Tag Archives: Business Valuation Service Industry

Business Valuation Service Industry

If you are considering buying or selling a service industry business you need to start with an evaluation. This can be very complex and the use of a consultant can often give you a value that you can easily defend. The following article outlines the process, and is extracted from FBB Group Ltd: https://www.fbb.com/company-information/recentarticles/how-to-value-a-service-business.

Business Valuation Service Industry

Service businesses run the gamut, from accounting firms, to drycleaners, to janitorial services, engineering, public relations firms, and many other options. Despite their disparity, they all have one thing in common: offering a service to clients.

By their nature, service businesses don’t have much in the way of tangible assets, making EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), for larger businesses, or SDE (Seller’s Discretionary Earnings), for smaller businesses, multiples typically lower than manufacturing businesses. Generally, the smaller the service business, the lower the SDE multiple.

Valuing a service business involves many factors – a tidy, one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t exist. That being said, sellers should recognize that buyers will be particularly interested in certain characteristics for most service businesses.

Normally, valuation is based on several criteria, including: history of profitability, cash flow, overhead, intellectual property, company reputation, number of years in business, opportunities for further growth and added profits, stability of key employees/management team, and customer diversification.

Further consideration goes to whether the company can add more services. Value increases when a service business offers something unique, especially in a growing industry or market. These industries include rapidly growing service sectors, such as: internet/web-based or cloud-computing services and information technology. Relocatable, internet-based businesses with low overhead are particularly attractive due to scalability. Also, the ability for a business to be operated from anywhere increases the number of prospective purchasers – which increases the business value due to higher demand.

In addition, companies with a large recurring monthly revenue stream (for example, when a high percentage of clients are signed up for automatic bill pay each month) will command more value. Examples include alarm companies or website/email-hosting companies that have monthly auto bill pay from clients. Such a consistent revenue stream impresses both buyers and lenders alike.

Other crucial areas for valuation include intellectual property, ongoing relationships with clients, and having a good team in place – ensuring the company will retain its competitive edge, even when the seller (who typically drives new and repeat business) leaves.
Without significant capital assets, key customers and employees are critical. A strong management team adds to the value of a service business (often more so than in manufacturing) and, conversely, it can detract from value when there’s a poor or inexperienced team.
Another measure of value may include the amount of market share. Companies that provide a niche service and don’t have much, if any, competition will command higher multiples of value.

Within the industry, B2B (business-to-business) companies generally command more value than B2C (business-to-consumer). For both, however, client-base diversity commands value – more medium- or small-sized clients being preferable to a few large clients. With low customer concentration, financial risk is reduced. If one client, for instance, cancels a contract or goes out of business, the service business remains financially viable.

Although contrary to an owner’s instinct, businesses command higher value when they’re not dependent on the owner’s personal relationship with clients. If the owner generates a substantial amount of revenue versus the other employees in total, the business could be at risk after the sale. Service businesses are more valuable when customer relationships are readily transferrable: as customers of a drinking-water delivery or HVAC service business don’t usually care who the company’s owner is, for example. Also, keep in mind that seasonal businesses, due to their cyclical nature, have lower value.

Cash flow is “king,” so the primary consideration for bankers is a buyer’s ability to stay current on loans for acquisitions and working capital. Banks focus heavily on reliable cash flow for service businesses, given that there is little, to no, collateral within the service business itself.

Whether you’re in the market to buy or sell, understanding the various considerations of valuation for a service business will make the process smoother and increase the probability of a more successful transaction.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Raising Entrepreneurial Capital

This writer, with Dr. Suzanne Erickson, is co-author of the book “Raising Entrepreneurial Capital.” The second edition of the book is currently published by Elsevier.

Raising Entrepreneurial Capital guides the reader through the stages of successfully financing a business. The book proceeds from a basic level of business knowledge, assuming that the reader understands simple financial statements, has selected a specific business, and knows how to write a business plan. It provides a broad summary of the subjects that people typically research, such as “How should your company position itself to attract private equity investment?” and “What steps can you take to improve your company’s marketability?”

Much has changed since the book was first published, and this second edition places effects of the global recession in the context of entrepreneurship, including the debt vs. equity decision, the options available to smaller businesses, and the considerations that lead to rapid growth, including venture capital, IPOs, angels, and incubators. Unlike other books of the genre, Raising Entrepreneurial Capital includes several chapters on worldwide variations in forms and availability of pre-seed capital, incubators, and the business plans they create, with case studies from Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim.

Here is how one reviewer evaluates the book:

“I have been an entrepreneur, venture investor or venture capitalist most of my 30-year professional business career and have been involved in the startup of over 40 companies, some very successful and some not so successful. After reading Raising Entrepreneurial Capital, my only regret is that I did not have access to this book of business knowledge at the beginning of my career. Most of the lessons I learned on the job (many the hard way!) trying to raise money, every way known to man, are in this book and I find it amazing how much of it is accurately covered in depth by the authors. It will be a great textbook for teaching entrepreneurial finance. I have never seen a book that covers everything one needs to know in such great depth. This book should be required reading for anyone thinking about starting up a new business. It will save a lot of wasted time and heartache for a new entrepreneur.”

— Kent L. Johnson, Chairman and Managing Director, Alexander Hutton Venture Capital, Chairman of the Advisory Board of Seattle University’s Entrepreneurship Center.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Consulting for Case Study

Hubspot suggests that “Earning the trust of prospective customers can be a struggle. Before you can even begin to expect to earn their business, you need to demonstrate your ability to deliver on what your product or service promises. Sure, you could say that you’re great at X, or that you’re way ahead of the competition when it comes to Y. But at the end of the day, what you really need to win new business is cold, hard proof.

One of the best ways to prove your worth is through compelling case studies. When done correctly, these examples of your work can chronicle the positive impact your business has on existing or previous customers.”

It can be advantageous to use a consultant to prepare the case study. In addition to saving your time the consultant will be objective.

Kissmetrics describes why a case study can be effective:

“People enjoy reading a story. A great case study will allow someone to really get to know the customer in the case study including:

• Who is the sample customer and what do they do?

• What were the customer’s goals?

• What were the customer’s needs?

• How did you satisfy those needs and help the customer meet their goals?

A final thing you could do is simply follow up with the customer in the case study and update your case study a few months down the road to show how your products / services are continuing to have long term benefits for the customer. This would give readers the opportunity to see that your goal is not only to help with immediate needs, but also to ensure long term results.”

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Best Home Business Consultant

The following is excerpted from Entrepreneur magazine:
“The dictionary defines a consultant as “an expert in a particular field who works as an advisor either to a company or to another individual.” Sounds pretty vague, doesn’t it?

Businesses certainly understand what consultants are. In 1997 U.S. businesses spent just over $12 billion on consulting. According to Anna Flowers, spokesperson for the Association of Professional Consultants in Irvine, California, the association has recently noticed an increase in calls for information from people who want to get into the business. “The market is opening up for [the consulting-for-businesses] arena,” Flowers says.

Melinda P., an independent consultant in Arlington, Virginia, thinks more people are getting into the consulting field because technology has made it easier to do so. “The same technology that has helped me to be successful as a consultant has made it easier for others to do the same,” she says.

A consultant’s job is to consult. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s that simple. There’s no magic formula or secret that makes one consultant more successful than another one. But what separates a good consultant from a bad consultant is a passion and drive for excellence. And–oh yes–a good consultant should be knowledgeable about the subject he or she is consulting in. That does make a difference.

You see, in this day and age, anyone can be a consultant. All you need to discover is what your particular gift is. For example, are you very comfortable working around computers? Do you keep up with the latest software and hardware information, which seems to be changing almost daily? And are you able to take that knowledge you have gained and turn it into a resource that someone would be willing to pay money for? Then you would have no trouble working as a computer consultant.”

Be the best home business consultant that you can be. As your home consultancy grows be sure to request testimonials from satisfied customers. These can be displayed prominently on your website.

Creative Ways to Become a Business Owner In 2018

A new year, a new you: it’s a time-honored tradition to treat yourself to a spruce up as one year becomes another.

But the start of the next 12 months of your life isn’t just a chance to dust off your cobwebs and hit the gym, it’s an opportunity to make a big career change by starting a new business.

Running your own business is a challenging, but supremely rewarding, experience. If it’s something you’ve been thinking of for a while — there is no time like the present to get stuck in!

Below I have listed some of the creative ways that you can become a business owner in 2018 to help give you some direction and inspiration.

Help other businesses outsource

A B2B service-based business is hugely recession-proof. Unlike product-based businesses that ebb and flow depending on consumer demand, service businesses are always in demand. Why? Because they help other businesses stay afloat.

There are plenty of things that business owners are happy to outsource and get off their chest, including:

● HR

● Accounting & Finance

● Marketing & Comms

● Administration

● Customer Service

● IT

● Maintenance.

Whether you are a good ‘all-rounder’, or have specific skills — setting up your own B2B business is a savvy move. You may even find that your skills are best suited to an advisory or coaching role — business consultants are always in high demand.

The best B2B businesses inspire confidence, show measurable results, and help busy business owners do more with their time (and money). You can also have a bit of fun with your brand and aim it at a very specific niche market or vertical.

Test case — social media manager & business owner

There are expected to be 2.62 billion social media users in 2018. That’s 35% of the world’s total population of 7.48 billion!

Given the ever growing popularity of social media it presents an opportunity for you to start a new business in 2018 as a social media manager/consultant.

Any company with ambition of surviving the age of social media will have an outlet to connect with their followers — and many companies are increasingly falling short of what’s required of them in this new social commerce age.

Spend some time researching the different platforms, or enhancing your existing knowledge of them, and then set up a business to sell your services. You can start by just working on a few smaller contracts, and build yourself up to business owner slowly. Once you have taken on more work, be smart about scaling and invest in virtual assistants and copywriters to help you service more clients.

Make money from your own personal brand

Imagine if you could get paid just for being yourself?! OK, it’s not as easy as that — but a stellar online brand can definitely be something to monetize and profit from. If you have a compelling story to tell, a gift or flair — start making the most of what you’ve already got. A lot of online personalities only made it because they were brave enough to put themselves out there.

Number one rule: be clear on what you want to achieve from day one. If you’re looking to build a business here, you will need to invest in your branding, drive traffic, and have plenty of ways to make money from your brand. Just creating a website won’t guarantee you’ll have a business to run — be prepared to put in months of brand development time. Just because it’s also personal, doesn’t mean it’s not professional.

How to do it with blogging

If you fancy yourself as a wordsmith then you could put your gift into practice by creating a blog and making yourself the owner of your own blogging business. Gone are the days when a blog was the journal for those with dimnaliphobia. There are now a number of ways that you can make money as a blogger:

● Guest posting – you can either sell space on your own blog, or uses guest posting as a sales strategy to sell blog tie-ins like coaching calls and digital products
● Sell advertising – sell advertising space on your blog, or monetize your content through product and service reviews

● Affiliate marketing – this is where you link out to a product being sold on another site. Each time someone follows the link and buys that product you get a commission — Amazon’s affiliate program is very easy to get set up with

● Training – you can sell your services as a blogger to those looking to become a blogger and show them how it’s done through courses, or training guides/videos.
Start investing in other businesses

When you hear “flip” you probably think of burgers….Well, while you could make some extra cash setting up a burger business, we think that you’ll find flipping websites and businesses a much more creative way of becoming a business owner in 2018.

Investing in other businesses and being part of their journey is a surefire way to quickly become a successful entrepreneur, and you don’t need bags of cash to get started.

How do you do it? It’s simple. Flipping websites is the art of buying a website and then selling it on for a profit. You can do this by visiting one of the many online marketplaces and then selecting from the vast array of websites on offer. Improving a website generally comes down to creating better, fresher content. Ecommerce stores are especially great website investments, and you may even find that you stumble on an exciting brand you want to take all the way yourself!

While it’s difficult to put a precise figure on how much you could earn from the business of website flipping, some flippers have made over $50,000 in less than two years. Suffice to say, it’s a profitable business to be in. Use your passion to find an underserved niche.

Great businesses are created when passion meets niche demand. Mine your fields of interests to find something that you’d be happy to devote lots of time to, but only if you can justify your investment with a ready and waiting marketplace. Peddling your dreams to an empty room is just depressing!

Vegans — your new customers?

Due in part to the age of millennials and now linksters, veganism has grown over 500% in the US since 2014. This makes producing vegan food not just a creative business idea for 2018, but a cash almond that you can milk to bring you a company that has the potential to explode. Vegan food sales is a market worth over $3.1bn a year. You could make 2018 the year that you take a piece of that market for a business that you own.

The key is to find a way of turning an existing non-vegan food into one that is suitable for vegans, as this way you can corner a part of the market and have a product that is totally unique. Focusing on nutrients, health, and superfoods is also a lucrative way to make the most of changing food trends. Another angle to take would be to create vegan products (makeup, fashion etc) and make the most of ethical consumerism.

For 2018, make your New Year’s resolution not to have a new you, but to be the owner of a new business.

Recommended reading: Financial Issues In Business Startup<

Victoria Greene is a freelance writer and ecommerce specialist. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares her experience in blogging, ecommerce, and entrepreneurship. She is passionate about helping companies and individuals develop their business.

Business Services for Self-Employed

An important consideration in setting up a new business is to set up an accounting system which is easy-to-use but robust enough to contain features needed for a well-managed business.

QuickBooks is the accounting system of choice of many professionals.

Mariette Martinez discusses the pros and cons in terms of the features required by small businesses. She focuses on “a newly self-employed individual also referred to as a 1099 Independent Contractor in a Service-Based profession with limited need for invoicing and no product selling.

Based on this type of individual, I have learned that there are 5 Key Elements for an accounting solution to best fit this individual’s need:

1. Anytime, Anywhere Access –This type of individual is usually on the go

2. Pricing – As first-time self-employed, low-cost solutions are best; Free Trial is a PLUS

3. Bank & Credit Card transactions import capabilities – Bank feeds (i.e. automated bank transaction import) are the future of efficient bookkeeping; No More manual entry

4. Reporting – Basic financial reports are essential for year-round profitability analysis & preparation for year-end taxes

5. Mobile App Capabilities such as Receipt Capture & Auto Mileage – If the accounting solution can provide additional features that can eliminate the need for MORE APPs, that’s a PLUS

6. Your Accountant’s BIGGEST Request – Shared Access to Your Books

After researching several online accounting solutions that met all of these qualifications including QuickBooks Online (Simple, Essentials, Plus), QuickBooks Self-Employed, Wave, Xero, Zoho Books, FreshBooks, Kashoo & Sage One, I have narrowed my TOP 3 Choices to QuickBooks Self-Employed ($5/mo.), QuickBooks Online Simple Start ($13/mo.), Wave (Free) (in no particular order).
Please use the above list of programs as a good reference for other great accounting solutions that may better fit your business’s unique accounting needs.

Advantages for ALL Top 3 Apps:

• 100% Cloud Based Accounting Solution – all solutions are web-based with mobile app capabilities (mobile features vary per app)

• Very Simple to Use – all solutions have dashboards and easy to navigate tool bars that are simple to learn and intuitive to use

• Ability to Separate Business vs Personal transactions – newly self-employed individuals may not have opened a separate business account yet or he/she is still getting used to using the business account for only business purposes (i.e. no comingling); the ability to separate business vs personal transactions is a great solution to fix these mistakes

• Ability to import multiple bank & credit card account transactions – adding/importing a new bank/credit card account to the system and assigning the income and/or expense type to the transaction is super simple

• Basic Accounting Reports – throughout the year, it’s important to keep a close eye on your income & expenses so you have an idea on how your business is doing; even more important is the ability to estimate your income for the year since as a Self-Employed individual, you are responsible to PAY self-employment taxes

• Pricing- all apps provide a FREE trial period and are less than $15/month

• Receipt Capture – as a newly self-employed, keeping track of your receipts in one place is more important than ever to take advantage of the tax benefits of business expenses; the mobile app for all solutions has the receipt capture capabilities which will attach a picture to a transaction.”

Note that two of her top three choices are versions of Quickbooks. The other choice, Wave is free. All have a free trial period so you may want to take a look at more than one.

A Rough Cut on Feasibility

The Census of Retail Trade provides the average number of stores per capita for a variety of retail outlets. Based on their data, we can determine how well our proposed market area is served on a relative basis for the type of business we plan to start. For example, there is, on average, a stationery store for every 33,000 people; for every 26,000 people there is one bookstore and one nursery and garden supply store.

A piano tuner recently moved to Buffalo, NY, and would like to assess the business possibilities for him in his new home. He plans to estimate how many piano tuners the greater Buffalo area can support, and compare that to the number listed online. How do we advise him as to how to estimate the “right” number of tuners for the area?

One approach is simply to guess. Would it be 1, 10, 50, or 100? Are you comfortable with this approach? I am not. An approach I would be comfortable with would be to search for data on estimates of how many piano tuners per capita there are in the U.S., and apply that ratio to the Buffalo area population (let’s use 1.3 million). Is data on this likely to be available? Test your resourcefulness by trying to find it.

Assuming that data is not available, we must go to the “some assembly required” approach to estimating, that is, deriving the estimate from data which is available modified by related local and national data, norms, and “rules of thumb.” While this seems as indirect as to be little better than just guessing, it can be a very useful exercise. If nothing else, it causes us to identify some important variables and how they relate to our business of interest. The inaccuracies of compounding estimates can be minimized by working in ranges to give us a “ballpark” figure.

How can I derive a meaningful estimate from generally available information? It would be interesting to know what percentage of American households own a piano, and how often they get it tuned. If the data is national, we may need to apply some local adjustment factor. Given the annual number of piano tunings, we can divide by the annual capacity of a tuner to determine how many are needed.

I will do an “off-the-top-of-my-head” calculation to illustrate the method, then leave it to you to provide real values:

Buffalo has about 400,000 households population divided by 3 members average); 8% of American households own pianos. I can think of no reason to apply any local adjustment to this figure, so we are talking about roughly 32,000 pianos. My guess is that two-thirds of all pianos are merely furniture, so that the remainder of about 11,000 is played regularly and in need of tuning. Tuners recommend that a piano be serviced twice a year, but my guess is that the average is probably once a year for active pianos, or 11,000 tunings per year.

A tuner can service 2 to 4 pianos a day; let us say 3 per day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, or 750 tunings per year per tuner. To provide Buffalo’s 11,000 annual tunings would require almost 15 tuners. The phone book lists 9. Sounds promising!

Could it have been done more scientifically? How? Would discussions with piano tuners and music stores have been useful? Are there any journals worth consulting? Would a survey have helped?

Are pianos in places other than homes? Are there tuners without an online presence?

The Census of Retail Trade provides the average number of stores per capita for a variety of retail outlets. Based on their data, we can determine how well our proposed market area is served on a relative basis for the type of business we plan to start. For example, there is, on average, a stationery store for every 33,000 people; for every 26,000 people there is one bookstore and one nursery and garden supply store. The population can presumably support a barber shop for every 2,200 residents, and a furniture store for every 3,000.

How do you like this? How many would you have guessed without this analysis? Does the result seem reasonable? Enough on which to base the opening of a business?

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Financial Issues in Business Startup

The prospective new business owner approaching a lending institution should keep in mind the “five c’s of credit:” character, cash flow, capital, collateral, and (economic) conditions. Character consists of the borrower’s integrity, experience, and ability; particularly close attention is paid to a borrower’s credit history, which is a matter of record. Should you decide to try to fund a startup through a commercial lender, the remaining criteria are addressed in the loan request.

A primary inhibitor of business start-up is that few people have the financial cushion to give up a job for the uncertain income of a start-up venture. In a recent survey, about 30% of new business founders identified inadequate funding as their biggest hurdle, and a similar amount said lenders were too conservative. About 15% reported being unable to find investors, and a similar amount claimed a lack of collateral.

The prospective new business owner approaching a lending institution should keep in mind the “five c’s of credit“: character, cash flow, capital, collateral, and (economic) conditions. Character consists of the borrower’s integrity, experience, and ability; particularly close attention is paid to a borrower’s credit history, which is a matter of record. Should you decide to try to fund a startup through a commercial lender, the remaining criteria are addressed in the loan request.

The loan request should include a credit application, financial information such as tax returns and personal financial statements, and a brief business plan emphasizing projected financial performance of the new venture. The plan should demonstrate how the business will generate sufficient cash flow to repay the loan, specify collateral, and show the borrower’s personal investment.

In addition to servicing the loan, cash flow should also cover operating expenses, and provide for some re-investment for the increasing financial demands of a start-up venture. As collateral, banks will often lend up to 80% of the market value of real estate, and up to 50% on business assets such as equipment, inventory, and current accounts receivable. Lenders and investors often require that the bulk of start-up monies be provided by the business owner. This assures these stakeholders that the owner is committed, and has confidence in the financial projections.

When the entrepreneur can not meet the requirements of commercial lenders, and does not have a favorable arrangement with partners or other investors, the remaining options are difficult and expensive. These options include public-sector guarantees, finance companies, and the venture capital market.

Even where the start-up investment consists largely of other people’s money, the amount of financial risk for the entrepreneur is beyond what most can responsibly handle. For many with the financial means, the stress of bearing complete responsibility for the company’s direction and performance is the discouraging factor.

Once the venture is off the ground, a new set of challenges faces the entrepreneur. A recent survey showed their major concerns, named by more than half of respondents, were: “getting new business/clients”; “managing my time”; and, “promoting my business”. Another interesting question was what they missed about the corporate world. The top three responses were “company-paid health insurance”, “a regular paycheck”, and “retirement plans”.

Various estimates have been made for the failure rate of business start-ups, based on various concepts of failure and of appropriate survey methods. The consensus seems to be that less than half of new businesses survive the start-up “trauma”.

Perhaps, a major reason for what seems to be a high failure rate is that it is so easy to start a business. There is no institutionalized check of qualifications in the U.S.; on the contrary, our tax dollars fund the Small Business Administration and other agencies and programs that encourage business formation.

Another survey showed that over 80% of entrepreneurs would take a pay cut if that is what it took to keep the business going. Just over a third would sell the business, even if a good price were offered.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business”, available on Amazon.

Competitive Edge

In his book, The Road Ahead, Bill Gates of Microsoft writes of “friction-free capitalism” made possible by developments in communications, chief among them the Internet and its World Wide Web. In this context, “friction” is everything that keeps markets from functioning as the “perfect competition” of economics textbooks. This friction can be a function of distance between buyer and seller, costs of overcoming this distance, and incomplete or incorrect information.

Friction manifests itself by causing barriers to entry for new competitors, limiting the number of outlets from which the consumer has to choose. Large companies, with multiple sales outlets, and economies of scale, have greater power to direct the marketplace.

The degree of friction in the developed world has been decreasing for some years now. Affordable air travel, overnight delivery, improved telephone and fax communications have shortened distances. Credit cards and toll-free numbers have spawned at-home shopping from sources across the country.

The Web has taken the friction in our economy down another notch. In principle, we can sell products and services to a worldwide audience as easily and effectively as our largest multi-national competitor. In principle, we can sell products and services to a worldwide audience as easily and effectively as our largest multi-national competitor. In the friction-less economy, the challenge of differentiating ourselves from the competition becomes even greater.

In the friction-less economy, the challenge of differentiating ourselves from the competition becomes even greater. Successful small businesses tend to be those who can find some competitive edge, even when their product or service is similar to those around them.

Marketing professionals often call a business’ competitive edge their “unique selling proposition”, or USP. Pinpointing and refining one’s USP, however, is not a simple matter. An approach is unique only in the context of our competitors’ marketing messages.

Some marketing messages go beyond product and service characteristics. For example, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, insisted that he sold hope, not makeup. Similarly, United Airlines sells “friendly skies”, and Wal-Mart sells “always” the low price. Do these slogans convey how each company views their customers? Does their selling proposition appeal to your preferences?

Sharpen your USP:

  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes; satisfy their needs, not yours.
  • Know what motivates behavior and buying decisions.
  • Find the real reasons people would buy your product instead of a competitor’s. Ask them!
  • “Shop” the competition, be open-minded about your product, and never stop looking for ways to make your product stand out.
  • Try now to recast your business idea in terms of its competitive advantage. Prepare an industry analysis (size, customers, trends, and competitiveness). Identify what you see as your specific market, and estimate the share you think you can capture.

    The Web can be a powerful research assistant. Virtually every major business puts product and service information on the Web, including business directory services and magazines.

    Search engines can help in improving your understanding of your industry, and the key success factors. Test the resources available on the Web. Visit sites of major companies in the industry, where appropriate. Search the archives of business magazines for articles that give background and statistics.

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

    Selecting a Venture

    Craft an entry strategy. What type of business could best seize the chosen opportunity?

    The basic rule is simple: “Find a market need and fill it”! The process of finding the need, and the method chosen to fill it are where the difficulties arise.

    Based on our opportunity scan, does the market need a product or service that is not currently being provided? Is there a needed product or service currently being provided in a less than satisfactory way? Is some particular market being underserved due to capacity shortages or location gaps? Can we serve any of these needs with some competitive advantage?

    Remember that a business idea is not a business opportunity until it is evaluated objectively and judged to be feasible. You may wish to choose two to five of the ideas that seem most promising for more detailed study. Trying to consider too many would spread your time, energy and focus too thin. At the same time, if you focus too early on only one business idea, you are more likely to become “attached” to it, and could lose your objectivity.

    Testing the feasibility of your top business ideas involves time and effort to collect key information. A first pass might consist of consulting recent journal articles that evaluate the market of interest; most libraries have computer-based indexes of periodical articles, such as InfoTrac. Other useful library resources include industry trade books, directories, and other sources of industry statistics.

    Data collected from industry sources and journal articles is often referred to as secondary data, in that it was collected for purposes not directly related to our specific venture. Sometimes this can be sufficient, though we may find the need to fill the gaps with primary data. Collection of primary data can be very expensive. It generally consists of conducting market surveys, in person or by telephone, of a statistically significant random sample of our prospective clientele.

    Craft an entry strategy. What type of business could best seize the chosen opportunity? Would taking in partners with complementary skills enhance my chances for success? What would be the optimum location? Whom would we serve, and how? Would my chances be improved by buying a franchise or an existing business, as opposed to starting a venture “from scratch”?

    A small business is the usual product of entrepreneurship. Can a person start a large business? Only 4% of businesses employ over 20 people at start-up. What kinds of businesses are the larger start-ups likely to be? My sense is that most would be food service businesses, and many of those would be franchises.

    Over half of business start-ups consist of 1 or 2 employees. What kinds of businesses can you enter with only 1 or 2 employees? Most would probably be considered professional practices (medical, law, accounting) rather than commercial businesses.

    Small businesses are characterized by independent management, closely-held ownership, a primarily local area of operations, and a scale that is small in comparison with competitors. Many are small by design, or are “lifestyle” businesses, where the primary objective is employment for the principals.

    Many are intended to be more “entrepreneurial ventures,” with the intention of generating substantial growth in scale of operations and profitability. Successful entrepreneurs craft such an idea into a business concept that, hopefully, fills a void in the marketplace. You should enjoy your concept and be excited enough to relay your feelings to your market.

    Your concept does not need to be a major breakthrough. It could simply be an improvement to an existing product or service. The improvement could be as simple as better service and/or quality than is currently available, a faster or otherwise better method of delivery, or a technological improvement.

    Solicit input from friends and other consumers of the product as currently offered. Ask questions like: Is there a need? Would YOU buy it? What price would you expect to pay for it? Is there a better way to provide it?

    Check out how the competition is providing the product to the market. Determine what makes your concept different from the competition. Why would the market be better off doing business with you? What can you give the market to improve their experience with the product? Does your product or service exceed the expectations of the market?

    Define the needs of your market by listening to the customers and understanding how your product might fill that need. Is there something more you could do, to make it more attractive to your market? Is your product a solution to a problem in your market? How will you handle customer service complaints? What are your guarantees to your customers?

    Statistics show that 80% of company sales come from repeat orders and referrals from satisfied customers. Exceed your customers’ expectations and they will be back, and they will refer you to others.

    Refining and improving your concept is an ongoing process. Maintain a high profile in your community to develop relationships that help promote the product and serve as a referral and constructive feedback network. This involvement will only produce these benefits, however, if you are sincere in your willingness to work hard for the community you live in. If you don’t the available time to offer your community, perhaps you could give your product as a gift to local charities or sponsor a local event where your community would benefit.

    John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has almost 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.