Conduct market research.
Come up with as many word combinations relating to your idea as you can, and then search for them all. If you have trouble thinking of what to search for, try to think like a customer of your potential business—what would they look for to find you?
The chances are that you’ll at least find something similar to what you’re doing. If you don’t, then there are three possibilities: You’re a genius who’s come up with an original business idea, you’re no good at searching, or your idea isn’t practical.
However much you might think that the best ideas are original, it’s far better if you can find other people who are doing what you’re doing successfully.
It’s even better if you can take something that’s tried-and-tested in another country and import it to your own. If there’s no one else operating in your chosen market, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that no one has ever thought of it or tried—it’s more likely that it just turned out to be impractical.
There is another thing to look out for, though: You might find that your search terms find lots of Web sites willing to sell you a “kit” to start up that business more easily.
These kits are almost always worthless, but the fact that they exist tells you that your idea is a common one, and the market may be saturated.
The ideal home business, to my mind, is one where there seems to be an enthusiastic community of other successful home businesses, but not to the point where everyone seems to be doing it, or telling you how to do it.
Once you’ve gone through the preliminary checks, the best way to research your idea isn’t to keep staring over at other businesses—it’s to look to your potential customers.
Talk to as many people as you can about your idea, start a little canvassing, do market research surveys in the street. Do anything to try to figure out how many potential customers you’ve got out there.
It’s time to get specific.
When you’re running a home business, you’re not going to be big. You don’t have a big advertising budget, and you’re not going to be able to have lots of customers and make a small profit from each.
The kind of market you need is called a “niche market” – a set of customers who want something very specific, and aren’t currently able to get it.
It might seem strange, but the best niches can often seem really obscure. You might know what industry you want to be in, but exactly what are you going to be doing, and for who?
Here’s an exercise that you really need to do. Take your home business idea and write it down. You are only allowed to use one side of one sheet of paper for this.
The point of this is to make sure you know the absolute core of your idea. It’s all too easy to get bogged down in details when you start a home business, and you need to make sure you know exactly what your idea is, in its simplest form.
Once you’ve got the basics down, that’s when you can start to develop the idea. The aim here is to take your core idea and turn it into products, suppliers, customers and work.
For example, if your idea is to provide Web design for small businesses, then this is where you need to sit down and figure out what suppliers you’d need (Web hosting, for example), and what services you’d be providing customers.
Think of it as inputs and outputs. Imagine, for example, that your business is making clothes. It starts with the input you don’t control—what you “outsource,” meaning that you pay to order it in from outside suppliers.
For a clothes business, this would be a sewing machines, material, thread, and so on. The next input is what you add yourself. This would probably be the design and manufacture of the clothes. The output is the finished product—the clothes, ready to sell.
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