When you strip away all of the techniques and strategies and bookkeeping and SEO, a small business is ultimately about earning a profit by solving someone’s problem or fulfilling a need or want. Pretty simple, really!
So if you’re an aspiring business owner looking for an business idea, or if you have a struggling business that could use a little reviving, or if you have a successful business that might benefit from a product or service extension, here are 8 ways to discover what customers need. I recommend following these 8 steps in order to find out exactly what your target market is eager to buy.
This is my favorite starting point. Magazine editors need to sell magazines and they do so by addressing the top concerns and problems of their target market in each and every issue. Go to your local library, find a magazine (or two or three) that speaks to your niche and go through the last 6 months of issues. If you just write down the headlines, you will have a really valuable list of the top problems, buzzwords, and potential solutions that your target market is looking for.
If you don’t have time to go to the library, go to www.magazines.com and find the magazines that serve your niche. Then go to that magazine’s website and scan for headlines.
2. GOOGLE KEYWORDS
Armed with a list of potential problems, you need to broaden your search. There might be related problems or needs, and you should also be aware of different ways that those problems or needs are communicated. Check out Google’s Keyword Tool and search for some of the top terms you identified. Then, sort by Global Monthly Searches to get an approximate idea of what key terms are most popular.
3. SEARCH RESULTS
Next, take the top ten or twenty terms from your Google Keywords list and Google them. (Or Bing them, if you’re so inclined). Check out the following things:
- How many results were found? Some topics will return results in the billions. Others might only have a few thousand.
- What about advertisers using Google Adwords? Are there a lot? Are they selling aggressively? What are they selling?
- What are the top ten search results? Are they information-heavy, sales-heavy, or random? (Information-heavy could mean that there is room for you in this market; sales-heavy means that you’ll need to be really creative and competitive if you want to survive; random results suggest that the market isn’t well defined, there aren’t a lot of active competitors, or your target market isn’t looking here).
4. POPULAR ARTICLES
Popular articles is next on my list of things to read. I would hit many of the online article sites — Squidoo, Suite 101, HubPages, ArticlesBase. These articles are afast glimpse into your target market and the articles highlight the problem while the writer will often have a solution at their website.
Check out the most helpful (not necessarily the most prolific) writers on the topic and bookmark their sites. You’ll visit them in a later step. This step should round out some of your discoveries, although you probably won’t learn anything new if you spent the time reading the magazines articles back in step 1. You will, however, start to meet some of your potential competitors and see how they are solving problems for your customers.
5. NON-FICTION BESTSELLERS
Next on the list: Amazon.com. Find books on the subject and check out the following things:
- The back-of-the-book blurbs
- The Table of Contents (and any other internal pages they might show)
- Customer reviews and feedback (is it helpful? Is it fluff?)
- Related books
Also, take note of the author and bookmark his or her website. You’ll come back to it later.
6. GROUPS AND FORUMS
There are groups and forums for everything. You’ll find them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Groups, or just Google “forum + [your niche]” to find a relevant forum. Then go in and read everything you can. If you don’t want to get involved, that’s okay; that’s not really the point of this exercise and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that when you are building your business. Right now, just listen to your prospects and how they talk about their problems and how they support each other and work through their problems.
7. TWITTER SEARCH
Twitter’s real time search engine search.twitter.com is one of my favorite sites to see what people need… because they’re talking about what they need right now. I find that I can’t use Twitter Search until this point (and not earlier in this 8-step process I’ve been describing) because I don’t always have a good grasp on what problems my target market are really facing: I might not know the buzzwords or the key players or be able to articulate the problems. But by this point — step 7 — I’m confident enough with the information to make some informed searches and see what people are saying.
Now, I should point out that not everyone is going to talk about their problems on Twitter. They only have 140 characters and they may not want to share their problems with the world. But if your niche is open enough, and if their problem isn’t too private, you can find some helpful insight.
8. WHAT ARE THE GURUS SELLING?
Now it’s time to see what the gurus are selling. Earlier in this process you’ve already collected some information about who the market’s go-to people are. Visit their websites and blogs and check out some of the following things:
- What do they sell? A product? A service? Packages? Individual offerings?
- How are they priced?
- Where are they positioned in the marketplace? Are they a location-specific solution? Are they web-based? Do they serve a certain sub-niche?
- Do they give testimonials? Who are the testimonials from? Anyone noteworthy?
- What is their sales funnel?
- How have they established their credibility?
- How are they generating business?
YOUR BEST COURSE OF ACTION
So here’s what you should do: Choose a particular niche. Then work through this list in order, starting with a broad niche and slowly narrowing through to a specific set of problems. Then create a compelling, effective, high-value solution to solve that problem.
Or, if you don’t want to start with a specific niche, try mixing a few of the above methods together but start at a different starting point — perhaps start with something you’re comfortable doing or an industry you have a lot of experience in.