small business strategy

How to Start a Small Business with a Strong Strategy

Anne Shaw

A great idea is just the seed when it comes to growing a successful business. After all, one-third of new businesses fail in the first two years, and half close their doors in the first five years—and it’s not because they all started with bad ideas. Some had great ideas but didn’t have strong business strategies or the right people leading them.

Take sliced bread as an example. After hearing women in his jewelry shop complain about the tedious task of slicing bread, Otto Rohwedder decided to solve their problem. Before he set out to create his bread-slicing machine, though, he did his market research, taking out newspaper ads that asked women—his future end users—to share how thick the perfect slice of bread should be. Turns out, slightly less than half an inch was ideal. With that data in hand, Rohwedder created a prototype in 1912 that would yield identically perfect slices of bread.

But even with this market research in hand, the concept of sliced bread wasn’t immediately recognized as “the greatest thing” when Rohwedder unveiled his invention to potential customers: the baking companies. In fact, he had to battle their concerns over how pre-slicing bread would ruin it as well as perceptions that their customers wouldn’t even care to have sliced bread. He needed to convince baking companies that slicing bread was a true inconvenience for their customers, even if they didn’t realize it yet. And he had to create a packaging strategy that would preserve bread’s freshness once sliced. Only then did a baking company finally give his invention a chance in 1928. Shortly after, sliced bread was hailed as a success. Even so, it didn’t grow into the ubiquitous smash hit it now is until Wonder Bread picked it up in 1930 and put a savvy marketing plan behind it.

Clearly sliced bread was a great idea. Today our grocery aisles are lined with a variety of brands and types of sliced bread. But its success wasn’t fully realized until its inventor proved that there was a problem and then solved it in a way that the end user would enjoy, until customer objections were uncovered and overcome, or until the right people put a strong business strategy behind it. So, what business lessons can we learn from sliced bread?

Determine Whether Your Small Business Idea Can Succeed

To achieve success, small businesses need to satisfy three important criteria:

  • They must fill a need or solve a problem.
  • The founder(s) is a good fit for the business to see it through.
  • Leadership is armed with a well-researched and well-planned small business strategy.

To explore whether your business has a shot at success, consider how well your idea, paired with your team, checks off the following—each of which can get you thinking of more potential business ideas on their own.

Your idea solves a vexing problem. Rohwedder was convinced of the problem he solved based on the anecdotal evidence of his jewelry shop customers’ complaints as well as the response he received from his newspaper ads that asked for feedback on the perfect slice of bread. Follow his lead by considering the problem you solve—or the convenience you add—for your end users. Build a convincing case around it using market research, especially if you won’t be marketing directly to end users or if your business idea requires initial funding.

You can capitalize on your own expertise. Rohwedder already had in-depth knowledge on building and working with machinery thanks to his expertise as a jeweler, and he used this to his advantage. Do you already have the expertise you need to follow through on your business idea? Discover where you may be lacking and decide whom you can recruit to bolster any current weaknesses.

You improve a current product or service—or make it less expensive. While bread was already available in bakeries, Rohwedder improved the value of bakery-bought loaves by providing a time-saving, pre-sliced version. Will your product or service simplify your customers’ lives or at least offer a lower cost for something they already buy?

Create Your Small Business Strategy

Once you’ve identified a business idea you want to pursue and feel confident that there is—or will be—definite market demand, it’s time to put a solid business plan behind it. Determine what’s needed on your path toward market penetration and market dominance. For instance, successful businesses identify and focus on their ideal customer and create customer segments they can target in their sales and marketing efforts.

After you’ve built customer personas, consider whether they’re already aware of the issue you plan to solve. If they aren’t, how you can you educate them and build that awareness? If your customers already know that they need your product or service, then you’re ahead of the game. Craft a messaging strategy that explains to your target audience why your product will fulfill their needs or improve their lives. And if you’re not first to the market, but are entering a fairly saturated field, then make sure your strategy includes a compelling story about why you’re better positioned to provide for their needs and why your product or service is better than what your competitors offer.

Learn More About What to Do Before You Start a Business

If you’re still sifting through business ideas, considering potential partners, or are in the early stages of building your business strategy, read our eBook, Opportunity Knocks: How to Find and Pursue a Business Idea That’s Right for You. In it we offer additional business planning insights, including examples of how real businesses have achieved strong growth and long-term success.

Not only will you discover additional ways to identify compelling ideas for your market, but you’ll also learn how to piggyback on emerging trends and technologies, conduct market research, and how to decide whether your idea is a good fit for you in the long run. Ultimately, your business idea, no matter how strong, can only succeed if it’s sustainable for you—if it fits your strengths, lifestyle expectations, and personality traits. When you land on a great idea that does, you may just launch the greatest thing since… well, sliced bread.

Find and Pursue a Business Idea That’s Right for You

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