Mistake-proof your business with free online tools
By Jay Arthur
Even if you’re the owner of a successful business, the recession might have you worried.
So how can long-standing business owners and first-time entrepreneurs survive these tough times? There’s an easy way to mistake-proof any business—all it takes is a little time using free online tools and search engine research.
Listen to the customer
Many business owners become enchanted with an idea and pursue it without thinking it through. Or they start an internet business but don’t bother to understand what customers really want.
These businesses fail because they didn’t understand the “voice of the customer.” Collect and analyze the voice of the customer to understand what customers want and how to deliver it. Use the information to design better products and services.
First, figure out where the crowds of customers are going and then get in front of them. In the past, this would involve lots of market research, focus groups and money. Today, these answers can easily be found on the internet for free with Google’s key word tool.
Let’s say you want to start a pet food bakery that makes healthy treats for dogs and cats. Search the keyword tool for “pet bakery” and “pet food.” You’ll quickly discover that there are over 500,000 searches a month for “pet food” but only 8,000 a month for “pet bakery.” There are 33,000 searches a month for “wellness pet food.”
One might conclude that “pet food” is too broad. “Pet bakery” is too narrow. But “wellness pet food” might be just the niche to explore because these customers are probably willing to pay a premium.
Speak your customer’s language
Customer language can differ from our own. Based on the search terms above, it might be smarter to name your store “Wellness Pet Food” (customer language) instead of “Bow Wow Biscuits” (your language) because that’s what the crowd wants. Use the customer’s exact words. Then check domain name availability for “wellness-pet-food.com” or “wellness_pet_food.com.” If it’s available, register it (try a site like www.godaddy.com). If not, try adding other key words likely to attract customers, such as your location. Let’s say you are a hypnotherapist in Denver. Think about what your prospects are searching for. They don’t want “hypnosis.” They want to “stop smoking” or “lose weight.” Consider names like “Stop-Smoking-Denver.com” and “Lose-Weight-Denver.com.”
Be aware that Google cannot identify compound words, so separate the words with a dash or underscore to improve the site’s search engine ranking.
Make your product better and cheaper
Search the internet for your product or service to find out how many competitors are out there. If Google reveals too many competitors, consider another line of business. It’s just as bad if Google reveals no competitors. Someone, somewhere should be offering a similar product or service. If not, there are no customers.
From the voice-of-the-customer perspective, customers want you to be better, faster and cheaper than the competition. Are you more innovative? Do you provide better customer service? Are you more effective and efficient? When customers can’t distinguish one business from another, they default to the familiar or low cost one.
If you’re not sure what customers want in a particular product or service, ask them. Then ask yourself, “What is the competition offering? What can we do differently?” If you can’t answer these questions, neither can your customers.
Test the business concept
Once Google has revealed what customers want and you’ve identified a unique value proposition from the voice of the customer, it’s time to test the concept. For this, Google offers another powerful tool: Adwords (adwords.google.com). Many businesses use Adwords to test business and marketing concepts before they throw a lot of money at them.
All of this research might take a few weeks and a few hundred dollars, but it’s a lot cheaper than wasting money on a doomed startup or product.
Bootstrap the business
Most people start looking for a “business loan” (3,350,000 Google searches) before they think about a “business plan” (1,500,000 searches).
If the business is a product, don’t start by making 10,000 of them. Create a website, construct a few products in your shop and sell them online or give away free test samples. Make a prototype and get people to try it and provide feedback. When customers start clamoring to buy the product, then do a production run.
If the business idea is a service, print some business cards, crafted with keywords and phrases, and pass them out at local business meetings.
With more than 100 million internet users in the United States and billions of internet-capable cell phones, no business can afford to ignore the power of the web. Even if you don’t plan on having a website, own the domain name to prevent others from using it. Having the domain name will make it easy to expand into a regional, national or global internet business.