I was a guest speaker at a young entrepreneurs event this week and whilst preparing my speaking notes I got thinking about business research. It’s probably a lucky thing that I didn’t do any research before I started Forward Thinking Design because if I had I might have seen that the interior design industry was saturated with competitors and hence I may have decided not to go into business afterall. However, when I reflect back I realise that I had undertaken some research – I’d spent years listening to clients tell me what they they didn’t like about other design firms and I knew what I needed to do differently.
Whenever I speak about starting a business I cannot emphasise enough the need to conduct research. You would not believe the number of people I’ve met who’ve said that they want me to design their first cafe and, when I’ve asked them how many other cafes there are in the neighbourhood; have said that they either don’t know or that there’s just one or two. Everytime I design a fitout for a new business I always go straight to Yellow Pages online and find out how many competitors are in their area. So very often there are at least 10 others that the client is not aware of. When I rattle off the names of their ‘hidden’ competitors, these clients frequently start to remember name after name along with comments such as ‘ahhh, yes I forgot them because I never go in there’ or ‘ahh yes, but their shop is always empty’. Usually these businesses have been forgotten because they are bland and don’t offer a memorable point of difference.
The question therefore is: How can you afford to start a business without researching your market and your competitors? If you don’t know what everyone else is doing then how can you position your business as being different or any better than them? How can you ensure that you don’t emulate the mistakes of all your competitors and end up fading away into similar invisibility?