I had a friend of mine take me out to lunch today so I could help him come up with a database design for an idea he has for an online business. He had worked some of the way through the business plan already, and was ready to get the database up and running.
He wanted to make sure it was done well the first time so he could start marketing the product and asked me for advice/help.
When we sat down to talk about it I realized he was making the same mistake I have made over and over again (see, sometimes we really do learn from mistakes and failures…): he was getting the technical details done before he got the marketing and sales details done.
Many times in the past when I wanted to start a business I had an idea that was GREAT!!! so I went to work programming it. I knew it would work if I just built it. It was such a great idea that the marketing and sales would take care of themselves once I had the product built.
Oh man, my list of great idea failures is pretty long. utahrealestatehelp.com, lowerthatprice.com, a few others I prefer not to name…
Each of those I (or we) came up with an idea and immediately went to work building it. We didn’t take the time to figure out exactly how to market it. Part of the problem was that we didn’t know how to do the marketing/sales but we did know how to do the programming.
This is one of the biggest problems budding entrepreneurs (including myself) have: not knowing all the things that go into starting a business. I didn’t know you had to market something when I started. Or, I did know I had to market it, but didn’t really know how. Fortunately for myself (and this friend of mine), I have now done it enough times that I know you have to have a marketing/sales plan before you start writing code and designing databases.
In the end, I advised him to slow way down and build a very simple website where HE was the backend. Orders came in and he fulfilled them himself. That way he could start testing and marketing his idea. Often in order to market an internet business, you have to have some sort of product up in order to do some initial marketing. However, that initial product doesn’t have to be the finished product most of the time. In fact, a lot of the time that initial product can be a facade that just looks real. That way, you don’t have to spend a ton of money up front developing something that isn’t going to work anyway.
If it does work out, and you’ve done cheap initial testing, you’ll also have some experience with the system so you won’t be going into building the system blindly.
So, what I’m really trying to say here, is that when you’re building an internet business, you need to test before you build. You should make sure the target market is really interested in your product. You should make sure they understand your offer. You should make sure it’s the right offer. You should know how you’re going to get to these people.
All this should be done BEFORE you build the system.