Learn the ins and outs of your chosen industry and focus especially on the things you find most difficult. Sometimes the perceptions of how a professional life in the industry looks quite different than it actually is. Every road to success has its challenges, and as you learn more about your industry, it will be easier to envision what kind of issues you may come across and what it might take to overcome them.
Try it out
Before you start your own business, look for a way of getting some hands-on experience. This may be easier in some professions than it is in others, and there may be a different approach needed for some of them. For example, if you are passionate about good food it can be quite easy to get a job as an assistant cook, but if you want to set up your own recording company, things start to get a little complicated. If you want to get involved in a business which has a rather complicated entry process, then the way to go is to offer your services for free. Small and medium-sized businesses often use interns and volunteers to help them cut costs, so it is worth researching them and getting in touch with a manager or the person responsible for hiring staff.
Network with professionals in the field
To find out how a particular industry works, approach someone who has hands-on experience and practical knowledge of the field. There are numerous networking events where you can meet with various service providers, and if you want to talk with someone informally, it is worth offering them help for their advice and let them know where you want to open your business so that they don’t fear direct competition.
With the growing popularity of the moneyless exchange between individuals or organisations who are looking for help, it is possible to find a position in a wide range of sectors. In this way, you can learn a lot about your chosen trade from square one, by trying out various kinds of challenging and exciting activities. If you’re a budget traveller, language learner or culture seeker, or just somebody who is willing to move to get some experience, websites such as Workaway, Helpx or WWOOF have listings for voluntary positions in numerous sectors all over the world.
Consider if it’s a possible profession or just a pastime
Now assess your ability and willingness to deal with all individual aspects of the business. Some of the tasks will be more challenging than others, and not everything will work out well the first time. If you want to start a business, it is important to be mentally prepared for the highs and lows that may come. If someone only focuses on the easy and enjoyable aspects of the business, they will usually underestimate the situation and encounter many more difficulties on their journey. You are much more likely to achieve success if you have a realistic idea and treat the easy and challenging tasks with equal enthusiasm and effort.
Can I do it?
Have a good idea of what needs to be done
Write down a list of the main tasks you will need to handle when operating your own business. The basic list could include activities such as: attracting clients, handling customers’ inquiries and complaints, writing proposals to potential sponsors, researching suitable premises, looking for reliable suppliers, paying taxes, complying with legal requirements in your chosen business sectors, educating yourself about the sector, obtaining necessary certifications and more.
Find a mentor
After getting opinions from your lay people, it is also worth approaching a professional counselor who can evaluate your skills and point you in the right direction. An honest business coach will be able to tell you if you have the right potential to pursue your ambitions and teach you how to organise your time and daily activities to achieve your business goals. Finding the right professional to help you can be a challenge, you can learn some useful tips on how to find a mentor from the personal experience of a mentee who decided to pursue a career in personal development.
Use specialised tests
The E-Type Test is based on the book by Rhonda Abrams, an American small business expert, titled ‘What Business Should I Start?’. The E-Type Test will show you which of nine E-Type personality traits you possess and which working styles suit you best.
The 16 Personalities test uses Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typological approach to personality which classifies people based on their general attitude, the way they perceive things with their senses and how they form opinions. This test provides an insight into personal preferences and motivation. Also, it points out the ideal professions for a particular personality type.
The Greater Good Mindfulness Test can give you an idea about your ability to keep focused on the present moment and how well you understand and deal with your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. It can give good insight into how you are able to handle the pressure created in a typical working environment, where you might have to deal with an overflowing inbox, take on several roles at once and hurry to meet your deadlines.
Pitch your idea to professionals
Once you have a concept that is well-thought out, the ultimate test of its worth is trying and selling it to someone. Creating a successful pitch requires effective brainstorming and strategy, so ensure you take all the necessary steps to do so. A pitch can have various forms; you can write a donor letter, do a presentation or just fill in an application for a business grant.
Do a free trial
People are always looking for freebies, so offering your products or services free of charge will provide you with an excellent opportunity to gain some honest opinions. If you want to sell food, you can contact organisers of various community events in a local community centre and offer them free catering. If you want to open a consulting business, post a classified ad offering your services for free to a specified number of people on a first come first serve basis. The options are endless; however, you need to ensure that the freebies on offer have effective promotion via traditional advertising or social media channels.
Do people like it?
Ask for feedback from friends and family
Tell people close to you about your ambitions and ask them for feedback. Choose carefully who you approach though, the people who are supportive in your personal life will be more willing to listen and give you a realistic opinion. A good technique is to prepare a short informal presentation for your friends where you will ask them to try out your product or service. If you want an unbiased opinion, try approaching individuals or small organisations in your local community and offering them a free trial.
Find out opinions on similar products
Online discussions and user forums can give you a good insight into what consumers honestly think about a product or service, so identify their needs and expectations, and find out what upsets them. For example, large online retailers such as Amazon or eBay use a 1-5 star grading system which enables you to learn the average feeling about a product including views from all sides of the customer base: satisfied, neutral and dissatisfied customers.
Organise a focus group
The idea of a focus group is to assemble together a small group of people and ask them about their opinions, perceptions, or beliefs in relation to your concept. It is a good way of gaining some insight on what people think of your product, service, concept, advertisement, idea or packaging. Some useful tips on how to run a focus group are offered here.
Learn about the market trends
Once you have an idea about what you want to do, explore what’s going on in the particular industry you’re interested in. Read news related to your chosen area and look for information about which products are currently popular, what the latest innovative ideas are, development in other areas that influence the industry, etc. The information on market trends can be accessed most easily in the specialized sections of publications such as ‘business’, ‘tech’, ‘lifestyle’, ‘environment’, ‘travel’ etc.. However, you can get to more specific and valuable information if you invest in an industry journal, website or newsletter from a professional body.
Can I sell it?
In their book ‘Made to stick’, Chip and Dan Heath explain the qualities that an idea should have to resonate with other people. Most of these ideas can be used very effectively when thinking about your product idea and should be kept in mind when considering whether or not your product will sell. These are the core concepts to remember:
Strip the idea to its core. To do so you must be a master of exclusion and relentlessly prioritise. You must create ideas which are complex and profound. The ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it. While this is directed at ideas in general, it should also be considered when thinking about how to sell your product. Simplicity sells.
You need to violate people’s expectations and be counter-intuitive. For your idea to last you must be able to grab people’s attention and curiosity. We can engage people’s curiosity over a long period by “opening gaps” in their knowledge and filling those gaps.
Ideas must be explained in terms of human actions and sensory information. Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images – ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors, etc. because our brains are wired to remember the concrete data. Speaking concretely is a way of ensuring that your idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience. Make sure they have a vivid image of what your product can do for them.
People start to care about your ideas when you make them feel something. For example, in the case of raising money for a charity, they are more likely to give to a single impoverished individual than to a poor region of people. Feelings are shown for people, not for abstractions. The hard part is identifying the right emotion to harness. For example, teenagers won’t be put off smoking by highlighting the consequences but rather if you use their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco. Try to personalise your service or product, and show that you care about consumers individually.
Heath, Dan & Chip.(2007). Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die.New York: Random House.