Markets are usually busy things, spotting a gap in one can be like finding a quiet spot to cross a motorway. Finding a gap takes time, patience and above all, research.
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Identifying and capitalising upon a gap in the market is a lot like trying to join a road at a particularly busy junction. You have to spot the gap coming, carry out all of the right actions to move forward, and have the confidence in yourself and your business to see your plan through to the end.
But how can you be sure that there is actually a gap in the market? And how can you get everything in place to take advantage of it, especially if you’ve never started a business before?
Finding the gap
To spot a gap in the market, you have to be constantly on the lookout for one. Business ideas can come from virtually anywhere. It might come from your own personal experience, or it might be from something you’ve seen, heard, or read.
If you think the business idea you have is unique, make sure you do your research. Make certain that nobody is doing the same already, or something similar enough to make your idea seem unoriginal.
"Simple research like looking at what people are talking about on social media can often yield surprisingly insightful results"
If you already own a business, you might be looking to launch a new venture, or you may be looking to expand your business to a new market. With the Plastic Box Shop, we already owned a successful retail store, but we always had our eye on possible opportunities to expand to a larger market.
Speak to your customers and listen to what they have to say — if they think that your product is something that the rest of the world is missing out on, there is a good chance that it might catch on with a larger customer base.
Try and carry out some market research. It doesn’t have to be high-budget — simple research like looking at what people are talking about on social media can often yield surprisingly insightful results. If you have any competitors, take a look at what they are doing.
Take in what they do well and what they do not-so-well, then compare it to your own business. If you are entering a new market, be sure that it is not already saturated with well-established competitors, as your product will have to have to be revolutionary or highly unique to break the market.
Taking the plunge
It's always best to have some experience in whatever business you decide to start, but it isn’t impossible to succeed with none. Identify where your own skills are lacking and address these issues.
Trying to do everything yourself can be bad for business, so don’t be afraid to seek external help until you can afford to employ someone in those areas. There are some really good business advice services out there that can help you out, so make sure you research them.
Doing it all yourself can lead to long hours and big mistakes
Cash flow is king in the early days, and that’s why it is incredibly important to plan and forecast your finances, as well as regularly monitoring them. Securing funding for the set-up or growth your business might seem like a daunting challenge, but if you believe in your idea and business plan, the bank and your backers will be more likely to believe in it too.
The government can sometimes provide funding, depending on whether or not your business qualifies for it. They have a finance finder tool that you can use to see what is available.
If you already have a business and are looking to expand, don’t be afraid to grow it. If I could go back and start my business over, I would be braver and commit to expanding it more quickly. If you need extra funding to fuel your development, consider selling shares to investors.
While they will own a portion of your business, investors can often provide you with practical advice, and their financial input will allow you to grow your company substantially.
Making sure that your business is moving in the right direction is incredibly important. The first thing you need to remember is to always maintain a positive outlook, especially in the early days. Things will be difficult to begin with; the cash flow will probably be negative, and you might not make the market impact that you envisioned.
However, this is a baptism of fire that the vast majority of new businesses must go through, and a positive attitude will go a long way towards your success. Be sure to employ staff who aren’t negative, as nothing harms morale more than someone with the wrong attitude.
Business is never plain sailing so focus on the idea and keep morale high
Ensure that you maintain good relationships with your suppliers, as you never know when you may need to ask for a favour, such as extended credit or a quick next day delivery. I’ve seen other business owners complain and pay their suppliers late, only to be completely surprised when their supplier withdraws and suddenly they are left with a very big problem.
While keeping suppliers on your side is important, don’t think you need to agree to everything they say. You may not get great prices at the beginning, but when they recognise your business’s earning potential you will soon be able to negotiate.
Lastly, try and be different. It’s up to you to set the tone for how your company will be perceived. I acknowledge that my business sells an unsexy product, and that’s why we always try to inject some fun and personality into what we do. There are enough faceless corporations in the world, as a small company you should try to be personal and unique.