7 points to spot gaps in a market

A Cornwall surfer came up with an idea to make a surf helmet, which he initially used himself. He began to look for gaps in the market and realised that he should approach the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. He eventually ended up making 10 different versions of helmets for the Sea Rescue Institute with add-ons such as cameras, tortures and communication equipment. The entrepreneur has also designed and developed a helmet for watercraft racing. Continue reading “7 points to spot gaps in a market”

Wouldn’t it be great if you came up with an idea like this?

swell-water-bottlesWhy can’t you come up with something like this?

A tax auditor was more interested in entrepreneurship than accounting but put plans to start her own company on hold. A few years later after consulting and real estate she attended a panel about the global clean-water crisis.

Some months later Sarah Kauss was hiking and all she had for water was a cheap, thin metal bottle that had warmed in the sun, according to a report in Fortune. She suddenly thought, “Why not create a more upscale, fashionable, reusable bottle that would keep the liquid cool?”

The bottles called S’Well retails from $25 to $45, depending on the size. She has sold about 4,000,000 to date. Continue reading “Wouldn’t it be great if you came up with an idea like this?”

How do you acquire competitive advantage in hostile environments?

IMG-20141225-00131What is a hostile environment? It’s not where competitive intensity is high. That is capitalism. It’s where for whatever reason business and owners are penalised, punished and prevented from market opportunities. We could elaborate but there are many ways in which businesses are being harmed and harassed.

We want to look at how to reposition, transformed or reimagine your small business to strengthen your medium-to-long-term competitive position. Here we can’t be too specific because each business is different. Customised advice is best suited to a private consultation. All I’m trying to do here is get you to think about possibilities before the carpet is pulled out from under you. Continue reading “How do you acquire competitive advantage in hostile environments?”

What it takes to stand out in a crowded marketplace

800px-Andre_Rieu_und_Carmen_MonarchaOn a recent weekend I watched the violinist and conductor André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra performing in his home town of Maastricht, Holland. Andre, with his curly hair swept back and his personal warmth and onstage stories, is a master showman. He has an orchestra of 120 and the dresses of this singers are in brightly coloured taffeta ballgowns.

The show itself is breathtaking if you’re into this kind of music. People find him charming, fascinating and entertaining. He has made classical music accessible and fun rather than stuffy. Continue reading “What it takes to stand out in a crowded marketplace”

Keys to your successful business idea

Fashion Week
Fashion Week (Photo credit: SPIngram)

Here’s a question I keep getting asked from university students who want to come up with new start-up ideas: I have got an idea for a business and what do you think about it?

The problem that I found with each one of these students ideas is that they have not done homework on their market. When people think of an online business, for example, they think that the entire Internet world is the market. This is too big. You need to narrow down your market to an easy identifiable group of people that you can serve.

Just think about how important local markets are. If you’re starting a website, blog or online service for customers in your local area it makes sense because you can meet with them and they can do business with you face-to-face. The further you are from your market the more quickly distance erodes communication and trust. Yes, of course you can bridge these deficiencies – such as providing strong guarantees and refunds for your products or services – but it’s a lot easier to do business with people in your town or city. Continue reading “Keys to your successful business idea”

Why would you want to lose R1 million in Cape Town?

Table Mountain seen from Cape Town harbour's jetty
Table Mountain seen from Cape Town harbour’s jetty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was sitting outside with the proprietor of an Italian restaurant in an up-market suburb in Johannesburg. We were talking about the specials on the menu. These included rabbit and goats. Her son was telling us how he sources the goat meat from the Northern Cape and the rabbit meat from a special supplier in Botswana. I’m not quite sure why the proprietor mentioned it but in her thick Italian accent she said people ask her to start the same restaurant in Cape Town but she doesn’t want to go there and lose R1 million.

Would you invest R1 million opening a business in Cape Town? Continue reading “Why would you want to lose R1 million in Cape Town?”

How do you turn your small business into an innovation machine?

Innovation (Photo credit: Seth1492)

A dog day care business faced stiff competition with similar businesses starting up. The owner decided to introduce new services such as caring for older, sickly pets, offering on-site vaccinations and placing webcams in the facility so owners could check their pets anytime. This innovation helped the business expand from 11 locations to 100 franchise outlets and wholly-owned shops.

The perception exists that small businesses are not as innovative as larger companies. Yet while this may be true for common village professionals like shopkeepers, real estate agents, plumbers, lawyers and doctors, many small business owners are highly innovative.

Why is innovation so important to small businesses? Continue reading “How do you turn your small business into an innovation machine?”

When to hire a publicist? Try this quiz

Deciding when to hire a publicist is an important step for a small business owner. This quiz can help you better understand when it’s time to involve an experienced pro to really make your publicity work for your business.  

In this economy small businesses are faced with increased competition and slower sales. If you have a store or home business, it may be difficult to keep a steady flow of leads. Yes, you can advertise but advertising can be expensive and you may not always be able to measure the results unless you go online. Even if you have an on-line business and know how to generate interest through e-mails, on-line newsletters, blogs, forums and social media, you still need to know how to generate publicity for your business. Publicity can help you extend your reach as a small business beyond what you are able to do through sales and advertising.

The Internet and social media have greatly expanded the opportunities for small businesses to gain attention in the media whether on-line or in print. DIY publicity strategies allow anyone to generate publicity and support their profile as an expert in their field at low cost. But there are many valid reasons why turning to a publicist with a proven track record and expertise in your market or area of expertise makes business sense. Find out some of the reasons why by spending a few minutes on the publicist quiz below.

 True/False Quiz

 1  I need to hire a publicity agent to get my name in the newspapers.

  · True

  · False

 2   I want to obtain credibility and authority for my business and the products and services I sell.

  · True

  · False

 3  Calling reporters and editors on the phone is as enjoyable as calling a close business associate.

  · True

  · False

 4  The Internet means I can quickly know how publicity works, how to handle media interviews and run my own publicity campaigns.

  · True

  · False

   5  I do basic publicity myself but need help from a publicist who has knowledge in a specialized area.

  · True

  · False


 1  I need to hire a publicity agent to get my name in the newspapers. False

If you only need to get your name into the newspapers you can quite easily do it yourself. You can write a letter to the editor, send a press release on a newsworthy event or milestone in your business to an editor. DIY publicity can work for your business especially if you send out press releases infrequently. But if you want to gain credibility, position yourself as an expert or broaden your audience, a publicist can help you do all this and more.

2   I want to obtain credibility and authority for my business and the products and services I sell. True

A publicist can help you lift your business and its products and services from obscurity and position you as an authoritative and credible leader in your marketplace. Publicity must, of course, be based on performance. Your business needs to be doing the things that you are saying it does. For example, if you have introduced meaningful environmentally friendly practices in your business, your story will be credible. But if you aren’t, then it’s merely greenwash. A publicist with a track record will help ensure that your messages are fact-based and believable.

3   Calling reporters and editors on the phone is as enjoyable as calling a close business associate. False

Business people are comfortable dealing with customers and suppliers. Some may find it interesting to contact the media but sometimes things can become difficult when there is suspicion about advertising dressed up as news. A seasoned publicist, often having spent time as a reporter in a newsroom, can act as a bridge between both worlds, business and the media. When difficult questions are asked or things get tricky, a publicist acts as an intermediary, diplomatically handling issues that would otherwise lead to negative publicity.

4   The Internet means I can quickly know how publicity works, how to handle media interviews and run my own publicity campaigns. False

The Internet has made it possible for small business owners to generate their own publicity. Press release templates abound, some websites even offer DIY templates where you simply type in your information and you instantly can generate a press release ready to send out. Press release distribution services send out bulk releases instantaneously. A professional publicist can help you target your message, prepare you for difficult interviews and conceptualise campaigns customised for various types of media.

 5   I do basic publicity myself but need help from a publicist who has knowledge in a specialized area.

 For simple public relations work such as a news release or brief on a store milestone, customer event or achievement, business owners can mostly handle their public relations needs. But when your business needs to target a specialized market, a new industry or more sophisticated customer segment, a publicist with experience communicating to these audiences would be of great value. Their knowledge is available straight away for your business instead of you needing to acquire it over a long period through trial and error.

Knowing when to cross over from DIY publicity to using a publicist is key for small business owners who wish to advance their strategies for gaining and holding an audience’s attention. Building credibility and authority involves much planning, conceptualizing, implementing and trouble shooting. A publicist with a track record can help businesses get up to speed in writing effective news releases, positioning their business, products and services, producing newsletters, media kits, fact sheets, presentations and speeches that will generate publicity. They can also provide opportunities through their contacts for valuable media exposure.

How to generate embarrassingly low-cost ideas to promote your business

Activate your thinking with these seven low-cost, no cost ideas relevant to your marketplace whether you run your business from home, retail on a main street or shopping mall or trade online. Learn how to position your products and services in a price-driven environment.

In tough, competitive markets, businesses need to come up with fresh ways to promote their products and services. Promotions attract attention to your products and services, help make them stand out from your competitors and give your sales a much-needed boost when customers are looking for strong reasons why they should buy from you.

Rethink your positioning

Some entrepreneurs think promotions mean discounts. They baulk at offering discounts when sales are down more than a third on the previous year, and larger chains are offering incredibly low-priced deals. Promotion doesn’t have to equal discounts. Assess the value of your offer, the quality of your service and guarantee. Think low costs, high impact.

How can you change your offer to a market that is cautious about spending? If you have been selling expensive products and services in the good times, you’ll need to rethink your strategy in a price-driven environment. Your marketing materials also need to reflect and reinforce your cost-value proposition.

Think through your positioning strategy carefully because positioning moves are like those you make on a chessboard. Your move may prompt your competitors to make counter moves. So you need to think about not only your next move but the one you’ll need to make after your competitors have responded to your repositioning.

Quick promotional ideas brainstorm

Use idea generation tools and techniques to come up with new ideas to promote your business. Brainstorm ideas and keep them in a notebook, a journal or on record cards (3 x 5 cards). Choose your best three and try one out.

Check what other businesses are doing by reading magazines, dropping in on stores unrelated to your business and speaking to business people you trust. Listen to customers because they can be your best source of promotional idea.

Gold in mailing lists

Do you have a customer mailing list with both postal and e-mail addresses? How quickly can you mail out a special offer to your customers? A physical sales letter is personalised and can stand out in a crowded market.

Consider acquiring marketing “assets” from businesses that are closing down. Perhaps they have a customer mailing list that you can purchase for a fraction of the cost it took the original business to acquire. Such a list is valuable because it represents people who have bought products before — and may need your products or service.

Social media strategy

Social media such as FaceBook, Twitter and other Internet-based social networking offer low-cost promotional opportunities. But you need to know what you are doing. You must know how to promote your business without turning off prospects. You need to devote time to keep your content fresh. Will your social media marketing provide any follow through for conversion? A FaceBook page may not convert any new business but customers may ask why you don’t have one.

Professionalise your communications

Poorly written and designed marketing materials are a recipe for disaster. Getting in well-meaning family members, friends and secretaries to write with no knowledge of business or marketing is just plain short-sighted. Even blogs for small businesses can be better handled by a professional copywriter or ghostwriter. You may especially need such services if you are in your store or business the whole day and can’t find the time to write blog posts and publish them. You also need to learn how to promote your blog because there are gazillions of then out there (get a number for how many blogs there are).

Network face to face

Networking with your customers at your local chamber or commerce or business organisation is often the last thing on the entrepreneur’s mind. But it provides a strong opportunity to promote your business face to face. Think carefully about driving customers to your business through FaceBook, Twitter or LinkedIn when you aren’t even doing some direct selling by calling on businesses in your town or city.

A low-cost prospecting idea

While everyone is blasting out e-mails, FaceBook posts and Tweets, track down names that you spot in newspapers, magazines and even advertising flyers if you think those people will make good prospects. Call them or pay them a visit — personal contact will stand out from the electronic blizzard.

Arrange a promotional ideas swop meet

Share your promotional ideas with your fellow business people. Perhaps organise an idea swap meet group which involves meeting like-minded business people once a month to share new sales and promotional ideas that have worked.

Promotion helps your products and services jump out in a competitive, tight marketplace. By generating your own promotional ideas, you may not only save costs but you will breath life into your sales when your business needs it most.


“Marketing on a Shoestring: Low-cost Tips for Marketing your Products or Services”, Jeffrey Davidson, Wiley Small Business

“Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”, Al Ries and Jack Trout, Warner Books

The power of generating low-cost promotional ideas: a fight-back strategy

Come up with your own free, easy and low-cost promotion ideas that can help you to lift sales in a difficult economy

In this rough and tumble economy, some business people sit, like frogs in a pot immobilised with the water temperature rising. Even when the temperature hits boiling point, they remain in the pot. If the frogs suddenly stumbled into the pot of boiling water, they wouldn’t hesitate to jump right out. Why then don’t small business people react quickly when they recognize warning signs?  

Many business people seem to stubbornly believe that they can rough it through the difficult economy doing business in the same familiar way, despite turnovers in some cases plummeting by a third or more. Small business has such a high mortality rate in “normal” economic conditions but when economic activity declines, the mortality rate rises.

Riding high and spending less

During the good times small business owners were riding high. They spent less on their marketing as customers walked in and bought whatever they wanted. Small business owners were spoilt as they had to do little personal selling or advertising.

Now, when times are tough and small business owners and entrepreneurs are more concerned with meeting personnel expenses and covering overheads they are even more reluctant to spend money on promotion. Yet clients and customers are holding onto their cash, waiting for times improve, hanging onto their homes, cars, computers, household appliances for longer, repairing them instead of replacing them.What should store owners and small service businesses do?

Ignore selling and promotion at your peril

Even though small business owners have seen turnovers drop many are wary of spending money on promotion. Some are trying to play it cheap by bringing in well meaning family and friends to help them promote their products and services. Other owners knuckle down on the technical areas and processes in their business, ignoring selling and promotion at their peril.Promotional ideas need to work

Little do those businesses who use retail space or have high visibility and walk-in customers realise that if they don’t do something to promote their business and lift sales, they will be forced into operating the business from home to chop overhead. Running a business from home ironically means needing to acquire a whole set of new marketing skills.

How do you go about promoting your business in a stormy economy where every cent counts? Small businesses and entrepreneurial enterprises cannot pour vast sums on vague institutional (image) advertising with no way to measure sales. Entrepreneurs need to generate sales — even when advertising in traditional print media, adverts have to be “keyed” and have special phone numbers specific to adverts. This way they can measure their advertising conversion. A small travel agent told me recently that she had a separate phone number for each advert to measure response. If the newspaper, magazine, radio or television advertising didn’t pull, it had to go.

Test, test, test

Promotional ideas that work are specific to each business and the mind or emotional triggers of their customers. Small business owners need to brainstorm ideas that they think will work for their business. Try some no-cost, low-cost ideas out first and see how they work. Remember to test, test, test. As Claude Hopkins said, “Almost any question can be answered, cheaply, quickly and finally, by a test campaign.”

To get fighting fit in this economy small business owners and entrepreneurs need to focus their attention on attracting customers to their business through a variety of low-cost, no-cost promotional ideas. Idea generation techniques can be effective as can meeting with fellow business people to share and swop ideas. In the next article on www.ideaaccelerator.co.za we’ll look at tips, strategies and other ideas to promote your business. In the meantime, take a look at what your competitors are doing as well try to spot other businesses that seem to be doing well no matter how hard the harsh economic winds blow.