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One of the most important aspects to starting a business is marketing.  You may have a great idea for a product or service, but without good marketing you may never make any sales.  But marketing is more than just making sales, it will also incorporates doing research, setting prices, promoting your product and selecting distribution channels.

  1. Study your customer
  2. Analyze your competitors
  3. Be open to change
  4. Focus your efforts
  5. Create a marketing plan
  6. Secure financial resources
  7. Make a financial plan
  8. Find a mentor
  9. Make a sale

Study your customer

Once you’ve had an aha-moment, or a flash of cash, and decide to startup a business, you should begin studying your prospective customers by doing some market research.  Start by identifying key characteristics of your potential customers and then try to talk with a few of them and get their feedback on your product.  You can use this information to improve your product, add or remove features, and even gauge their willingness to buy from you.  Also, based on these characteristics, estimate how many potential customers you think there are for your product or service

Analyze your competitors

While you are talking to prospective customers, listen to what they have to say about competitive offers — their likes and dislikes of certain features or customer experience.   This market research can be used to improve your product and also be placed in collateral when you describe your value proposition to your prospects and investors.

Be open to change

Successful businesses have to change all the time to keep up with the tastes of their customers and new competitors.  Many successful businesses change their product even before launch because of new insights gained from their market research or going through the startup process.  Everything looks different once you try to become part of an eco-system and you will have to change your business just to fit it.  You may only need to make small changes, but don’t be surprised if you find even better opportunities as you go through the process.

Focus your efforts

Don’t get trapped into trying to be all things to all people.  For instance, if you set out to offer a new type of dog carrier, or crate, don’t also try to sell dog food and leashes – at least not at the beginning.  You need to focus your time and resources on a single product when you are first starting out. If your new dog crate does become successful, then there will always be opportunities to expand into other similar product lines in the future.

Create a marketing plan

Write down how you plan to advertise and sell your product along with the number of products you expect to sell in the first six months and year of business.  Your plan doesn’t have to be very long, but it should address these key marketing metrics of your startup business.  This will give you a guide to measure yourself against and make adjustments accordingly.  For example, if you are developing a new “green” dishwashing liquid that is better for the environment, estimate how many bottles you plan to sell over the next six months to a year.  Look at your results after launch and see how they compare to your plan.  If you are selling significantly fewer bottles than you expected, figure out why and make changes to either your plan or your product strategy.

Secure financial resources

If you don’t have any money to start a business, don’t start the business until you do.  You can either save the money yourself before you start, get a bunch of credit cards, loan money from your family or friends, or even start a crowdfunding campaign.  However, it takes money to start a business and while you are working on the business, you will need a way to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head.

Make a financial plan

Just the way you laid out marketing plan, you’ll need a brief summary of how you expect to bring in cash to your business and how you are going to spend it.  Your bottom line profit is determined by how much cash you bring-in, less the cash you have going out for expenses.  Prepare a cash flow statement that summarizes how you expect your startup to operate month over the first year in operation.  At the top show the money you are going take in from the sales your will make.  This will be followed by the money that is going to go out for thinks like advertising, supplies, rent, internet fees, etc.  At the bottom will be the difference of the two.  It would be unusual for you to show  a profit in the first few months.  More than likely your profit will be negative for some time until you make enough sales to cover your expense.

Find a mentor

Find someone that you can not only bounce ideas off, but will also tell you when they think you are making a foolish mistake.  Your mentor should not be your business partner, but someone that at least has a good sense for business and preferably some experience in your industry.   Don’t use your mentor for day to day discussions, but rather more strategic discussion on the direction of your business.

Make a sale

Your flash of cash was your idea to make some money from a business idea.  You won’t make any money until you begin selling your product.  So you want to get your product or service to market as soon as you can.  Nothing really starts until you make that first sale.  If it turns out that you can’t make any sales, or the volume wasn’t what you expected, don’t dream that things will get better.  They probably won’t.  If that’s the case, quickly re-evaluate what you are doing, talk with your mentor, and then decide if your flash of cash is still worth pursuing.