Starting a business: it takes more than just an idea.

It all starts with a great idea and in may ways that is the crux of it, the idea really is just a start. I'm often surprised as to the amount of new entrepreneurs being extremely precious over their ideas. Yes of course there may be merit in this if you have come up with a new technology or invention but nine times out of ten the idea is out there. The key element of business success is not so much the idea or the business plan, but the various processes, the people and the commitment that goes into the business becoming a success. Give the same idea to 10 people and only one or two will make a success out of it. If you have a look at the way Richard Branson and his Virgin group of companies have created success then its mostly the way that they took existing ideas and added value to it.

Your business may be based on a hobby or skill, but to make it a success you need a market big enough to support it. Research potential markets thoroughly from the very beginning.

In addition, joining business forums will help you network and grow your customer base. Social networking sites, for example, are becoming an increasingly popular means of reaching out to new markets in order to find new clients.

It might sound obvious, but it is important to know what it is that you offer. There will be countless competitors around the globe eager to service your customers. You should also be thinking about positioning yourself in and around their territory. What is your unique selling point? What can you offer to make your business more attractive than your competitors? Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer - why should your target audience buy from you? To grow smoothly and stand out from the crowd, you need to know what makes you different from the rest.

Base your prices on what people are prepared to pay, not your costs. Add value to what you provide wherever possible. Remember that, while everyone likes a bargain and customers want as much ‘bang for their buck’ as possible, few people associate bargain basement prices or free offerings with value. Equally, they are unlikely to want to buy in bulk at exorbitant prices.

Knowing the price your competitors charge and bettering them is key to you retaining existing customers, as well as attracting new ones. Charging more than what your market can afford will only mean what you provide will be harder to sell.

Taking your product or service to market is never a one-off task. In order to secure and successfully grow sales and orders you must continually approach potential customers without alienating them.

A famous quote has it that advertising “works 50% of the time - the trick is to work out which 50%”. It is crucial to adopt a strategic approach to advertising. Think of your target markets: which publications do they read? What television and radio programmes do they consume? Think laterally - where do they socialise? Who do they talk to? Work out the answers to these key questions – and of course decide on your budget – before planning an advertising campaign.

With PR, there is always the possibility of achieving publicity in local and even national newspapers and trade magazines. However, this is dependent on you having a good story. Understand what journalists (even business journalists) want. Don’t try and pass off a thinly concealed or obvious product promotion for your business as a story. Reporters are a savvy bunch. Your press release will be deleted or binned and you will quickly get a bad name.

Ask yourself: what is the real-world problem being solved or made better thanks to you and your company? What are the political, commercial and economic threats or barriers that get in the way?

The benefit of proactive PR over direct advertising is cost. It can be much less expensive, even if you employ a PR agency or consultant. The downside is that you do need to make more of an effort to be relevant. As well as general news stories, you can also consider writing expert columns. These may not be of interest to the print media at a time when paginations are well down, but there are many websites that will readily take well-written and credible articles.

With the emergence of the internet as a major force in new media, having a website is one of the cheapest, most cost effective ways to grow and promote your business. Even if you cannot afford a fancy website, a single page with your contact details is better than nothing. To repeat, social media and online networking are increasingly being seen as invaluable ingredients in the ‘marketing mix.

Your drive, commitment and determination to succeed as an entrepreneur is in many ways 90% of what will make or break your business. Find something that inspires you and make you come alive, assign the necessary commitment, drive and energy to it, understand your clients needs and what will make them buy and you will find that half the race is won already. Enjoy!

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