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Saturday 20 September 2014

Feargal Quinn: Your business can still flourish even if it's off the beaten track



If you have small-business questions for Feargal Quinn, email them to problemsolver@independent.ie

Published 31/01/2013 | 05:00

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Q My business is not in a great location and I struggle to attract passing traffic. Can you advise on things I might be able to do?

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Well, location is important and you will always have to work harder if you are in a secondary area that is off the beaten track. However, I have met many businesses over the years who have overcome this challenge in an admirable way.

If you are not in the main traffic area, the most important thing is that you first acknowledge this, and then do something about it.

Many businesses in secondary locations don't acknowledge their poor location and behave as if they were on the main street. You will always have to work harder than others to attract sufficient customers.

Not all of the following tools will work for you, but try each one and then see what suits your business best.

The traditional leaflet drop; an active social media strategy; a good website; a branded delivery van; some paid-for advertising; and don't ignore, or underestimate the value of, your existing customer base.

You probably have more than enough existing customers, but they are just not coming in often enough or spending enough per visit. Most importantly, you will need to develop a programme of really strong "one-to-one marketing".

In other words, you become an expert at communicating with all of your existing customers through text, email, newsletters, customer information evenings, etc.

I met a fashion retailer recently who had built up a database of 1,000 customers over the years. They had segmented this database by the individual customer's interest in specific brands.

When the next season's new designs would arrive in from brand X, they would text only the customers who were passionate about that brand, informing them of the new arrivals.

The result was immediate, with many customers ringing in to query what had arrived, or requesting that some garments be put aside for them to view.

Interestingly, it wasn't the store owner's name that appeared at the bottom of the text, it was the staff member who looked after that area, which added to the authenticity.

You will be working harder than many other businesses but I am confident you can have a strong future if you embrace marketing to new and existing customers with passion.

Q I am 23 and have developed a product that has both domestic and export market potential. I have done over two years of research in the evenings and weekends while at college, and I am satisfied there is a gap for the product. But I'm unsure of how to proceed next?

Well done. Your story is refreshing! Many early stage businesses fail to recognise the importance of export in the future growth of their business so I am pleased to see that's on your radar too. Before you aim for the big time though, you need to ensure that all the basics are in place.

You will need a business plan for banks and other agencies with whom you will interact, but more importantly you will need a business plan for yourself. It's your way of sense checking that your idea is robust.

There may be a gap in the market but is your business capable of grabbing hold of it? The act of writing the business plan will force you to address all the business critical issues.

The acid test of your plan is that you should be able to hand it to someone unconnected with the project, get them to read it, and on completion they should fully understand what it is you are planning to do and that you have thought through all the issues.

Some other key early questions you need to think about are: Can you legally protect either your brand name or some element of the process?

Will you have the cash flow to get off the ground? Are you aware of any grants and supports you could be eligible for? Do you have access to a logistics partner who will help you with your route to market plans?

How will you fund your marketing campaign to support your new launch?

Have you got all the skillsets yourself to support the business? Will you manufacture the product yourself or do you need an outsource partner?

That's a lot of questions and there are many more important issues you will also need to consider – too many questions for you to be expected to have answers to right now, so you need to get support.

Your local Enterprise Board has the expertise to advise you on the best route for you to proceed and in most regions it runs "start your own business programmes" that will help answer every one of your questions and up-skill you quickly.

You may also qualify for expert mentoring.

To locate your local Enterprise Board, visit www.gov.ie and go to the section "Find your local Enterprise Board".

I would love to hear how you get on, so do drop me a line to let me know how you are progressing.

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