I often talk to people that are absolutely chomping at the bit to start their own business, and the number one pre-startup question I hear in conversation is this: What the heck am I going to sell?
Here’s a few ideas and examples of what’s worked for me. To sum it up in one line… The best way to identify a need in the market is to have a look at your own needs.
- What interests you? There is little point deciding go into business selling something that bores you to tears…
What hobbies do you have? This is a key one… Most fledgling entrepreneurs sow the bulk of their time pre-startup into trying to conjure “the” idea that will generate the most profit for them in the shortest amount of time. Here’s the thing, if find that you’ll need invest a bunch of time and effort learning a whole new field in order to effectively target, market and sell the product you’re considering, consider this: you have hobbies, things that you love to do and know lots about. Wouldn’t it make more sense to leverage that knowledge instead? It would certainly save time…
e.g. I love audio engineering and music, and I set out about a year ago to build a home studio. I discovered that because of the strong Aussie dollar (R.I.P.) and and undervalued US retail market I could get audio equipment from the USA over eBay considerably cheaper than I could from local Australian merchants.
What opportunities exist in the field of your hobby? There is always a need to be found in any area… The key here is to avoid trying to create a “solution looking for a problem”.
Do your interests and hobbies make you a member of your potential target market? Ask yourself this… “Would what I am selling be something that I’d buy?” If you can answer yes to this, by being a member of your target you’ve automatically saved yourself from the tedium of initial market research. You’ll know what captures your interest when it comes to products and service in the field of your hobby, and chances are that you’ll already have amassed a fair bit of information about your competition and their offerings.
What market trends have you noticed in the field of your hobby? There will always be consistent cries for something… “I don’t know how to do x”, or “where the heck do I find a y”, or “does anything exist that would allow me to do z?” Internet forums are a GOLDMINE for market research like this, they paint a very good picture of what the general consensus is.
e.g. I noticed that different brands were very highly regarded and would fetch a disproportionate amount if imported and sold locally… Every second bulletin board or forum post was about either Neve, API, or Apogee. So that’s what I focused on.
What needs or gaps in the market have you identified in the field of your hobby? This is an extension of the above. e.g. Even though their economies were strong at the time and the people who ended up buying from me could have saved by buying overseas themselves, for some reason Aussies and Europeans seemed very timid about international purchases from the US…
- How can you do it cheaper, and make it better than anyone else? This is assuming that you haven’t come up with something brand new… I minimized my import costs by never having a single shipment exceed $1000AUD in value (and therefore avoiding any customs duty fees), importing via USPS (by far the cheapest carrier out of the USA), looking for bundle deals and selling the contents separately locally (huge savings on shipping to be had here), and maintained a high-level of communication with my buyers which has got me to the point where today I have just under 500 eBay feedback comments and a rating of 99.7%.
TIP: If you are selling on eBay, your feedback sets you apart!
Obviously the global financial rollercoaster we are all on has made importing less attractive at the moment (although if you can find a good local product to sell exporting out of Oz is a VERY good idea right now), but what I wanted to try to illustrate here is this:
Don’t spend your time racking your brain trying to conjure up “the” product that’ll make you squillions… Go back to what you already know, and what you already love, already spend all of your spare time thinking about, and start there. You will find that “the” opportunity you have been looking for has been staring you in the face the whole time.