how do I start an e-company?? business help needed
I'm interested in starting a dotcom business, but the truth is I really have no idea what I need to do so that I don't get screwed by someone copying my idea.
i would appreciate any sort of advice from you all that you have!...
EDIT- ****.. i didn't know that UBB code didn't work in the post title area.... sorry, that was supposed to be an italicized e... oops
[This message has been edited by zskillz (edited 07-02-2000).]
I wish I had lots of great pointers for you, but I don't. There are many web-based businesses out there, and some of them are based on classic business models we've all come to know and lov... well, KNOW.
I recently sat in on a presentation for an e-business that turned out to be (though they swore it wasn't) Amway. I have nothing against Amway, I like L.O.C. cleaner and all that, but I was thinking of a job that didn't involve recruiting others to do the same...
Other e-businesses out there are changing the business world as we know it, and we're going to see a day when these new types of business reshape how we live and work and consume.
(I have just been on a site "under construction" where you may soon get music online by monthly subscription, like a cable bill, all you want for less than your cd buying per month... at least, that's their plan...).
But the reason I am writing is because, in your post, you seemed most interested in protection of your intellectual property. I hope to say this cheerily, not gloomily: that should be the LEAST of your worries.
You see, you CANNOT protect an idea. You can protect a particular Expression of it, and that is why we have Copyright monopoly privileges. You can protect a particular Implementation of an idea, and that is why we have Patent monopoly privileges.
All privileges of these sorts come with strings. With patents, for example, you actually DIVULGE what you want to protect. Many inventors hate that! Inventors, of course, realize that a different implementation is often a scrutiny or two away. With copyrights, you accept that there ARE cases where some have a right to use your expression, and there are ways others can use your precious idea by simply expressing it uniquely. Writers often hate that, but it is so.
The privileges can be hard to obtain in an iron-clad way without legal expertise, and even harder to defend.
The best defense in intellectual property is always the ASSERTION of ownership! By putting a (c)2000 zskillz on this, for example, you claim ownership. I, seeing this, know that if *I* claim ownership of the SAME expression of an idea, there is at least an off chance I'll find myself in court trying to prove to a judge that I was first and not just imitating.
It's the old "Security sticker" trick, to be sure: just like "Protected by Joe's Alarms" on your window thwarts petty thieves. And it ONLY works as long as you are quick and vigorous should someone attempt to casually make off with your Expression.
(Trade-marks are much the same: an identifier associated with an individual performance. Coca-Cola, Kleenex, Gerber, Bayer, McDonald's, Microsoft--- all have, at one time or another, had to threaten or sue others to keep their names unequivocally associated with THEIR product or service and not someone else's Also.)
Copyrighting has indeed become a simple matter of asserting your ownership in a legally identifiable manner in front of the public. Patents are still a matter of attorneys, searches, petitions filed, and a temporary grant pending challenge.
If YOUR patent implementation passes muster, meaning you can demonstrate that it works, it is original to you, and it does something which, up until you, was done differently or not at all, and no one else has submitted their implementation claim with origins prior to your work, and you pay the fee, THEN you get the privilege of being the one person who can use or tell anyone else they can use your implementation. For a limited time.
Yeeeehaaah!!!, I hear you say. Or was that, Doh!!!
The one thing that should stick out by now is: I CANNOT PROTECT AN "IDEA" BY ITSELF.
Nor should you even try. That, should the creeping perversity of our legal system allow, would strangle the very nature of creativity and innovation.
Should I "invent" little symbols and copyright them as expressions, more power to me-- I have invented a font or typestyle. Should I "invent" the CONCEPT or idea of little symbols to express with, I have invented words and language and can now tell you to pay me or shut up.
So, what should you do? I offer this advice to anyone who wants to start a business, "e-" or otherwise. LOOK TO YOUR OWN IMPLEMENTATION.
Whether your idea is new or old (there is no shame in an "old" idea, by the way) does not matter. Many people have found success in doing something many others have tried to do before. The key is ALWAYS: How You Do It.
Amazon Books, for example, operates no different, in principle, to catalog sales in many other businesses. They need no storefront, just a well-organized warehouse and a good shipping department. The Internet already HAD booksellers, and still does, SCADS of them.
Amazon took care to do things RIGHT: they held their prices to such low margins they often beat chain discounters. They shipped "Pronto", not just well, but very fast. They made shopping an easy and pleasant browsing experience, with an interface everyone could grasp.
And they worked HARDER than a catalog or retail chain would have-- to add info on authors, reviews, links, special search tools, security for transactions... all that Amazon is, when dissected, is not special. When seen as the seamless whole, it is IMPRESSIVE, and many web veteran will point to Amazon as their FIRST web-buying experience-- the first place where people even considered typing in a credit-card number.
I mention Amazon because they have high web visibility. Every web business needs that, and Amazon, you can bet, pays royally for the thousands of links it has across the Web, on gazillions of banners. That is one cost of doing business; but it would not help, in fact, would have been disaster itself, had Amazon not had its full act together before it got some of the "limelight" it now has. (Amazon as yet is not a "profitable" operation, but few doubt that even on 2-5% margins of profit, the "mature" Amazon will be a healthy one.)
On the non-business front, I am interested in, among other things, old calculators. I thought about making a web page for my collection. I searched the Web. There are about a hundred of pages JUST like what I was thinking of putting up. And then, there's ONE: The Museum of HP calculators,
and it is by far the best, not just of class, but a MODEL for other websites devoted to products. It's in my Favorites, and anyone who expresses an interest like mine, I TELL them, you gotta go there, and they DO.
As I say, HOW you do it is far more important than the "mere" idea behind it.
Lastly, I want to talk about the "Window of Opportunity". This really exists. If you have something in mind you want to do, there is a time limit on it. The Wright Brothers wanted to build an aeroplane. That they did it in 1903 is notable. I could build just such an aeroplane, out of the same sticks, fabric and engine parts. In 2000, I would just be "ODD".
Your implementation of your idea should be aware of those factors, including time, that you have either with you or against you. Because everything you have to do is in the future, and no one can predict the future reliably, about all you can do is consider time your enemy.
A business person has to do many things: work out his implementation, his intro costs, his expenses and a reasonable estimate of the time it will take his business to make enough to meet expenses; he has to develop a plan or strategy for meeting those goals; he has to convince people whom he needs to help him achieve those goals; he has to pinpoint his weaknesses, for the express purpose of filling the gaps in his own knowledge or ability.
It follows, then, that many people will NEVER get beyond the most rudimentary planning and plotting stages, simply because there is too much work to be done without a sufficient guarantee that they will see a profit in it.
DO NOT BE LIKE THEM. Do not be a bedsitter and dreamer, but a man of action. Dreams and action can exist in the same person, but rare it is to find one who will work like hell on behalf of his dream, focusing his energies on it and not letting it go by. Time can steal a dream away, as easily, maybe MORE easily than a thief of "intellectual property" could ever do.
Just my two cents. Go get 'em!!
Nice post. I nominate Mr. Harris for ultimate member. Could you accelerate his post count by a few hundred, Sysopt, cause each one of is his is clearly worth about ten of mine
Glynn Harris said a lot of really, really, excellent things. Getting into business on the Internet involves overcoming two HUGE problems.
1) You've got the technical part--what products will you sell/what services will you offer, how will your website be set up, who will do it, etc.
2) How will people find it?
#2 is a huge one. I've heard various estimates but one thing everyone agrees on is that the #1 cost to any dot-com right now is advertising. The biggest reason that no dot-coms have shown a profit yet is because so much cash is rolling right back out the door in advertising costs.
Now, keep in mind, when a corporation doesn't show a profit that doesn't mean they didn't make any money. There are tax and accounting reasons why, in fact, a corporation does NOT want to show a profit.
The first thing I would do is draw up a concrete business plan, as Glynn suggests. Figure out what it is you want to do, how you intend to do it, and how you want to reach your public. Spend a lot of time surfing the web looking at your competition. Analyze their webpages--what's working well for them, and what isn't?
When starting your own business the odds are always long but the rewards can be huge. There are many successful companies today both web and retail based that didn't open with much. Keep in mind, McDonald's was once a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Illinois and Wal-Mart was ONE store that nobody outside of their hometown had ever heard of.
BTW, Glynn, I've been involved with Quixtar since it launched in September. Though your right that the two companies are similar and there is cross-over between them, I've worked in both companies and there are legal and business differences.
This is just something for you to consider--it doesn't affect me either way--but if you like some of the products/partner stores they have available on the Quixtar site, I suggest you consider becoming a Member. That would allow you to buy all the products at their discount prices without making you a 'business owner.'
Glynn and Dputiger did bring up many great points to answer your question, but there is no way you could ever learn a fraction of what you need to know to just "start" an buisness of any kind from a reply on a message board.
Yes, it's true that ANYBODY now can start an e-business (seems like ANYBODY does too). Just pick a random noun, throw "e-" in front of it and blam! wait for the money to roll in. wait, I think I missed a step in there somewhere. Seriously, schooling and at least some experience in running a business is required in my book to become successful.
It would be like me posting a thread to the board that said "How can I build a car? enigineering help needed" when I have no experience or idea of how a car works internally prior to the post. It would be very difficult to answer and I shouldn't expect to e abel to build a car afterwards even though I got a 20 page long response from a Ford engineer himself.
I'm sure you can go to the bookstore and find one of those yellow books "E-Business for Dummies". They seem to have one for everything else.
EDIT - by the way, Glenn, THANK YOU for your post. Not only was it well thought but it was very incitefull. Almost makes me feel a little more edumacated in business.
[This message has been edited by gradius (edited 07-03-2000).]
Just when we were all patting each other on the back, Gradius shows up at delivers the fatal blow.
He's absolutely right, too. Even assuming you had Jeff Beezos himself in here (founded Amazon.com) its doubtful he could give you many of the specifics about working in, say, the car industry and putting it online. Jeff undoubtedly has a ton of hands-on e-commerce experience but he simply hasn't worked in that industry.
I'd go look for some good books on the subject, like Gradius said.
Yes, I also nominate Mr. Harris for Ultimate! He deserves it. Every post he makes is helpful and lengthy in info. You also did good, Dputiger.
Wow... L-O-N-G (and informative) post!
And Dputiger... Quixtar IS a Pyramid. A member of my family tried to get sucked into it before, and thats pretty much what it is .. A pyramid.
I'm not sure what you mean by pyramid, Brandon. If, by a pyramid, you mean a business which is pyramidal in shape, than of course, Quixtar is a pyramid. Every corporation is pyramidal in structure--at least in a capitalist economy. I guess technically a Soviet-style bureaucracy might have a different shape but I'm not to firm on my Soviet economics.
I do know that Quixtar and other companies like it (Amway, Avon, Mary Kay, Nikken, Shaklee, etc) are not pyramid schemes, which are the only other things I can think of that you might be referring too. Pyramid schemes are Ponzi schemes or the game of Airplane. So what exactly did you mean by pyramid?
Yes.. I don't quite remember how this works, but Quixtar was started by something involving Amway itself..
hehe.. I'm not the kinda guy who wants to be known as selling Amway products, thanks.
Glynn.... much appreciation
That post kicked madd ***!!!
I am fully aware of the fact that you can't protect an idea, and I understand some of the ramifications that it could mean if you could. I actually wanted to try and keep the post fairly simple and clean so that I dind't confuse people about the main question...
I've put a fair amount of time into the expression of my idea, and that is really what i want to protect... u see, the thing is. I don't want to say what it is (for obvious reasons), but I will say this. I have very meager funds to start out from. I'm not planning on creating an amazon right off the bat (that would be a prime example of hubris), but I do believe that this idea has extreme potential!
Regardless, my real concern is that someone who does have more money and more means could see this company, so to speak, in the young stages and blow me out of the water just because they initially have more resources and can advertise... etc. more than me.
I am also aware, this time unfortunately, of the time factor. This business has potential to do something that I've not seen done on any large level before, but it will only build slowly because I will be doing all of it with the help of my brother and partner as I do not have the means to pay anyone until I hopefully start to turn a profit. Fortunately, one of the nice things is that the product is fairly inexpensive. It is the time commitment that makes it a moderatly weighty investment.
In the end, I really appreciate your help with this and I'll certainly keep working on it. Who knows... perhaps someday, I'll come back to this board and drop you all a link to my own little amazon.com... hehehe
To gradius and others... thanks for your responses as well. I understand that this is just a messageboard, but there is much knowledge here to be tapped, so it is certainly a viable resource for me. If only for ideas and a step in the right direction.
Zskillz... you wanted to know a way to keep competition away while your fledgling business gets started.
You know, in my first post, I stated, "Look after your own implementation". That advice still holds.
You see, you can be secret for a while, until you need startup money from others, or you are ready to introduce your product, but SOONER OR LATER, you'll be naked to the world.
And then, competition is Just a Fact of Life.
Yes, zskillz, someone with Money can probably ALWAYS replicate your effort with less trouble than you, initiate production easier and get it to market quicker than you did, and if the product's appeal is broad, many well-heeled people will say to themselves: Hey, I could do that! And they will be able to.
This, in itself, is a good reason to have lots of money.
So what if that happened? Imagine the consequences... worst case:
REDMOND(Asphyxiated Press)-- Today Microsoft announced a new product that will forever change the industry. Chairman Bill Gates, in a press conference, introduced the "Z-2001", expected to be available in the third quarter of next year.
"A total departure for our company, yes, but one we've developed in response to our customer's many pleas for just this sort of product" said Mr. Gates, as Microsoft President Steve Ballmer lovingly stroked the Z-2001 prototype on display, fawning and cooing over it in front of cameramen until an irritated Mr. Gates finally turned and told him "Take a break, Vanna".
In response to a reporter, Mr. Gates dismissed a comparison to an existing product currently available on the web, at www.zskillz.com. "Hey, the two products have absolutely nothing in common" bristled Mr. Gates, recently reported by Forbes Magazine to be #1 in the Forbes 500 world's most wealthy people for the fifth year running. "Any comparison of the two is ludicrous. His thingy may do, sort of, what ours does, but ours will of course follow an industry standard, which we have written, and his may not be compatible. Besides, ours is, will be, better, and we welcome ANY competition, no matter how small and unlikely they are to give adequate support to their customers. Certainly, that has always been the key to Microsoft's business strategy: Innovate, Compete, and Cr-uh, Move Forward."
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, is the world's largest manufacturer of Operating Systems and Language software, business applications like Office 2000, input devices like mice, joysticks, cameras and keyboards, and other computer-related products. The Z-2001 is expected to be the first in a new group of products, all using a proprietary interface in development by Microsoft.
The news of Microsoft's new product line reverberated through the political world and Washington. An employee of the Department of Justice, who asked to remain anonymous, stated "They're thumbing their noses at a breakup, by introducing totally new products at this stage of our process. We'll be issuing injunctions as soon as we know what the heck this new z-2001 product actually is".
The two leading U.S. Presidential candidates responded as well: Vice-President Albert Gore, scheduled to make a second appearance on a Barbara Walters special next Tuesday night at 8pm, said in that interview "Of course, I sat in on a meeting over at Microsoft when this was in the initial stages of being discussed. I remember suggesting to Bill Gates that something like this z-2001 thing should be done".
Meanwhile, from his Texas ranch, Gov. George W. Bush issued a statement to the press which read "God Bless Free Enterprise. God Bless Microsoft. God Bless Bill Gates."
ABC News' Technology Markets Senior Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, asked to comment on the product's chances, said "Yeah, it'll sell. Sure hope they wipe all that drool off of it first."
Hey, it could happen.
But what if it did? Would that ruin everything for you?
Of course not. It might very well change your current vision of doing one thing and having it not only pull you out of a well, but provide you with everlasting comfort and freedom. (Believe me, I've had visions like this too).
But I hope I can impart something into your heart as well as your head-- a sort of Zen outlook (inlook?) about competition that ACCEPTS it as a part of the rules, not tries to shut it down or keep it from happening.
If you have a product that absolutely MUST be protected in a little hot-house, free from competition for a fragile part of its life, there's only one option: government (legal) protection. You must have something original there, and not just a re-working of what has been before.
(I once "invented" a thin steel-sheet that screwed to a wall, and came with magnets, specifically for poster sized art, with a polycarbonate sheet "frame" overlay. You could change posters on the wall in seconds; no pinholes or adhesive on your pictures at all. But what could I patent of that? NOTHING. Nevertheless, I still use Mine, plus the folio pocket which keeps my old posters flat and uncreased. It had a great deal of utility. It was composed, however, of nothing original.)
There are aspects that sometimes may be protected, even if they aren't necessarily the ESSENCE of the product-- as long as they are part of the IDENTITY. For instance, a copyright on the design of a product, if unique, can be used legally to protect against imitators (if they are trying to leverage their product off your reputation and design).
Look at that Golden Orb Fan/Heatsink. Look especially at Apple's I-Mac. These are copyrighted designs meant to differentiate the product in the marketplace. They also provide, as a function of the unique design, a way to legally protect against blatant imitators. The design, of course, also needs to be reasonably Functional.
But let's talk instead about the realities of Marketing and Selling, and why the natural tendency of an inventor/creator to "protect" his "intellectual property" is not, in my opinion, where he needs to focus his energies.
I am reminded of the recording industry and its many attempts to end the practice of home-taping. Their argument was that, if you bought an album for your home, and taped it, and played that tape in your car, you were DEPRIVING artists of income. Instead, you should buy both the LP/CD versions, and also the cassette versions of the product. Which, they complained, you WOULD have done, were it not for those dratted home recording decks!!! Therefore the R.I.A.A. went before our U.S. Courts and tried to get home tape recorders banned.
Simultaneously, the M.P.A.A. was trying to get video recorders such as Betamaxes banned (the movie studios had realized there was a great "potential market" for pre-recorded tapes). Fortunately the courts slapped both RIAA and MPAA down, finding that if you buy an LP, CD, or tape, you may copy it for your own purposes, so long as you don't become a pirate and sell it.
The RIAA and MPAA have lobbyists, and so their focus has been on changing laws, culminating in the Millenium Copyright Act, recently signed by President Clinton. This stops short of making taping criminal, but it does assign a minimum dollar amount of "loss" of "potential market", beyond which, if the author can prove to a judge that you caused such a loss, you can be deemed criminally and civilly in violation of copyright. This does not differentiate between a Pirate doing it for private gain, a person sharing free copies to his friends, or a skinflint desiring to dub his CDs to tape for his own use. Only the relative unlikelihood of the RIAA or MPAA knowing your habits personally and calculating this "potential market loss" is supposed to make you feel safe if you home-tape.
In the case of CD-Audio, the RIAA won over manufacturers of Stereo components (specifically ones that also own record companies) to voluntarily create CD-R components that can ONLY USE a special Audio-CDR blank. This blank is more expensive because a dollar of its price is a pre-paid royalty to record companies for the "potential market loss" of a home-recordist making his own CDs. (NOTE: Piracy is and has been illegal, with criminal and civil penalties tightened in the 1972, 1975 and 1978 revisions to the Copyright Code. That these "pre-paid" royalties have been paid STILL give you no permissions at all to distribute the work).
In Germany first and subsequently throughout the Euromarket, GEMRA (germany's music licensing entity) won legislation to force the makers of blank audio cassette tape to charge a pre-paid royalty which now adds to the cost of all blank tapes in Europe. The royalties go into a pool, divvied up by a bureacracy to all artists likely to be affected by "potential market loss". In effect, the big names get the big cut of this pie. Equitable? The record industry has been trying to get that over here, and the MPAA has successfully won the right to do it for recordable DVD media....
Now I happen to have home-recorded my own audio tapes for a long time (since I was 12). I did it to make my own compilations and mixes, and because the activity is fun... you decide what follows what and time things out and make something quite individual out of LPs/CDs you have bought-- is that wrong? Whom, exactly, have I deprived? I felt like I bought MORE records in my career than I otherwise might have....
And I have taped some specifically to play in my car. Had I not been able to tape my LPs/CDs for my car, would I have bought the LP/CD AND the tape? Heck no. I might have bought one OR the other, or just whistled and sung acappella a lot more in traffic. Or listened to stupid radio, which pays royalties every time they play a song, but pays for it with advertisers.
Software marketers have played with these concepts too, and (just to be a seer for a moment) I think ULTIMATELY, companies like Microsoft are going to offer their high-end software in a form which has to check in every once in a while over the internet so they can charge companies (maybe users) a penny for every email, a nickel per spreadsheet calculated. Just give 'em your credit-card number, and they'll activate that software on your machine.... Better royalties, they'll tell you, than having to buy an expensive package and updating it. Or buying something at high cost that you may only use once or twice a year. And no software piracy! You can use their on-line hard drives, too, for your data, and so forth. Run independent software? Sure-- but they are not enabling floppies any more (Ahem: don't bring programs from home), and just watch these Novell-junkie IT managers at major corporations say: Woohoo, no more update hassles... no netwide installs to worry over. Welcome to the future: time-sharing redux.
So anyway, back to topic: Is there really something called "potential market"? and how should a marketer view it?
A POTENTIAL MARKET IS ONLY A REAL MARKET IF THE CUSTOMER'S DESIRES ARE COMPLETELY ACCOUNTED FOR.
Let's experiment a moment:
I just bought some Starkist tuna (in vegetable oil). I don't ALWAYS buy it. I am not FORCED to buy it. I buy it IF:
1. I like tuna, and I am tired of bologna or peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch (Choice)
2. Star-Kist has a good price for their tuna that I feel is worth paying (Worth)
3. I like and know the Star-Kist brand is always good tuna (Reliability)
4. My friend the environmentalist is not around to lecture me of the plight of dolphins and such (Reputation)
5. I can afford to buy the tuna in the first place (Affordability)
6. I can find it in the store and it's not sold out (Availability)
7. I think about it while browsing IN the store or have it on my list (Desirability)
8. Chicken-of-the-Sea is not much cheaper (Competition)
9. The much cheaper store brand is not appealing (Competitive Experience/Knowledge)
10. I'm buying it for myself to eat, not my cat. (Purpose)
Any one of these variables, if negative, could cause me to make another choice. So, you see, it ISN'T just ephemeral things like music or software that have "market potentials"; all items sold have them... and Star-Kist may make the best canned tuna on the planet, but that won't change the fact that they won't always be chosen by ME, the market.
But Star-Kist, if it knows what it is doing, had better make as many decisions as it can to make those variables positive ones. It does this by publishing yummy recipes that use tuna in magazines, by staying at a reasonable price in relation to its competition, by insuring its quality and consistency, by keeping it at the front of my mind through brand-recognition and catchy jingles and clever ad campaigns, by insuring that grocers are re-ordering to meet demand, and so on. In other words, it looks after its own implementation, in every way it can.
There are variables it can't take into account or change-- unless maybe it gives me a job eating its tuna. And some ways of changing the variables are illegal or immoral or both (hear, hear, Judge Penfield Jackson!)-- so if Star-Kist pollutes store-brand tunas to make them unattractive, or adds cocaine to the tuna it makes to "hook" people, or pays stores to not re-order Chicken-of-the-Sea, or has the government step in and label all other tunas "cat-food", we should rightly rebel as consumers.
For Star-Kist, I have a positive message: you are doing it RIGHT. I delivered that message by buying their product. (I can see the executives rushing out right now to buy their BMWs. Yeah right...). But if I will buy, and others too, they will do okay.
Now for a negative experience: I went out today to buy a new motherboard and CPU. I went to Micro-Center, because I live close, and have a credit-card of theirs which offers 90 days interest free. I don't have the cash, and this enables me to use the credit-line. My credit-line is high enough, I am not considering price as an object. So far, so good....
They only had one CPU to offer me: a Celeron 533 Socket 370. I had my heart set on a Pentium III, but if that's all you have, then show me a socket 370 mobo. Ah, but they only carry three brands of mobo: Soyo, Iwill, and one I can't even identify from the box. Which of these are Socket 370? Only the Soyo. Okay--- I have not heard bad things about Soyo--- but WAIT. This isn't an Intel chipset, nor a VIA. It has a SiS600 chipset on it... is this ALL you have? I have to look on the net anyway to know what I am getting into now... so I resolved to shop ON THE NET.
Micro Center, you could have had me, I was a fish on your line... but thanks to limited selection and poor stock and little regard for a buyer of my type, I'll now go where I can get what I WANT.
So you see, LOOKING AFTER YOUR IMPLEMENTATION is dead important. I was a potential buyer-- in fact, could have been a GREAT "real" buyer.
Are you beginning to see what matters here? On established products and services, three criteria are generally identified as being what differentiates one business from another: Price, Delivery, Quality.
There's actually more to it than that. What if all your competitors accept credit cards and you don't? Or you play loud rock music in your shop and blast patron's eardrums as they try to buy? Or you hire bums who had bad attitudes or were happy to steal you blind or make deals with the customers for "hot" product? But, from the standpoint of marketing a GIVEN product, the earlier tuna example is the most important bundle of issues a customer USUALLY has.
I used to work at a shop that made trophies (I trained there as an engraver). We had set prices higher than some shops in the area. We "delivered" (actually you come pick your trophies up) always on a set schedule of a week, where some shops would promise to do something in a day. We would refuse a lot of engraving work we ourselves weren't set up to handle, rather than "brokering" work of others, as many shops did.
What we DID promise is that we would always do the best work that we did all by ourselves, and would always have it ready in that week, not promise and then fail. So our emphasis, in fact the ONE basket where all our eggs were, was in the Quality/Reliability area. I always felt that was a wise strategy-- it was what made us stick out from our competition.
I wish I could say we made money hand over fist. I wish I could say that all our customers were loyal or that our competition withered away and died. It didn't happen that way at all. I think my boss, who was a basically good man and had business skills and savvy, tried about everything he could, even to the point of making some changes I wish he hadn't (culminating in my unemployment there-- he could not afford me).
But he considered many of "his" issues to be as important as the consumer's-- his profitability, his time involvement, his investment, his need to control all aspects of the customer relationship. To the customer, that "potential market", this stuff doesn't matter at all.
You aren't open on Saturday? Not until 9am, and not after 5pm on weekdays? You don't have a website I can order from? You don't have a catalog that represents all your products? The catalog you have has stuff I can't get? Your displays aren't up-to-date and show all your alternatives? You are hard to find from the main streets? You don't really advertise? You don't do many of the things I need to have done, conveniently in one place?
I had to answer many of the patrons questions along these lines Negatively. I watched our business waning, but I could not change the equation (it wasn't in my power). I argued many times with my boss, who could listen without getting angry (one thing I admired immensely about him), but I could not have said my answers were better than his-- it was HIS business, his time, his money, his tail on the line even more than mine.
He asked me to toughen up and price merchandise more profitably, and I did. He asked me not to take on "special projects" that customers would ask us to do. I toughened up there, too. He took on production himself and had me do sales, even though when I was hired, I was to be production and HE would handle sales-- but he wanted to have time off from a strict 9-to-5... so I ended up Watching the store while he did all the product work, and so as business fell off, so eventually did I.
We could have had fifty percent less competition, and it would not have mattered. We could have had fifty percent more competition, and we could have done just fine.
LOOK AFTER YOUR IMPLEMENTATION. Keep an eye on what your customer's point of view and choices are. They are WAY MORE IMPORTANT than who is around you offering Other choices. Just offer the BEST choices, and you will maximize the "potential market" and turn some of it into a REAL one.
I wish my former boss all the best. I hope that even though I am no longer affiliated with it, he does well. I know he is not a quitter, so I expect he'll hit on the right mix someday. Learn from mistakes as well as success, zskillz, that's what it takes.
With regard to NEW products, all that has been said applies, PLUS: any consumer, when confronted with a new concept or idea or product, will have questions and a need for as much information as can possibly be given. This is because you HAVE no reputation, no prior experiences to relate to, no benchmark for what to expect. Pictures can mean a lot here. Good honest descriptions. FAQs and spec sheets. Use the community (for instance, if it's a computer related product, send samples for SysOpt to review and make your product known to all us techies, BEFORE we ever encounter your website. A little rumble can make a difference--- we fight over the best cases, fans, heatsinks, etc, so if someone asks us what is the best mousepad, and we know YOURS, you get the idea....
I realize the post (as mine all are) was long. I have this disease, Editor Deficiency Disorder (EDD). The more I write, the more I think to write, and so on. I could strip it down considerably, but frankly, every time I get ready to hit the Submit key, I fear I have not stressed this or said that or given you enough! Forgive me all who read my posts, and thanks for the kind things you've said. I think we learn as we share, and I like hearing from others about business.
I too hope I will someday be successful as an Entrepreneur. I know you don't stop learning after many years trying to be one...
THANKS A TON!!!!!! Glynn!
I will take eveything you said under consideration as I pursue this opportunity. Hopefully, I'll be succesful enough to learn from my mistakes and successes!
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