The experience we gained in the Entrepreneurship class at UWB was invaluable in giving us a solid foundation on which to analyze new business opportunities. It taught us to write a sound business plan (after being torn to shreds by the instructors, of course), how to pitch an idea in 60 seconds or less, to take (constructive) criticism with grace, and to use that criticism to improve, improve, improve. That said, the class was a little iffy on one fundamental step: market research.
Sure, market research was certainly required for the class. Depending on your business model, that research could involve sophisticated demographic databases or prospective customer surveys. With such a short window of time, it was difficult to get empirical data that supported your idea because of what I like to think of as “the point of no return”– if after a week, the team decided the original idea was no good, you were instantly at a disadvantage compared to the other teams. Essentially, you were stuck building on that original idea no matter what, so the “market research” you did for the rest of the class was to justify what you were already building.
Thankfully, in the “real world” we are not bound by such time restrictions. You can take as much or little time as you like with market research, ensuring your idea is sound and ready for prime time. Barring “paralysis by analysis”, everything should be smooth sailing, right? Well, not quite.
Based on market research we conducted for the class, we thought there was definitely a market for a Human Resources product which allowed businesses to determine their compliance with employment law. We did a bit more research based on recommendations Tim Ferriss made in his book, The Four Hour Work Week, and thought we had a winner. With a Professional in Human Resources and geeky web developer on staff, we got to work on the new product.
We gained experience with search engine optimization (better known as SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and writing solid copy. We had lots of traffic despite having mediocre rankings in the search engines, and since we weren’t paying ourselves, we actually made a profit. Despite this, I was never truly satisfied with that project.
Now I know why.
Although it has been on my “someday” list since 2007, I finally started the Thirty Day Challenge (30dc)– an internet marketing bootcamp of sorts, earlier this month– and it has truly been an mind-opening experience. The biggest takeaway from Day 1 (and this was really huge for us) was that we were approaching our business ideas the wrong way. In the last example, we essentially built the product, then tried marketing it to the masses. The 30dc has taught us that before we even think of building, we need to make sure there is a market that actually wants to buy our product. Using the power of the Internet and a couple of nifty software tools, you can research any potential product beforehand.
Of course, that seems common sense to me now, but I truly had a simultaneous Duh!/A-ha! moment when the 30dc explained this. When I went back and researched the keyword and niches we were trying to reach, it was obvious why were not going to get to critical mass. Hindsight is indeed 20/20, but I still wish I’d better understood this back then.
Already, we have found a lot of success with the techniques garnered from the 30dc, and I am looking forward to documenting the experience.
If you are at all interested in the Thirty Day Challenge, I would urge you to download the latest (2009) season’s podcast really soon. I received an e-mail from Ed Dale last week that the 30dc would be going bye-bye and being replaced by a different program this year. Until then, the training materials are still available for download until the end of May.