I have discussed how to develop business ideas in the last two articles. I emphasized the importance of identifying needs or problems and coming up with products or services to meet those needs or solve the problems people face. The more effectively you can help people satisfy their needs or solve their problems, the more you get paid. The emphasis once again is not on money, but on people. If you help people and make their lives a bit more comfortable, they will give you their money. So remember this: A business does not exist for the purpose of making money; it exists to make solve peoples’ problems.
I also discussed the importance of meeting needs and solving problems using your unique set of talents, hobbies and skills. What I would like to add here is that every one of us is multi-talented, meaning that you can do several things well. You may also be multi-skilled, and you may have more than one thing you do as a hobby. What I encourage you to do is therefore to look out for more than one problem or need that people have, and how you can address them using your different talents and skills.
Let me say here that the majority of business people took their ideas from existing businesses. In other words, not many businesses are novel or completely new. While many businesses are exact copies of existing businesses, many are variants of existing businesses. I would like to see more Papua New Guinean businesses that are completely novel, meaning that they are addressing needs and problems in a completely new way. That, I believe, is true innovativeness and entrepreneurship. But such businesses emerge from a lot of conceptualizing and meditation. People look at the needs they see around them, and they think up solutions without any visual reference. It all takes place in the mind.
But I also realize that most of us see more with our eyes than we think (or see with our minds), and we tend to believe what we see more than what we hear. Therefore, when it comes to business, we normally tend to look around to see what other people are doing, and most of us think about doing exactly the same things. The result is that competition increases, and we end up driving prices down. This is obviously good for the buyers of our products and services, but as business people, competition works against our "bottom line".
That is why I have been advising in the past two articles that you either do something completely new, or do what other people are doing but in a different way. Do what others are doing, but set yourself apart from them by the way you do it. It is called differentiation.
Questions You Should Ask
How do you set yourself apart from others? How do you do what existing businesses are doing but differentiate yourself from them? Here are some questions you can ask yourself. Each question forces you to think deep and look for hidden opportunities which others have overlooked (because they were not obvious). As you consider each question, think of real examples of businesses that have differentiated themselves from others doing the same things or selling the same products.
1. Is there a better way for meeting a need or solving a problem? This question indicates that you are thinking of doing what other are already doing, but you are looking for ways to improve on what they are doing. Let your imagination run wild. Look at needs that are being met, but think of ways you can do it better or more efficiently. You will be surprised at the kind of business ideas you come up with.
2. Can I make it bigger? Sometimes size and price makes a big difference. Remember the days when Bmobile was the only company in the market providing mobile phone services? Services were very unreliable, and limited to the major centres. Unreliable services provided the opportunity for another operator to enter the market. When Digicel entered the market, it concentrated on developing its network. It built an extensive network of towers, even into rural areas where Bmobile didn’t think of going into. It can therefore now boast of having “The Bigger, Better Network”, and it is still expanding. The result is that Bmobile has become a follower, even though it was the first to be in the market.
3. Can I make it cheaper? Price is probably the most important factor that determines peoples’ purchasing decisions. Generally, the cheaper the product, the more people will buy it (assuming that minimum quality standards are maintained). If you can introduce a good quality product or service at a lower price, you will have no problems attracting buyers.
When Bmobile was the only mobile phone service provider, their prices for handsets were very high, and they forced customers to buy K200 worth of credits at the same time as they bought the handsets. It was expensive for most people to own mobile phones. When Digicel came, it made mobile communication much more affordable by introducing cheaper phones. Today you can buy a phone for as low as K29. As well as that, Digicel introduced the K3 prepaid phone card. This brought mobile phone services to the level of grassroots people.
Bmobile had no choice but to follow suit, because K3 was more affordable than K20 or even K10 cards. You will notice that Digicel did something Bmobile was already doing, but in a much better way. If Bmobile had made mobile communication affordable by building a network covering the country and sold cheap phones and cards, Digicel may have found the PNG market unviable.
4. Can I introduce a product or service that solves problems faster? In today’s fast-paced world, people are always looking for ways cut down on the time it takes to do things. The search for faster ways of communication led to the invention of the telex machine, followed by the fax machine. Today most people communicate by email and text messaging. Fast-food outlets help people satisfy their hunger much faster than if they were to cook themselves. Taxis ferry people to their destinations faster than buses that are required to follow established routes. Think of products such as instant coffee and two-minute noodles and you will get what I am talking about here.
5. Can I add something or subtract something? This question can help you to fine tune your business ideas until you get the unique business idea that you are willing to execute. For instance, Jasmine rice is basic long-grain rice. But producers knew that consumers add colours or flavours when they cook rice at home. So they added the jasmine flavour to make it easy for housewives. They are therefore able to charge higher prices than normal long-grain rice.
6. Can I make people’s lives more convenient? Generally people want convenience, meaning that they want to have their needs met as and when those needs arise. If you think about it, the bulk of goods and services available exist to make life more convenient living. Think of a convenience store. It sells most items people like, and it opens very early and closes very late. The owners know the basic items people need on a daily basis, and they know that the opening and closing times of the major shops are inconvenient for most people. So they make those items available for as long as they can in a day.
If you think of the food sellers around the government offices in Waigani, they are making life convenient for the workers. If government workers were to go to fast-food shops or the markets to buy lunch, it would be both costly and time-consuming. So to solve the government workers’ need for food and shorten the time looking for it, they bring food to where the workers are.
7. Can I complement an existing business? Look at an existing business and ask yourself how you can complement what that business does. For instance, I have a friend who runs a vehicle repairs workshop. On the same property is another person who sells car parts and accessories. He is a major supplier to the repair shop owner. I have also seen people with hire cars operating out of hotel rooms. Their aim is to get the hotels’ clients to rent their vehicles. So look around and think about what you could do to meet that business’s needs, or the needs of its clients.
As I stated in last week’s article, I now sell many of my books during seminars. When I first started doing the “Seven Steps To Financial Freedom” seminar, I brought copies of only one of my books from which the seminar was based. It soon turned out that the seminar was an opportunity to sell my other books as well, because people starting asking for them. Today I carry a case full of all my books. And I usually sell several copies of all the books. So the books complement the seminars, and the other way around.
8. What else can people use this for? This line of questioning would enable you to take an existing product and sell it to people to meet needs which they are not aware of. Maybe people are not buying enough because they do not know of certain qualities of the product that they could benefit from by consuming it.
Several years ago an elderly man from my village had a blocked prostate which made it very hard for him to relieve himself. I took him to the hospital and was advised that he needed to have a major operation to free the blockage. Unfortunately the hospital ran out of supplies for its operation theatre due to a major blockage on the Highlands Highway. We were told to wait, but the longer we did, the old man’s situation worsened to a point where he just couldn’t sleep. At our point of desperation, somebody suggested to me that I should try giving the old man aloe juice. I bought a container, but the patient was very reluctant. He asked, "I can drink it, but where will it go out”? I pointed out to him that he had no choice, so he took it. That night he slept very well for the first time in many weeks. He was also able to pass some urine. I bought several more containers and he drank until he was completely free of the affliction without the operation. He is still alive today. Based on this experience, I introduced the juice to two other men with similar problems, and both experienced the same results.
Nutritionists say that aloe juice provides many benefits to the body. For instance, it is said to delay the ageing process. But from my experience, it is very effective for men with prostate problems. I could easily start a business by identifying men with prostate problems and selling them the juice. I don’t have to manufacture it. The product is availabe already. All I need to do is to sell its benefits to men who suffer prostate problems.
There must be products you can start a business on by presenting their benefits in a different way to a specific group of customers.
9. How can I make this more marketable? Study an existing business to find out if you can introduce better packaging or a better delivery system. Once again, you don’t have to produce the product. You take it and deliver it more efficiently than it is being supplied to buyers.
10. What if I do something that is the opposite? Some businesses that are thriving now were started with business ideas that people considered crazy!
I could go on listing so many other possible questions you could ask when developing business ideas, but I shouldn’t give you all the answers. My aim in this article was to provoke you to start asking questions. As an aspiring entrepreneur, you must come up with your own questions and answers.