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Exploring ideas for a business start-up

January 24, 2007|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Question: I'm looking for a business to start. A franchise operation or existing business is not of interest to me. Is there any trade show, event or other resource that offers business start-up ideas?

Answer: Business ideas are plentiful; the tricky part is finding a business that you can make successful. That means settling into a business that suits your background, funding and stage of life. Picking an idea just because it sounds appealing is not a great plan. Start with what you know. That means choosing a business that's related to your current job, taps into a longtime hobby or meshes well with your educational background.

A variety of trade shows are held across the country that target those looking for business ideas. The Trade Show Network, at www.tsnn.com, has an event database that you can search based on industry, month or location.

"Online business message boards and forums can be a great place to find ideas and brainstorm with other entrepreneurs," said Stephanie Chandler, a Sacramento-based small-business expert and author.

"Some of my favorites are Minding Your Own Business (myob-network.ryze.com), Business Owner's Idea Cafe (www.businessownersideacafe.com/cyberschmooz) and Internet Based Moms (internetbasedmoms.com/bb)."

Business networking is another great way to dig up new ideas. "You can meet people in a variety of industries, find out what they do and how they like it, and spark some start-up ideas," Chandler said. "Join your local chamber of commerce or find local business groups at Meetup.com."

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Customer satisfaction is key in facing larger rival

Q: I own a successful day spa that's been in business 10 years. A month ago, I found out that one of the large chains is moving nearby. They have lots of money and all the latest equipment. Can I keep them from taking away my customer base?

A: Whenever a new competitor comes to town there is a chance you will lose some business. That's why you need to shore up those customers -- and bring in some new ones -- before the new guy arrives.

First, think about why someone might come to your spa instead of the fancy chain outfit down the block. In other words, what differentiates your business from the new guy? If you're not sure, do a customer survey, suggested Ken Keller, a Valencia small-business consultant with Renaissance Executive Forums.

"What things do your customers like about your spa? What services do they enjoy and what new services are they looking for? Ask them questions that evaluate the professionalism of your staff," Keller said. The survey should also ask customers whether they feel they got a good value from you and whether they will return.

"Be sure to leave a place for write-in comments so you can use the good comments as testimonials in your advertising, with permission. Once you have tabulated this information, emphasize your good points and put together a plan to address the deficiencies," Keller said.

Your spa probably needs some sprucing up to stay competitive. See whether you can lease or purchase some of the newest equipment. Paint or do other cosmetic upgrades, which don't have to be costly.

"If you have not developed a marketing plan in the past, this is the time to do so," Keller said. Head down to your local Small Business Development Center (www.sba.gov/sbdc) and see a consultant for some advice.

The most important asset you have is your employees. People buy from people, not from locations. Train your employees in good customer service.

"Making the customers feel they are the most important aspect of your business will keep them coming back and prevent them from being drawn to the new competitor in town," Keller said.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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