As a tinkerer and lifetime geek, I have often thought of how to market ideas, well before they actually appear as a saleable item. I am not talking about the “Pet Rock”
type of idea, but more along the lines of a “better mousetrap” -- stuff that might actually sell some inventory.
For small business owners, innovation is the key to sustainable market growth. An ability to package your products in an attractive fashion is what separates a successful business from a failing one. A great example of this packaging concept may be found in the theme park industry.
A number of years ago, I worked closely with a major Central Florida theme park. The project involved capturing information from ID cards to smooth-out the registration process for a preferred ticket type. Simply, the queue to buy the ticket was clogged with a data entry problem. In working with the ticketing database, I was amazed to see tens of thousands of ticket types. These ticket SKUs represented every imaginable combination of access and day packages, yet the park itself was a very static product. The theme park attempted to comply with the buyers’ needs by molding its static product into a more malleable one.
SMB owners and operators can take an active lesson from these much larger companies. Grouping products into new configurations or “package types” can separate winning bottom lines from looming inventory overhead, allowing for a more tailored product offering.
This modified approach often takes a little more than just staring at your product list and hoping a new grouping jumps off the page. Conducting market research; studying previous buying patterns; asking for client feedback from abandoned online cart queries; and good old-fashioned, across-the-counter discussions with your regulars will yield some new and fresh ideas. Do not be daunted by the task at hand. The work in this process lies in asking good questions and then spending time listening to your clients or vending partners.
Many times this new product or product mix requires some capital. Yep: good old greenbacks. If your business is struggling, and many are in this economy, the next question you’ll have to answer is, “Where do I raise the dollars to test my new idea?” Traditionally, the answer ranges from asking your parents (a tried and true method); leveraging a line of credit at your bank; or drawing the monies from your savings account. I propose a novel and exciting method, not previously available.
Crowdsourcing is a new and innovative fundraising technique. Leveraging a many-to-many marketing base, aka social networking, the SMB or sole proprietor can raise direct to market dollars quickly and efficiently. In March, the government even jumped on the bandwagon with a Crowdfund Act (S.2190), sponsored by Senators Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). This legislation, if passed, will truly validate this innovative funding approach.
A bunch of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing sites exist. My favorite, Kickstarter, tends to run to smaller business. A list of Top 10 crowdfunding sites, as listed by Dowser, may be found here.
One of the reasons, in my opinion, our economy has been unable to gain momentum in recovery is the lack of available funds in the marketplace. Funding for the SMB, the true backbone of any real recovery, has been hard to come by. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding addresses this issue. Putting the power of funding into the hands of individuals -- not the traditional lending base, the banking industry -- empowers SMBs to grow.
Be prepared to get some valuable feedback on the validity of your project, should you take this route. As the old saying goes, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.” Many times, as SMB owners and operators, we have very passionately fooled ourselves into a market opportunity that only we can love. Prospective investors' feedback on your ideas or products, when the investor base is “everyman,” can be humbling.
Tally ho! To market we go!