EIRA Quick Guide: Enabling Enterprise
When people think about starting a business it’s easy to jump into the mindset of building the next Facebook, Paypal, or Uber. But in reality, this isn’t the case.
In the UK, 99% of businesses (totalling almost 6 million) are defined as being a Small to Medium Enterprise (having less than 250 employees) – and out of this figure over a third are freelancers or sole traders.
If you’re thinking of starting a business you’re not alone. Nearly 64% of the UK workforce has thought about starting a business and this number goes up to 83% in the 18-25 year old age bracket.
Whether it’s a full-time start-up, a side-hustle you run in the evenings and at weekends, or simply a lifestyle business that gives you more time and freedom, starting a business is not beyond anyone’s abilities.
This guide is a starting point for anyone thinking about launching their own business and the first steps they need to consider.
Identifying Problems, Solutions and Opportunities
We want to create products/solutions based on what people want, need and aspire to. If you can do this, you have a customer, which means you have a business. (If not, this sounds more like a hobby). Key to this process is understanding what the problem REALLY is – not what you think, hope or guess it is.
You can use this grid to capture your thinking.
- The problem is..
- WHY is it a problem
- What do we know about WHY this is a problem
- Is it always a problem/true? (the same for all age groups? Seasonal? Thematic)
- Assumptions I make about this are..
- Highlights (if I was to remember one thing about this)…
Remember, it’s all about the customer. You need to see the world through their eyes, understand what they think and feel and how they behave. Only when you can do that will you create a product or service that truly meets their needs. Creating a customer persona is also great for testing your marketing ideas.
Empathy Mapping can help with this. Ask yourself:
Here’s a visual way to represent it
Customer Empathy Map
Now put your product or service alongside this map. Is it really something this person would use? How does it take the pains away and provide gains?
You can do an empathy map for who you think of as your main customer groups – remember if everyone is your customer, then no one is your customer. You have to have key groups and target your product or service to them.
As you go through the process of validating your business proposition, you need to test all of the things you think you know and turn assumptions into knowledge.
The best way to do this is to create a minimum viable product (MVP), which allows you to quickly and at low cost test the key features of your product or service with the people who you believe are your customers.
You can see from the diagrams above, any cash not used to sustain the business for operational costs is profit. All businesses should want to make a profit because it enables them to grow. Profits can be reinvested into the business by providing extra staff, equipment, resources or even R&D. This can streamline processes, make the business more efficient, effective and increase market share. You can read more about setting up an R&D project in our Enabling Consultancy and Knowledge Exchange guides.
Understanding your audience
It is important to understand many key factors before forming a start-up business;
- Is there a market for the business idea?
- How do you form a company?
- Sources of funding?
- Commercial transactions
- Searching patent literature exercise
Is there a market?
- A company needs to generate revenue, either from the sale of goods or services.
- The market needs to be big enough to justify the formation of a company.
- Doing something “Better, Faster, Cheaper” than how things are done currently is generally a good guide.
- Sometimes a good idea can justify a product or improvement, but not sustain an independent company.
- Alternatives include selling or licensing a product or idea.
Company formation- What is a Company?
A legal entity limited by share ownership organised to conduct a business. A Board of Directors governs the company according to an agreed set of rules (Articles of Association, Shareholders’ Agreements, etc).
How do you form a Company?
A Company needs at least one director. The Board of Directors is legally responsible for the Company’s conduct. For each director, shares are issued that represent the ownership of the company. You can then register a company with Companies House (see link below). You will need to ensure to disclose any potential conflicts of interest with your institution.
Anyone who says there is no competition in the market place is either lying or wrong, even if there is no direct competition, people are using products or services to solve their problem through substitutes.
Competition is a good thing – it means there’s a market for your product or service. You can learn from what your competitors are doing right (and wrong) and therefore how you can differentiate yourself from them.
A competitor framework analysis is a way to tabulate your main competition.
Remember to keep searching for competition – you never know when a new business might come along…
When looking at differentiating yourself, remember it has to be a useful difference – something that your customer will value and cause them to switch from whatever is currently meeting their needs.
Consider these questions:
- Who needs/wants your product/service?
- Are they a person/s (B2C) or a business (B2B)?
- How are you going to ‘help them’?
- Your starting point should be the ‘what is the problem?’
There are different ways to look at customer segmentation. You need to interact with your customers/potential customers all the way through the process of validating your business proposition.
Segmentation involves dividing a large audience into smaller niche groups so you can target them more effectively. You can do so by analysing the following principles:
Location, age, occupation, gender, income, marital status…
Personality, values, attitudes, beliefs, morals, interests…
How they interact with your brand, loyalty, frequency of brand interaction…
How they shop, where they shop, what influences their buying decisions…
There are many ways to capture this information. Some tried and tested ways to gather customer information include:
- Pop-up/test events
- Focus group
When gathering data on your customer segment, make sure you are testing behaviour, not opinion.
- How do you know you’re asking the right questions?
- Answer: When you are getting the right answers (not necessarily the ones you want to hear).
Asking open and closed questions
- Closed questions: fish for facts
- Open questions: solicit thoughts, feelings, and/or interests.
Consider the market
Your business should ideally be in a growing market, not a shrinking one.Other things to think about:
- How scalable is your idea?
- How scalable is your business model?
Testing and Prototyping
Prototyping is an integral part of Design Thinking and User Experience design in general, because it allows us to test our ideas quickly and improve on them in an equally timely fashion.
If something fails, it helps us answer the question: What went wrong? The earlier we can learn this, the sooner we can get customer feedback to improve our product or service. You may have heard the saying ‘Fail fast, fail cheap’ but while the word fail features twice, the focus is on using failure to succeed.
So, what is a prototype? In general it’s a simplified solution designed to give your user enough of an experience to understand the problem that you solve and give feedback on the quality of what you have implemented or are hoping to achieve. Simply put: It’s testing your business idea in real life.
It doesn’t have to be a physical or digital version. It can be anything from a storyboard or visual representation all the way through to a fully-working MVP.
Prototypes are the next stage after market research. This process is designed to be the bridging step intended to move you into the action phase of your business. It helps to:
- Explore and Experiment
- Learn and Understand
- Engage, Test and Experience
- Inspire and Motivate
The basic structure to testing and prototyping through design thinking is to:
- Empathise with the user
- Define the problem
- Ideate solutions
- Do it all over again
Once you start to get something people can touch, see, feel or use, it’s important to think about how you want customers to think about your product or service.
People speaking about brand often use the term to mean the name or logo of a business. While this shorthand is true, it is not fully accurate.
A brand is more than the name or visual element used to represent your company.
A brand is a consistent visual and non-visual projection of your business and products & services. Beyond that, it is also the overall experience for a customer that distinguishes an organisation or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer.
It is a Set of Associations & Brand Perceptions, your key customer segments will have about your business.
Marketing is the action of promoting and selling a product or service, which includes market research and advertising. There are both online (social media, online adverts, pop-ups) and offline tools (printed adverts, leaflets, billboards) for marketing. A successful business will consider the ‘marketing mix’ – that is, the combination of online and offline methods that will be used to promote their product or service.
You need to think about how many times your customers need to see your brand in order to build confidence in you as a company. As a rule of thumb, we tend to say that ‘seven’ is the magic number, but this needs to be seven separate communications, not the same advert or email seven times.
Social media is one avenue to explore. But is it the best? When constructing a marketing plan you need to think about all the different ways you can interact with your customers. Will they see your advert in a magazine or see your brand through a physical presence – like a shop front? Could they find you on social media or search for your website? Will they get something through the post or can you send them an email to promote your business to them? These approaches are just some of the ways that you can engage with your customers and some will work better than others.
If your product or service is in the Business-2-Business (B2B) market, would you be better on LinkedIn vs Facebook? Attending conferences and networking sessions? Or advertising in sector-specific magazines?
If you sell directly to consumers, what changes would you need to make to ensure that you’re constantly reminding them that you have something they want/need in their day-to-day life?
In this guide we’ve looked at:
The questions one must consider when identifying and reflecting on a new business idea
Considering your potential customer
Minimum viable product
Market research and tips to resources you can use to approach this
testing and refining your business idea
And marketing your product for success
The above topics and touch-points are a great basis to begin building a business plan and strategy for your business idea. Understanding whether or not there is a need and a customer for your product or service and establishing your position in the market are fundamental when it comes to creating a profitable business model.