Author Shawn Porat is the CEO of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a non-traditional and out of home media placement company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.
Some people decide to start a business because they have a brilliant idea for a new product or service (or at least an idea they think is brilliant). Many others, however, like the idea of becoming an entrepreneur, but haven't yet found their niche or product. It's certainly possible to succeed with either model. What's important is that you take your original inspiration and turn it into something that the world wants and needs.
The following tips can help you find a focus for your first business, as well as guide you on making your enterprise a success:
1. Focus on trends over fads.
Many new entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to cash in on the latest fad or passing trend. This can work, but in most cases by the time you've developed your idea and made it into a business, the world has already moved on. Even if a fad has a certain amount of staying power, that doesn't mean you can necessarily profit by creating a knockoff. For example, when Beanie Babies became a craze, lots of companies created copycat versions, most of which never sold.
On the other hand, things like social media, smartphones, healthy foods and fitness are not mere fads but long-term trends. Knowing how to tell the difference is one of the things that separates successful and unsuccessful startup ideas. Before you develop an idea into a business, ask yourself how likely it is to be relevant five years from now.
2. Test and research your market.
There are several ways to help determine if your startup idea has merit. It's easier to test certain things than others. With an app or software program, you can easily test it out and let some trusted friends or partners try it out and give you feedback. For physical products, you can create prototypes. This can be expensive, though with the advent of 3D printing, the cost of this is rapidly coming down.
Don't underestimate the value of testing ideas by asking questions and getting verbal and written feedback. This can be done via your blog, business website or social media. You could even post questions on answer sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers. Questions can help you gauge the popularity of an idea and help you come up with new ideas. For example, asking an open-ended question such as, "What do you consider to be the most annoying thing about reserving a hotel room?" can help you come up with ideas for a travel site or app.
3. Don't underestimate the value of "small" innovations.
If you have a game-changing idea for a new product or business, that's great. The majority of successful businesses, however, profit by implementing relatively small improvements in an existing arena. Another possibility is to find an innovative way to implement an existing type of product or technology. Apple is a good example of a company that often succeeds by making improvements rather than revolutionary breakthroughs. One of its most successful products, the iPad, does not do anything new, but puts existing technologies together in one device. If you can solve even a minor glitch or problem, you may be able to turn that into a viable business. Remember, even apparently minor improvements or innovations can make a major impact on an industry.
4. Always seek ways to make it better.
From the moment you start your business until the day you sell it, you should be constantly seeking ways to adapt, improve, pivot and innovate. To succeed in today's marketplace, you must be ready to change your approach at a moment's notice. If something doesn't work, make an adjustment and try something else. Even when something is working, you may be able to make it better. This applies to the quality of your products, your marketing tactics, your customer service and every other aspect of your business.
Creating a startup can be fun and exciting, as well as profitable. It's important, however, to balance the practical with the visionary. You want to do something you really care about, but it also has to be something that people are willing to pay for. Fortunately, many successful entrepreneurs have found that it's possible to do both.