Thursday 20 June 2019

Problem Solver: You need more than just friends and family to advise on best route for a startup

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Senator Feargal Quinn in 2008.Pic Tom Burke
Senator Feargal Quinn in 2008.Pic Tom Burke

Feargal Quinn

Q: I have a business idea and have talked to some friends and family who share my views that it will be successful. What steps do I need to take to set the business up?

A: I am going to answer a question you haven't asked. 'What are the chances of this being viable?'

The general advice when starting a business is that there are two definite groups of people you should not take advice from ... family and friends. While these groups have given you some great backup and advice there is a real risk, in their efforts to be supportive, that they don't critique the business as they might if it was someone else's and give you lots of positive feedback as a way of being encouraging.

Of course, there is every chance that the business could be successful but you owe it to yourself and to the business to conduct a robust feasibility study.

When starting any business you need to be sure that there is a 'gap' in the market. In most categories, there is very little room for a product or service which has already been covered by others and you will find it very hard to make enough sales in this space.

You are better off to identify categories where you are likely to have least resistance. Spend some time doing some online research and then test your idea on people not known to you. They will give you the most robust feedback as they have no vested interest.

Well done on having the initiative to start the business and just step back and conduct a little bit more robust research and to validate that everything that you are doing is as good as it should be and you are positioning your product or service correctly. There is no point in finding this out after you launch. Good luck.

Q: I have run a pottery business for the last 10 years and have spent most of that time focused on supplying third-party retailers. I have more recently discovered that engaging with tourists who visit my workshop could become a lucrative part of the business. I am unsure of the steps I need to take. Do you have any experience in this area?

A: We have had another related query in this space over the last number of weeks. More and more businesses, who traditionally wouldn't have engaged with tourists, are finding that with the right product or service offer, they can generate a second profitable revenue stream from this area.

Talk to Fáilte Ireland which has a lot of expertise in building visitor experiences and will help to be able to point you to dozens of case studies. I would also recommend that either through your own contact, or through talking to Fáilte Ireland, that you identify successful tourism venue operators, and where possible, go and visit them and chat with their managers so that you can identify the critical success factors you need to put into place.

From talking to those who have already immersed themselves into this area, there are a number of common learnings you should take on board. You need to first decide on how you want to structure your visitor centre. Is this something that needs to be pre-booked? You may not want people wandering in unannounced when you are in the middle of production.

Also think about your current facility and see if it is suitable for receiving visitors. Is the exterior approach large enough for coaches, or large numbers of cars? Do you have toilets and other facilities? Do you need to build some sort of a viewing gallery/visitor centre?

All of this could require investment and it would be good to determine this in advance.

I do agree strongly that this is a very viable area for you to be exploring as a potential synergy to your core business, and I just want to be cautious about the way you structure it so you can gain maximum benefit without risking the current business.

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