The first half of 2020 has seen some unprecedented political and microbiological incidences that will certainly go down in history and it’s been a testing & stressful time for many people. For business owners, lock-down has been a proverbial nightmare; especially for those operating in the hospitality sector.
It’s not all been 100% bad however, stock prices have not been impacted as badly as would have been feared and specific companies & sectors have gone from strength to strength. For example, Telsa experienced its highest-ever stock price and as of July, gold prices are starting to ‘rally’.
If you are one of the many workers to have been made redundant since the COVID-19; now might be the best time to start your own business. Times are hard financially for most people, however, it is possible to start your own business with an internet connection, a computer and a few hundred dollars.
How to Come Up with A Business Idea
There are several ways you can kickstart your brain into coming up with many business ideas. First, think about what you are good at, and/or have a passion for. Then, the next time you’re browning Amazon or another online store for a relevant product, take a look at the reviews. Reviews are a goldmine of information – see what the common themes are in the negative reviews. This will tell you how a product can be improved. For service-based industries and businesses, take a look at reviews on Google Maps/Google MyBusiness and write down any relevant points.
Mix and matching current services and products is another good way to be creative when it comes to idea generation. What existing services or products could you combine? For example, would a night-light combined with a USB charger have a market online? Could you combine fitness videos with online cooking tutorials on your training website?
Do you like to write or create videos? You could test the waters and start things off by creating a blog and a Youtube channel. By creating blog posts and videos, you will automatically come up with news ideas – especially if your blog & channel are related to something that you have a passion about.
Search Google, Reddit and Twitter. Yes, this is obvious, but if you type something such as “is there an app for” on Google, you will see lots of suggestions, that are likely to give you ideas. You can learn how to develop an app yourself, or hire someone to do it for you – this can be relatively cheap if you use a freelancer on PeoplePerHour or Upwork.
Market Research Hack
Have an idea? Great, now you can do some market research.
First, you can head over to Google or Google Chrome and type in your idea, or a phrase or word directly related to your idea. Google will then show you, via it’s predicted search terms, what other people are searching for and what’s a popular search term.
Make a note of all the relevant terms. if you are offering a service – add local search terms, such as “personal trainer Baltimore” or “accountant Baltimore”.
Adding “a” at the end of your search terms for example “fitness a” will show you any popular search terms that begin with “fitness a” – you can do this from a to z, so next type in “fitness b” and so what Google comes up with.
Now go to Ubersuggest.com and carry out a search/analysis with your search terms. Make a note of the keyword volume and the cost per click.
The keyword volume relates to how many people carry out a Google search, using that specific word or phrase, each month. Local search terms tend to be generally quite low but if there are less than 100 searches in a month, for a specific state, then the demand might be relatively low.
The cost per click may give you an idea of the competition that’s on there. If the cost per click for a highly relevant search term is less than $5 for example, that may suggest that competition is relatively low. However, the amount people are willing to pay will always relate to the value of a product or service and the potential profit, so bear that in mind.
You can also take your search terms from Google.com or Google Chrome’s search bar and put them into Google Trends. Google Trends will show you interest over time and by state. Finally, search for your main business ‘keywords’ on Google Maps. Google Maps will show you the number of competitors you will have nearby. Also, take a look at their reviews, this will give you ideas about people’s pain points which will help you with marketing and provide a better product or service.
One final tip – install Mozbar for Google Chrome. Then search on Google to see your competitors. You can see how ‘strong’ their website is by checking out the Domain Authority of your competitors. You can also see which directories and review sites you may wish to be listed on to get in front of your target audience:
That is a lot of market research – and you can do it all from your spare room.
Start Your Business Officially (and get help in doing so)
To start your business in Baltimore, take a look at the official government guidelines on the county’s official website – baltimorecountymd.gov
To begin with, you will need to register the business via the Maryland Business Express portal here. You will also need to find out if you will need a business or permit license and you will need a Tax ID.
Once you have established your business, take a look at the Maryland Small Business Center’s website here and see what it has to offer. They offer consultations, funding support and business plan development services.
Creating Your Brand
By now, you will have started to build your brand, or at least the concept underpinning it. It can be worth sketching out and brainstorming with spider diagrams etc. on a piece of paper when you are trying to finalize your brand. Write down what you are passionate about in regards to your business and why you are passionate.
It is usually best to be quite specific with your offering, especially if your business will offer a service. For example, the personal training industry is quite saturated in most areas of the U.S. but you could specialize in training people over 30 and use your age as a selling point – if you are over 30 yourselves. A large percentage of the trainers out there are in their early 20s and don’t understand the way a body with a lot of mileage works!
To create your brand you will need a name, a logo and a tagline/slogan. For the logo, take a look at the logo templates on Freepik and some if they generate any ideas. You can also play around with one of the many online logo makers, but consider hiring a graphic designer if you are not happy with your result.
A website, Google My Business page and social media accounts are usually a great idea to have too. To come up with the name, consider brainstorming with a trusted friend, and write down any ideas that you may come up with during the day – the best ideas often come to us when we’re not trying to think of them! Before you set your heart on a business name, double-check that domain name (web address) is not already taken. You can check the web address available on the HostGator domain search here.
WordPress is a common platform when it comes to creating a business website. You can use a company such as HostGator for your domain name and your also your web hosting. If you don’t know a domain name or web hosting is – consider your website as a building; the hosting is the plot of land you want to build it on and the domain name is the address of the building. WordPress is somewhat like the foundations of the building. There are lots of great tutorials on Youtube on how to build a WordPress website, start to finish. Again, you can always outsource the website build to someone on a freelancer website such as Upwork.
It is important to register your business with Google My Business to obtain more visibility online. It will also help you to rank on local searches on Google.
Reaching Your Audience
As part of your overall business plan, make a note of how you will reach your target audience. First of all define who they are – what age, gender(s), occupation(s), location etc.
Then research where they hang-out. What websites do they use and can you target them there?
Can you offer them something of value to hook them in and warm them up before pitching for a sale? A typical tactic for a personal trainer might be to offer a free training program in exchange for an email address. The free fitness eBook containing high-intensity workouts that can be done at home. This eBook could be promoted on Facebook using demographic targeting, but also on Linkedin, by targeting CEOs who you know will be too busy to make much time for exercise and may be interested in a free eBook full of 20-minute high-intensity workouts.
Remember to network. Getting out there and meeting fellow entrepreneurs can still be one of the most effective ways of generating clients for your business.
A bonus tip for reaching your audience – is not to miss any phone calls! This can be a big problem with small business owners, who are often otherwise engaged and often miss calls from potential clients. Unfortunately, many people do not leave a voicemail and will often go on to contact a competitor. With this in mind, consider investing in a telephone answering app and a virtual assistant to answer emails promptly.
Support for Startups in Baltimore
There are many organizations in Maryland, who will support you and your business venture. For example, the Abell Foundation looks to help businesses by providing grants and direct investments. Baltimore Angels offer capital investment and mentorship programs to local business owners. For a full list of organizations that may be able to offer you help and advice, please see the ecomap website here.