our panel of business owners, we were doing many things in addition to writing books and speaking at engagements. After this first set of interviews was complete, however, we knew we had to focus on our own business. That decision has been a key to our success.
If you don't have a fire in your belly for a particular business, don't do it. It's too difficult for someone who feels lukewarm--or worse yet, constrained by their business--to compete successfully with people who are charged up and committed. You don't have to give up the pursuit of your ideal business. You can keep generating ideas for your niche and then, instead of running out to try one after another, subject them to these two tests:
1. Ask yourself how many of your skills and interests the business would allow you to use. The best niche is one that lets you apply a wide variety of your abilities to a broad range of your interests. Baking and selling doggie cookies, for example, is an interesting niche. But it would offer much less variety than hosting a multimedia dog lovers' Web site where you could sell or promote not only dog treats, but dog travel, dog tales, dog tips and much more.
2. Once you identify a niche that won't quickly leave you bored, imagine that fate has sentenced you to pursue that business idea for five years. On a scale of zero to 10, how excited would you be? If your excitement level doesn't hit a seven or higher, leave that idea alone. If the idea does hit seven or higher, it should ignite enough fire in your belly to warrant exploring it further.
As you begin exploring a business idea that's passed these two tests, you should feel your enthusiasm growing each day, inspiring you to channel new ideas into it. It's the rare business that takes off on its own. Most times, it takes the ever-burning fire in the owner's belly to create the steam that propels a business toward success.
Small-business experts Paul & Sarah Edwards recently released their second edition of Getting Business To Come To You (Tarcher).