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Will Your Business Idea Fly?
By Sarah E. Needleman Before committing to a solo public-relations practice last year, Saverio Mancina emailed more than two dozen executives in his network to find out if their companies would consider hiring him on a project basis. Then, he consulted with industry colleagues through social-networking sites like LinkedIn for feedback on his proposed business model."The question I needed to answer for myself was 'Would clients pay a certain rate to work directly with me or would clients want to know there was a team behind me?'" says Mr. Mancina, who at the time was anticipating a pink slip from his employer of five years.When he was indeed laid off about four months later, Mr. Mancina, who is based in New York, says he felt confident moving forward with his solo plan. Today, he has 10 steady clients and earns about 85% of his previous income.If you're financially motivated to launch a business, you may be tempted to simply jump in. But experts strongly recommend first taking the time to do some research to determine if your venture has legs to stand on. Otherwise, you could end up in worse economic shape."Once you've started a business, you've already invested a lot of money and time," says Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. "If you find out afterward that consumers don't want what you're selling, it can be very hard to make a midstream adjustment."One way to explore a business idea's feasibility is to solicit the opinions and advice of experienced professionals in your target industry, even prospective competitors. Mr. Zacharakis recommends starting at trade shows, seminars and other business events if you don't have specific contacts in mind. Ask people what they like and don't like about your planned venture, if they foresee any obstacles to building it, and what suggestions they might have.Also go directly to your target market and ask about their interest in your product or service and how much they'd consider paying for it, Mr. Zacharakis says. If you plan to sell a product or service to pet owners, for example, you could canvass dog parks, groomers and veterinarians' offices.Low-cost services like SurveyMonkey.com and Zoomerang.com let you compile a survey online. In general, you pose a question and select answer options, such as multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank. Then you receive a Web link that you can post to your Facebook page, Twitter feed, personal blog or other website.Richard Daniels and Seth Burgett implemented this strategy before co-founding Yurbuds, a St. Louis-based maker of custom-fit earbuds, in early 2009. More than 300 survey takers provided insights into the features that matter most to them in portable listening devices and how much they'd pay for the ideal pair.The duo—who met soon after Mr. Daniels was laid off from an executive job and while Mr. Burgett was in business school—now sell the earbuds in about 200 retail outlets. The firm is on target to be profitable by next year."You have to roll up your sleeves and talk to real people to find out if your business idea has value," says Mr. Daniels. "Hope is not a strategy."
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