The perfect entrepreneur imagines a new niche, that needs to be, in such detail that they literally breathe it to life.
This was my answer to Stewart Macgregor-Dennis's October 27 Twitter question (http://twitter.com/#!/macgregordennis). When he was kind enough to retweet it, I got to thinking it would make a good follow-up to my last blogpost in which I suggest entrepreneuring as one of several worthwhile options when one is faced with long term unemployment or underemployment.
If being an entrepreneur intrigues you, here are three key elements to keep in mind:
A New Niche That Needs To Be
You are looking for a fresh viewpoint on something that has probably been done before. If you have worked in a restaurant, and all you could think about the whole time you were there was how you would do it better if it was your restaurant -- here's your chance. Imagine a particular person you would like to please with the taste, smell, and size of your hamburger (or whatever your key menu item will be). Would they eat it in your restaurant, or grab it and run? If they are eating in, what dining experience are they looking for that they aren't getting anywhere else? If they are going through the drive through, what specific idea do you have to make that experience better than anyone else does it?
Or we could consider just one of Steve Jobs's many innovative ideas, the iPad. At first glance, how different is it from a laptop computer? Naysayers said it wouldn't sell. We clearly know differently now. It is easier to carry than a laptop, yet the screen is a similar size. It turns on instantly. The touch screen is useful in so many ways. There are a few things you can still do better on a traditional computer, but there is a definite niche of people and applications the iPad perfectly satisfies. It was a fresh viewpoint on something that has been done before ... very well thought out.
You do not want to be all things to all people. For your niche to need to be, you just need to identify a specific person's desires, identify how those desires can be met in ways nobody else is doing, figure out how to deliver it to them, identify the group of people like your specific target person, and how to do it profitably enough to make it worth your while.
Which brings us to our second key element ...
Imagined in Detail
I will forever be in Mrs. McKenna's debt for teaching me the five W's in high school journalism class. Who. What. When. Where. Why. (and let's not forget How.) They are just as important to the entrepreneur as to the writer.
Who. Who is your target customer. Yes, you will need more than one customer, so you will want to identify the specific demographics of the group of people you hope become your customers. You also need to get even more specific, and picture a single individual member of this group as you go through the rest of the 5 W's (and one H)
What. What is your product or service going to be? How will it meet the needs of your target customer in ways that are not being fulfilled now? Are you going to compete on price because you know how to deliver the same service at a lower cost? (Definitely easier said than done, but that is the subject for a discussion of its own) What unique additional item will you add to what others do to make the product more useful? Or are you going to match the product, but offer better service to accompany it and that becomes your niche? Think all of this through very carefully. Write it down in great detail, and keep referring back to your notes repeatedly as you work on making your entrepreneurial dream become reality.
When. When is the best time for you to introduce your new concept to the market? Do you need to hurry before someone else beats you to it, and then improve later? Or are you better served to think everything through as perfectly as you can because you are only going to get one chance to do it right? The answers to those questions are critical, and they are not the same every time ... so again, think all of this through very carefully. When also applies to when are you open for business. What hours. What days. What seasons. This can actually be what defines your niche. Three Day Blinds and Four Day Tire Stores come to mind as examples of businesses whose main competitive difference was to have a catchy name and who cut costs by only being open the hours they believed their customers needed them most.
Where. Real estate agents love to talk about location, location, location. Location is even more important to the entrepreneur. Where do you need to be located to most effectively meet the needs of your customers? Is it one place, multiple places, or simply the Internet? Notice I said "most effectively". This covers several aspects of the question. Where can you best produce your goods or your service? Is this the best place for your customers to buy it? If not, where is that? Is your location how you are counting on your customers learning about your existence, or will you use other marketing techniques to take care of that? What are the comparative costs of your location choices, and how does that factor into your decisions? Again, think all of this through very carefully, and keep referring back to your notes and revising as you learn more through the creation process.
Why. The fifth W is the most important of all. Why are you doing this? Make sure you answer that question well, and that you never lose sight of it. The saying "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's easy to forget you came to drain the swamp." has many variations, but is especially meaningful to the entrepreneur. Do not let more than three months pass without pausing to ask yourself "Why?" again ... while evaluating how what is actually happening compares with your "Why?" Then take whatever corrective action is necessary, however painful. If you wait, the pain will only increase.
How. This gets into all the details of the five W's. The most important of the How questions involves people. How are you going to recruit the help you need. (After you define what help that is, starting with an organization chart that defines each function that needs to be done, then the people who will do it). What portions will you contract out, and what portions will you hire employees to do? (Keep asking ... and answering ... Why? as you do this). Of course, to answer the people questions means you have to answer the how of production, the how of marketing, the how of delivery, the how of dealing with government rules and regulations, the how of technology, etc., etc. And if How? begins with people, it ends with money. You need to find someone who understands enough accounting to help you project a balance sheet and a profit/loss statement for several operating periods going forward. Then you need to find someone who understands financing well enough to tell you how much money you need to make this fly ... how you are going to get that money, and what you have to give to get it. You can have the best idea in the world, and have every other idea worked out ... and then watch it starve to death for the want of cash flow.
Breathe it to Life.
After you have done everything else, you will be left with a tiny bonfire, ready to be snuffed out by the smallest interference. You will have to constantly watch it, feed it, guard it ... love it. You will still have a family, and friends. They are a big part of your Why. But this new creation of yours will be your baby in a very real way. Breathe it to life. You are creating something that doesn't now exist, but will become vibrant and alive with energy!
And that, my budding entrepreneurial friend, will fill you with a special kind of joy you didn't know existed. Enjoy the ride!
A Final Thought
You will want and need help. You wouldn't build a house without detailed blueprints. You would probably get quite lost on a cross-country road trip without some kind of map and an idea of where you want to go and what you would like to see along the way. You also need to think through your business, in detail, before opening your doors (regardless of whether they are physical doors or the URL address of your new internet store).
I believe in you. I would like to help you do this. I have helped others like you for over 25 years now. The first visit is free and without obligation, so that we can get acquainted before proceeding. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
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