In the late nineties, as I was becoming more and more involved with the Web, I also worked a few days a week at a training center for entrepreneurs. It was a wonderful experience, and twice now I have found products in stores that were first discussed and brainstormed back in those classrooms.
We had all kinds of people taking our courses, some with wonderful ideas, and some with dreams that short of a miracle would never get off the ground.
There were some pretty basic, but important questions we asked these students...
- Is your idea REALLY a business?
- Do people actually WANT what it is you are going to create?
- Is there a niche in that market that isn't already saturated and well served by your competitors? (Want to launch a new toilet paper? Good luck... the market is already pretty well wrapped up.)
- Are there ENOUGH of these people to make it a business, to pay the bills and leave a profit?
- Are you able to reach these people at a reasonable cost?
And so on. It was a long process that, if done right, took a huge amount of time and research. And throughout that period of “finding out” there was that balancing act for us teachers—to be brutal enough to make people do the work and be objective about their plans and, at the same time, being positive and supportive enough to keep that flame of passion alive.
Then, recently, I had this serendipitous moment. I was working with a product called Site Build It! and had this flashback to my training days.
(Site Build It! is an integrated suite of tools that enables you to brainstorm a Web site, build it, have it hosted, submitted to the search engines, send out newsletters and so on. And, to be fair and balanced, I could just as easily have had this “moment” while using some search term tool from WordTracker or Overture.)
As I was working with it, I was suddenly struck by the fact that this “site-building tool” does almost everything that a group of trainers and hundreds of pages of manuals did back at that training center. And, in many ways, it does it better.
If any of my sons or friends wanted to start any kind of business, online or offline, I'd get them to run their idea through this suite of tools first. It's a fantastic way to find out all the key answers before you start investing a lot of time and money in your project.
In fact, a friend of mine is thinking of making a business of creating a very attractive line of baby blankets.
So, is there a market out there? Is there a niche within that market that isn't already taken? Are there enough potential customers to make it a profitable business?
These are answers that can usually be found only through some very extensive research. But with one of the Site Build It! tools, we can get a very good idea, very quickly. Best of all, our answers won't be based on speculation, research and focus groups...but on what prospects are actually DOING online when “baby blankets” come to mind. All the information is aggregated from a large number of search engines that capture the key words and phrases people are using when searching for products and services.
This isn't about research and studies—this is a glimpse of what actual people are actually doing, right now. Better than a thousand focus groups. More current that a thick, expensive study.
So here is what she, or you, would do.
Using the keyword brainstorming tool you would do a search on “baby blankets.” And here's what you'd find:
These are just relative numbers, and you soon get a feel for what looks good. And although the numbers aren't stellar in this case, they're pretty encouraging. The “demand” shows how many people search for the term, “supply” tells you how many sites provide relevant information and “profitability” is calculated from those two.
A lot of key words give you a profitability number of less than ten, even less than five. So 27 is respectable. We can tell my friend it's worth taking this a little further. In other words, we know that a fair number of people are looking for baby blankets, and not too many sites are answering that demand.
Now we can do a search for all the related terms. And when we do that, we start to learn a whole lot more.
Here are the numbers for “baby bedding”:
Much more demand and a much higher figure for profitability.
My friend is learning some very valuable information here. Perhaps her home page, or the cover of her brochure, shouldn't say “baby blankets.” Perhaps it should say “baby bedding”—with an inside page devoted to baby blankets.
She can then go through dozens of different, related terms to figure out the focus of her other site or brochure pages. For instance, “personalized baby blankets” has a lower demand figure, but a profitability figure of 51. It's a nice little niche.
Is there more she can learn about her prospects? About when and how they will be looking for baby blankets? Sure. Take a look at the figures for “baby shower.”
There's a huge demand and a pretty good figure for profitability.
I've used just a few related terms here, but the tool delivers hundreds of them.
So... it doesn't matter if you're using the tool for an online or an offline business. What this tool does is answer some key questions for any entrepreneur. It tells you if there is a market for your idea. It lets you know whether the market is over-saturated with supply. It helps you identify niches that are not being served. And it also lets you know where people go when looking for your product, and even when they are most likely to buy. Plus, you get to know the kind of language your prospects are using when they have your product in mind.
When I think back to those entrepreneur training days of mine, it makes me wish we had a tool like this. What used to take weeks can now be done in an hour or less.
Even if you have an existing business, it's a great way to identify strengths and weaknesses in both your business and marketing plans. You can even use it to figure out the language to use in your next brochure or direct mail piece.
And what I really love about this process is that the information is pouring out of your prospective customers' typing figures—now, and now and now.
While I have very little time for focus groups or most other kinds of research, I love to listen to what buyers are actually doing, right now.
Resources mentioned in this article:
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