Business & Finance Entrepreneurship-startup

The Importance of Research Before Business Grant Applications

Starting a small or home based business involves making a lot of decisions before starting up, weighing options and informing yourself. Some of this is obvious, like digging around for market demographics, the strength of the local economy and similar. Some of this is less obvious when applying for grants - there's a lot of digging to be done before you can get a business started.

First, do the research on what sort of business you want to start, and make sure it's appropriate to your region. There isn't much call for downhill ski trainers in Miami Beach, for instance. If you're entering a crowded field, you'll want to make sure your offering stands out from the crowd.

You'll also want to look at regional and nationwide trends for this sort of business. Are sales up or down? Is there a clearly identifiable reason why they're up or down, and reasons to predict a continuation of the current trend, or its reversal? (One of the best ways to make money is to start a business at the end of a downturn in a given market segment, come out with a well received product, and sell it to an acquisitions hungry company looking to make it into that segment.)

If you're doing manufacturing, you'll want to look at how raw materials get in, what environmental regulations you need to look out for, labor restrictions, warehousing and packaging and similar - this will become a fixed item on your expenses, one that recurs monthly, so take the time to comparison shop now. Moving is never fun or easy.

When it comes to production, and providing services, you're going to need an accurate assessment of how much time it takes to do things. One of the big places where new businesses fail is that they undervalue the time of their founders; when you're short on capital, sweat equity looks very tempting. There is a time, however, where it's worth it to pay someone else to do things, and an absolute limit on the growth of your business if you choose not to have employees.

The next piece of research is market assessment. What's the market like for your goods or services? How strong is it? Who will buy it, and why, and for what secondary or primary purposes? Are there services you can add to the sale of a good to improve the value, or a good you can acquire cheaply to sell with a service or bundle with a service as a promotional item? Are there any untapped needs, or needs that you can combine multiple segments together to meet in a new way? What's your competition like and what are they doing?

Assessing needs and what the audience and customer base wants is a critical step in analyzing any business case.

Answers to these questions and more can be gotten through SCORE, which is a program put out by the Small Business Administration. SCORE is the Service Corps of Retired Executives, and is made up of entrepreneurs who have retired, but volunteer their time to give consults to new businesses starting out. Listen to them - particularly their stories about mistakes. Mistakes are costly, and are lessons learned. Learn from the mistakes of others, as you lack the time to make them all yourself.

Another place to look into answers to these questions are mentorship programs, particularly in technical fields, like printing. Talk to the people who have been in the business - a lot of them will be quite happy to help you set up and take over the jobs they don't want to be bothered with anymore, the smaller accounts that require more work than their payoff justifies with their higher overhead.

Once you've got answers, it's time to tally up expenses and the balance sheet. Look at the money you'll need, generate a very pricey estimate of three months of operating expenses, including your own salary, and see what funding sources are available.

Don't forget to advertise; it's how customers find you!

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