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How to ideate, start and market your own business?

Many of us want to start our own business and we have a ton of ideas for businesses we would love to run. However sometimes we don’t know if our ideas are any good or maybe we don’t know how to market the idea, or it could even be that we are overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas we have or even by the amount of work it might take to get started and make a success of our business. Often the trouble is that we don’t have the start up capital needed. We each have our individual barriers preventing us from starting a business and they are each in their own way legitimate problems however, one must remember that anything worth doing is going to be a bit of an uphill task. Nonetheless whatever our personal issues are, starting one’s own business does not have to be as difficult as we sometimes make ourselves believe it is.

It is rare that someone is successful in business unless they like the business they are in. So the first thing you need to do is ask yourself what you’re likes and dislikes are and are you an expert at something. Now usually whatever it is you are most passionate about or something you have great knowledge in can be turned into a business. On the other hand it is also possible that you completely dislike something and can still turn that into a business. For example let us say you dislike your current boss; you could create a board or card game for others who feel similarly towards their bosses. If you like or dislike something chances are great that there are hoards of other people who feel the same and they would make a good target market for your business.

Let’s say you are interested in origami. Now let’s say you have no skill in the art of origami. Can you build a business around origami? Of course you can. How successful the business will be depends on a few things but mostly on your efforts.

Now you’d ask me how you could build a business around something you like but can’t really do. The answer is simple. You have to use lateral thinking. By that I mean you need to connect things that may not usually be connected. So for the origami example you could hire someone to create an origami kit to let others like you do origami no matter the skill level. Where do you find someone to create the kit for you? Try Fiverr.com. There are people on there that would do pretty much anything within reason for $5.

Now once you have a product, whether physical or digital, you need to market it. This for most people is the hardest part. However, there are of plenty of ways to market your goods. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but then it’s not as hard as folks tend to believe it is. You could choose to either do your promotions in the real world (offline) or on the internet (online). There are several marketing avenues offline and online. Here are some tips to market your product or service.

When it comes to marketing always go with the simplest methods as they are tried and tested ones and when you are more confident you can try more adventurous methods if you wish. Most of the time the simplest methods will work best and work so well that you won’t need to try anything else.

Let’s start with offline marketing. Everyone knows offline marketing costs money and often more than one can afford. Therefore many people don’t even start a business for fear of losing their bank roll or going into debt if their marketing efforts fail to help their business take off. Unfortunately for them they don’t realize that one doesn’t really need a huge marketing budget to run a small business if one can be a little creative and have some patience to deal with people and wait for good results. Fortunately for you I’m going to give you some ideas that won’t cost you much and some are even almost free.

You will probably know all these ideas or at least most of them but the point of listing them here is to state the obvious since often the obvious escapes us because of information overload that gives us too many choices and hence causes us to have analysis paralysis; meaning we aren’t able to take action because we have so many options and can’t be certain which option is the correct one and are afraid we might choose the wrong option and get into trouble.

So my list of offline and even online marketing ideas that are to follow, are essentially there to help you simplify and streamline your choice of marketing options. Pick the method you find easiest or one that makes most sense to you and give it your best effort and you’ll start to see positive results in sometime. Once you have mastered one method you can move on to another and so on. Of course if you are good at multitasking and are sure you can give your 100% to more than one method at a time then go ahead as more avenues will bring you more business quicker.

Here is a small list of low cost offline marketing ideas for you to get started with right away. As I don’t know whether you have an online business or an offline one the following marketing ideas will cover both and you must use your discretion as to what is useful to you.

1. Find where your potential customers hangout, then hand out business cards to them. You can do the same with fliers and brochures if you have a bit more money. In fact you could design the cards, fliers or brochures on your computer using free image software like Gimp (Google it) and then print out only as many as you need. For large runs it would make better sense to use the services of a professional printer but most of us can get on by starting small.

2. Paste little posters or even colorful little post-its on any surface you are legally allowed to and where you are sure to get plenty of eyeballs. Some countries allow you to post such things on public property like lamp posts, park walls, etc but do make sure you are not violating any of your country’s laws before you go all post happy.

3. Tie-up with non competing local businesses in your area that are related to your business. You can get them to handout you’re your promotional material to their customers in return for you doing the same for them.

4. T-shirts are a good method of promotion as they are highly visible wherever the wearer goes. You could put your company name, logo and website on the front and back. You could even put in a call to action. Example – ‘Get 10% off on your first purchase at www.yourwebsite.com’. You and your family, friends and employees can wear the t-shirts and can also give them away free or as part of a contest at the place where your prospects hangout.

5. Simple cardboard signs are dirt cheap to produce and can bring in boatloads of customers if displayed in the right places; the right places being where your target customers frequent or high traffic areas such as malls. Depending on where and how you want to display your sign you might need to get permission. Cardboard is just one of many options of materials you can build your sings from. The more eye catching slogan, color, etc your sign has the better your response will be.

6. Door to door selling still works great. It works better in some neighborhoods than others but it’s worth a try. Some of the biggest brands in cosmetics for example started this way.

7. Use your business facade like a billboard. Get creative with what you put on the board. You could even use graffiti. 8. Street art is great way to get attention. Get a street artist to paint up something cool to promote your business on a busy sidewalk. You can do it yourself if you have the talent.

9. Demonstrating a product or service for one’s potential customers works great.

10. Flash mobs are all the rage these days as they are a sure-fire way of getting people’s attention. Your employees, family, friends and even customers can help you create your flash mob. If you don’t know what a flash mob is then Google it; better yet, Youtube it.

11. Give away samples of your product if you can afford it. Everyone loves free goodies so people will come to you like bees to honey once word gets around about your freebies. Stop the giveaway once you have attracted enough attention.

There is a lot more you can try in order to market your business offline but the above mentioned ideas are a good starting point for now. Let’s now move on to the online marketing ideas. Internet marketing is the in-thing these days in marketing circles and indeed has been so for quite some time now. Of course its effectiveness depends to a great extent on the amount of population that’s online in your area. For example developed nations on average will have more internet penetration than developing ones. So you might want to try offline or online marketing or do a mix of both depending on your area.

Online marketing has at least one major advantage over offline marketing - ‘lower costs’. It hardly costs anything to set up a simple website for you business compared to say a brick and mortar office.

Just like in the offline world, marketers are truly spoiled for choices when it comes to marketing online and obviously the more money you can afford to spend the more reach your marketing will have. Therefore there are a multitude of marketing platforms for every budget but this article will talk about the ones that are free or really cheap.

Social media marketing is the easiest form of online marketing there is if you want to go the free route, so we will stick to that in this article. There are ways to scale up such marketing by using paid advertisements but it is wise to first test the market with free methods. There’s also the fact that doing paid marketing online can give you massive profits in a short time but if you don’t know what you are doing you could end up losing everything. Sometimes it can be a little frustrating as it may take a while to see results with free online marketing compared to paid online marketing, though mostly you can get very quick results depending on the platform you use and the amount of effort you put into being social.

1. Facebook is the king or queen if you prefer, of social media. It has the largest user base of active members anywhere online. It is a social networking site and by definition is meant for people to connect to one another. So it inherently offers a business a goldmine of opportunity in the form of prospective customers. How one can tap into this goldmine is a question that could take a whole book to answer and the book still might fall short. However I will attempt to give you a few useful pointers. Once you figure out your target audience, you need to find them on Facebook. You do this by typing in your business niche, for example, ‘Fishing’, in the search bar. You will find various groups with plenty of people interested in your niche. You can now request to join several groups and after you are accepted you can start interacting with the group members by liking, sharing, commenting and posting useful information. Then slowly start promoting your website where you can sell your service or product.

2. Twitter is an awesome social network with millions of hyperactive members around the world. It is super easy to get traffic from twitter to your site. Once you join twitter and fill out your profile page with your relevant business information as well as things that indicate your personality, you can join the fun by following others in your niche. People will then follow you back and if they don’t you can un-follow them. Once you have built up a nice group of followers you can start marketing to them. Of course as it is a social platform and not really a marketing platform you first must provide value and interact with other twitter users before attempting to sell to them. Go to Youtube and type ‘how to use Twitter hashtags’. This will help you learn how to use hash tags on Twitter to reach a wider audience beyond just your followers.

3. Pinterest is another amazing website that can help drive hoards of targeted visitors to your business website in a very short time. It is super easy to use and loads of fun. It is considered to be growing much faster than Facebook or Twitter or many other popular social networks. It is also known for the fact that it drives more buying visitors than Google or Facebook. It is a site that lets its users share images from the internet in a very visually appealing way. It has over 60% female users, most of who are well educated and earn highly. It should come as no surprise therefore that most of the images on the site are related to women oriented topics such as fashion, beauty, recipes, gardening and home decor and so on. None the less you can market just about anything on the site but if you have a woman centric product or service you are bound to do a whole lot better.

4. Forum marketing is possibly the granddaddy of social network marketing and is still very highly effective. It can drive instant targeted traffic that trusts you and is willing to take up your recommendations. To be successful with forum marketing you first have to find forums in your niche. This is easy to do with a simple Google search. Then join several good forums after which you must build out a simple profile and start interacting on the forums in earnest. Providing value is always the way to go in social marketing as it helps establish you as an authority or at least someone with considerable knowledge in the niche and this builds trust which you can then later leverage in order to promote your business.

5. Yahoo answers could be the answer to your wish to get paying customers. There are millions of people asking questions in your niche everyday on Yahoo answers. Keep a look out for these questions and answer them honestly and then also gently guide them to your site where they can find a solution to their problem through your product or service.

6. Youtube is the second largest search engine after Google and so gets a mind boggling amount of traffic daily. All you need to do is create little videos which can even be Power Point slideshow videos, and host them on Youtube for free. Then optimize the video title, description and tags with your niche keywords and spread the word about the video on social networks. You can find lots of information on Google and Youtube on how to do this for free. People will like and share your videos and you’ll get free traffic. The more videos you upload the more traffic you’ll get.

7. Blogs rule the internet. They are literally everywhere and built around pretty much any topic you can think of no matter how out there it might be. This is great news for you as all you need to do is go to Google and type in ‘blog search’, click on the first result, after which Google’s blog search engine will open and you just need to enter your niche and you can find loads of related blogs. Now go through the blogs and read the comments. Then formulate a nice comment praising the blog, the article or the author, offer some useful information if you can and then plug-in a link back to your website. This will send you quite a bit of traffic. There are several other methods to market your business offline and online but as I mentioned earlier, in the beginning one should find a method that suits one, stick with it till results come in or after sufficient time having passed it becomes obvious that despite one’s best efforts the particular method is not reaping dividends, one may move on to other methods. As I also mentioned earlier, you can choose to follow more than one method if you are up to it. Then you track which method performs the best and simply scale it up to get even bigger results.

Not having capital for starting your business can be a huge barrier but there are ways to get the money. How much capital you need to get your business idea of the ground is something that will vary from business to business and even place to place. What I can say for sure is that if you have the will, determination and patience you can get the money to start almost any business. Most people tap into their savings or borrow from relatives and friends to get started. But not everyone is lucky to have enough to have sufficient savings or someone kind enough to lend one the required capital. For such people there are only two options. The first option is to have patience and save up a little at a time till you get the money you need. Of course this could take quite some time depending on the sum you require. But if you are focused you can achieve it. The second option is to take a loan. The loan could come from a bank but that usually puts a lot of pressure on you having to pay back the money and that too with interest. There are NGOs, non-governmental organizations that you can Google for that can help you out with a loan on easy terms. Another way of getting money for almost any project is to ask for it on crown funding sites like Kickstarter.com and several other similar sites. The best thing about these sites is if you get the money you don’t have to pay it back.

This article is by no means the be all and end all of advice on how to ideate, start and market your own business but I do hope it has shown that it is certainly possible to start out with nothing more than a wish to have one’s own business and despite having no idea of what business to start, where to get the start-up capital or how to get customers, all you need to do is follow the simple advise given here and you could end up wildly successful.

Always have a plan but remember not much in life really goes according to plan all the time, so be prepared for surprises. Having a plan does entail research especially when it comes to running your own business but too much time spent in research and hardly any spent in action is a recipe for a waste of time and we all know time once past never comes back. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you will learn more from doing than reading, listening or analyzing. Our mistakes are a big part of our life and teach us more than any book or even business coach ever could. If you want to succeed you need a simple plan and single minded determination and focus like Tom Hanks in Forest Gump. So like the tagline for Nike says – Just Do It.

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