After a number of years spent assisting start-ups to write business plans, I believe that the point of all early stage market research is to prove or disprove your business case; that’s what the feasibility does, and it’s best done before you go to the trouble of writing a business plan. In doing a feasibility, you will gather enough information to decide whether to proceed or not, while also collecting most of the data you’ll need to write a business plan.
Here are the main elements of proving your business case:
- Validate Customers and Demand. Prove that your anticipated customers truly exist, that they want or need your products and services, and that they will pay for them. This can be done through market surveys, interviews, or focus groups. It can also be determined by studying businesses already in the market.
- Confirm The Size Of Your Market. Prove there are enough customers to support a thriving business. For consumer businesses, total market numbers can be found through secondary sources, such as census information, surveys and reports—business-to-business research can be accessed from business databases.
- Determine If You Qualify. Prove that you have the skills and knowledge to own and operate the business. This is a matter of matching your skill set to that required by the business or industry. In some cases, you may have to upgrade or get certified before starting the business.
- Source Your Suppliers. Identify suppliers and communicate with them to verify availability and costs, including shipping and any duties or tariffs that might apply if you’re moving goods across borders.
- Validate Pricing. Prove your pricing will work. This will entail getting clear on the cost of producing and getting your products or services into the hands of paying customers, and researching the competitor’s prices.
- Build a Financial Forecast. Prove your financial case—that the business will be profitable—monthly for the first year, less detailed for year two and three. At a minimum, you’ll want to create a sales forecast, a cash flow forecast and a 3-year income and expense projection.
- Determine Sustainability. Prove your business will survive and thrive. This includes confirmation of each of the six points above, and taking a close look at your personal situation—ensuring that you can manage the business ongoing in terms of your family, time, money, and energy.
- Assess Risks. Prove that you can mitigate risks and meet all of the applicable regulatory requirements. This can be done by talking to those already in business, reading trade or industry publications, and getting involved in relevant associations.
Once you’ve gathered the information above, you will be well on the way to proving or disproving your business case. There may still be other hoops to jump through, such as nailing down financing, building partnerships, clarifying investor strategies, and comparing the investment with other opportunities. As to whether or not to start the business, that is a decision that can only be made by the entrepreneur taking the risk. The eight steps above will prepare you to make the right decision for you.