How to Research Your Brilliant Business Idea

5 ways to research the market for your potential moneymaker.

Photograph: Photo By: Scott Little

1. Get Free Advice Online
Online forums are a great way to get feedback and ideas from would-be customers and like-minded business owners, says Susan Smith of Women’s Work (wwork.com). To find the right community for you, type “your specific business” + “forum” into Google. “Post questions, but only divulge what’s necessary about your idea,” says Smith. We found a bevy of forums at here. At post time, recent threads included ideas for a hotel launch, catchy taglines and cost-effective thank you gifts.

2. Post Ads for Your Business Online (Even if it Doesn’t Exist Yet)
Pay-per-click (PPC) ads are another tool DIY-CEO’s can use to gauge interest in a potential business, explains Smith. Available through Google Adwords or Yahoo Search Marketing, the small ads are visible across all search engines and lead potential customers to your website. Your site doesn’t have to be complicated: a one-page site explaining the business and asking for e-mail addresses for future updates is all you really need. Once you’ve gotten email addresses, email the people who have signed up for updates to find out what they would like to see from your future business. “This way you’re building a business based on the market’s needs,” Smith says.
 
3. Seek Out Your Competitors
Check to find out how many local cupcake shops have opened in recent years before pre-heating your oven, so to speak. It seems obvious, but make sure to do a quick Internet search to find out if someone else already has the name you’re thinking of using or if your brilliant idea exists a few towns over. Many individual states have easy-to-navigate sites where you can search by name of business to see what else is out there (for instance, search Oregon businesses and Vermont businesses. Don’t be discouraged by rival companies. Instead, see what already exists to make sure your business-to-be isn’t a direct repeat of what’s already out there.
 
4. Go to the Library.
It’ll save you money and let you do more in-depth research. One of our favorite finds was “The Girl’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business” by Caitlin Friedman and Kimberly Yorio. Look for both business-minded books on the subject you’re hoping to capitalize on. Make sure you have a well-rounded understanding of your business-to-be and see if it still appeals to you.
 
5. Go Slow.
Enthusiasm is important, but take your time investigating. It’ll save you from making costly mistakes, like prematurely ordering a jumbo-sized box of business cards.

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