One of the things I find prevents budding mumpreneurs getting going is worrying that the small business idea they have is 'silly' or that people just won't want what they have to offer.
Well, first of all, the beauty of having a small business is that you can change things as you go - it's all about refining what you offer and trying to give people what they really want, and will pay you for. For most of us, that is a continual journey - you keep tweaking and improving what you offer so that a) you feel great about the value you're giving your clients and b) you attract more of them!
But it would be a tad irresponsible to throw yourself into something without having done a little bit of research into whether the service you're going to offer is along the right lines of what people want to start with.
Most of my clients know they should do some kind of research but don't have a clue where to start (or skip it because they think it will cost money they don't have).
Here's the good news: in the age of the internet, you can do a good chunk (and as much as you need to get started, in my opinion) from the comfort of your own sofa - and for free!
All you need are some keywords for the type of service you're thinking about offering (or your 'Promise' as it's known on our campus!) and an internet connection.
So here we go - my top 3 tips for checking whether there is a market for your small business idea (and for tweaking it to fit what people DO want!):
1. Check your keywords
The fact that so many people use internet search engines (rather than the Yellow Pages, say) to find what they're looking for nowadays, means they're a great place for us to start.
The tool I use, at the moment, to research what people are looking for is Keywordspy - although I also use Google's Keyword Planner Tool from time to time as well, depending on what I want to find out.
Keywordspy is a website that gives you insight into activity on the web - you can pay for detailed information but the free access should be enough for what we need here.
Simply navigate to the keywordspy website, type your keywords or phrase into the search bar, choose the 'keywords' button, choose 'United Kingdom' from the list of countries and hit search.
You will be shown a list of the words and phrases that are related to the words you have entered, and that are currently being searched for by others on internet search engines - along with the estimated number of monthly searches.
This shows whether or not people are actually showing an interest in the topic you have chosen. It may also help you narrow down what you decide to do for people (or which people you decide to do it for!) when you see the most popular searched phrases.
Make a note of those words and phrases that have a monthly volume of between, say, 1,000 - 18,000 searches.
While you need to know there are people searching for the information/services/products you want to offer, if the search results come back in the 100,000s, your keywords are probably too broad and you need to try narrow down the field a bit by being more specific. This is something I also use to help people identify their 'niche'.
2. Check out the competition
Many mums are worried about having to compete with other businesses and they will waste months - or years - trying to come up with a small business idea that no-one else has ever thought of, because they think it will be easier if they have no competition.
Well, I have news for you - this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when deciding what business to start, not least because the chances are you will never make that discovery and, therefore, never take the first step.
The chances of you thinking of a brand new business that no-one in the world has EVER thought of are virtually non-existent. And you don't need to.
In fact, you actually want to pick a business that other people ARE already active in - because it means that there is a market for it. If no-one else is bothering with a certain type of business, there's probably a good reason.
The best thing you can do is adapt a small business idea that is already proven to be working and put your own unique twist on it. Believe me - I'm an accountant by profession and we (I'm afraid to say) are a dime a dozen! I had to put my own stamp on the service I provided to attract people to switch to my practice from elsewhere. It's not hard, you just need to find out what people actually want.
Think of the new businesses/products you've seen or heard of recently. you can see good examples on the shopping channel infomercials (very successful marketing method by the way); the H2O Steam Cleaner (yes, we've got one!) - it's a mop. The Insanity workout - it's an exercise DVD. We've got that too!
They are all variations of, or improvements on, things that have been around for a long time. No-one's re-inventing the wheel and you don't have to either. They are simply providing solutions to the specific problems they know their ideal clients are experiencing.
So another factor to consider, when you're looking at your keywords on http://www.keywordspy.com is the competition. How many PPC (Pay Per Click) advertisers are there for the words you've entered? What are they paying per click? Ideally you want to be coming up with words/phrases where people are paying £1-£2 per click.
Any more than this, you'll probably end up paying a lot for your marketing, and again, you'll want to think about focusing on becoming a bit more 'niched'. Any less than this and the demand may not actually be that great which is why advertisers aren't prepared to pay much to come high up in the search engine results.
3. See what people are writing about
Finding out what books have been written about your chosen topic is a great way to judge public interest - most people won't go to the trouble of writing, publishing and marketing a book without having already done extensive research into whether people are interested in their topic. It's a big investment.
These authors have already gone to the pain and expense of market research - and we can use this to our advantage.
So go to http://www.amazon.com and search for books relating to the kind of business you want to start or service you want to offer. Chances are you will find SOME books - see what areas they focus on and read the reviews to see what people think/like/want to see more of.
If there are hundreds of books on the subject, think about what particular area you could focus on - again, what 'niche' can you become an expert in?