Once you've taken the leap and decided to start your own business, you've got to figure out what your business will sell!
What Should I Sell?
If you like to watch crime shows or read mystery novels, you are probably familiar with the three elements of committing a crime: means, motive and opportunity. Oddly enough, these three factors are also the most important elements of starting a business.
Means: Everyone is good at something. The first step in setting up your own business is identifying your personal skill set, and matching it up with a potential product or service. Some businesses require a certain inborn talent, like becoming a professional singer. Others require training and skills that might take years to acquire, such as attorneys. Make a list of your skills and talents, even the most minor. Those skills and talents will provide the basis for your new business.
The second step is deciding whether you can realistically use those skills. If you happen to be great at and love llama farming but don't have the land, food, stock or the resources to acquire those necessities, then llama farming is not the right business for you. You need to consider whether it is practical to pursue your dream business at this time. Of course, circumstances might change in the future. If next year you inherit Uncle Jimmy's fifty acres of pasture, you will then have the means to start your llama farm.
Motive: Now take the list of your talents and skills that you just assembled and cross off everything that you hate to do, even if you are good at it and know it's lucrative. Your small business is something that you will be living with and thinking about 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for quite a while. If you're a great cook and know you could make money as a caterer but hate cooking for parties, you're going to be miserable no matter how successful you become.
Of course, you could start a catering business in which you provide the management and your employees do the cooking... but in that case you're using your management skills and knowledge of recipes, not the detested cooking skill itself.
Opportunity: The last thing to consider is whether you'll have the opportunity to sell what you want to sell. Is there a market for your product or service? Is it something you could make money selling – at a minimum, enough money to support yourself? Identifying your potential customers and deciding how best to reach them is critical to a successful business. Which leads us to...
How Can I Sell It?
You've settled on the best product or service to offer. Now you need to identify your target market and pick a sales channel (or channels) to reach them.
Phone Sales: Probably the cheapest and easiest method to begin with, since all you need is a list of numbers and a working phone. You'll need to start by getting together some leads. The better qualified your lead list is, the more effective your calls will be. Still, even a rather poor lead list can be effective if you make enough calls.
Internet Sales: Websites are a critical tool for businesses of every size. Building an effective website can be expensive in both time and money. However, there are plenty of free web hosting companies that provide easy-to-use tools sufficient to post a simple website.
Direct Mail: Putting together a good direct mail package, getting a list of prospective customers and printing and mailing the letters is the most expensive option of all, but it can also have substantial returns. With a direct mail package you can reach thousands or even millions of prospects at once.