Getting an Idea to Market
What is an entrepreneur? The definition, according to Oxford American Dictionary, is a person who organizes and manages a commercial undertaking, especially one involving commercial risk. Risk is the operative word. Having a great idea and having the passion to turn it into a business is only part of the equation. How that idea is formulated, marketed, shared and implemented is the difference between having a unique idea and building a successful company.
Women's Business, The Professional and Business Woman's Journal, was an idea I had in the early 1990s when I worked at a real estate newspaper that focused on the achievements of individuals in the commercial real estate industry. Although the newspaper regularly featured men, I personally witnessed the phenomenal growth of women's businesses. Having been involved in the co-founding of one of the first women's business networking organizations dedicated to connecting women in business, I watched women in every industry reach out to each other to network and partner to grow their businesses. I knew the power of the press and believed it was one of the areas where women were still not getting their fair share. My motto -- visibility equals credibility equals success -- was the mantra that led me to develop the Women's Business model.
In July 1995, I developed the model, applied to the Small Business Administration for a loan, received the loan and began operations to open Women's Business. As I began to put the team together, it became apparent to me that my idea was ahead of its time. To succeed, I needed more than money and a great idea. I needed the timing of the market as well. As I researched my major market, advertisers, and particularly advertising agencies, I learned that although they liked the idea, they wouldn't buy into it. My major market confirmed that the timing was wrong for my product. I put my plan back on the shelf and for the next three years focused on building networks of businesswomen. By July 1998, market conditions had changed. Women were starting businesses in record numbers and the Department of Labor and business organizations were confirming it across the country. These new businesses were not a result of the so-called "glass ceiling effect" but a change in women's thinking about having it their way on their own terms. Women were also finding greater opportunities in senior management in Fortune 1,000 companies. The bottom line was that the advertisers could not ignore the dramatic shift in decision-making in business-to-business advertising. It was time for me to provide the visibility businesswomen needed and deserved. Women's Business was born in July 1998.
Know the Needs of Your Market
The idea and concept were the same as in 1995, but the market conditions had changed. The primary market of business-to-business advertisers needed the venue that Women's Business would provide. Many think the primary market of a newspaper is the readership. Advertisers, however, generate the majority of revenues and, therefore, knowing the needs of my market was critical to our success. As the founder of a business-to-business publication, I needed to convince advertisers that women business owners and women business leaders were business-to-business purchasers and could not be reached by any other venue. Statistics already confirmed that women were major retail consumers, and with the growth of women in full-time careers, it was apparent that they were also B2B decision-makers.
Build a Team
Once I knew my market was prepared to invest in my concept, I needed to build a team to share my vision. The Women's Business model is designed to employ a few people, each who has total responsibility for her area of expertise. The team consists of the publisher, editor, sales director and graphic designer. Readers are astonished to find out that our monthly publication is put together by four people. But it is this model that allows the newspaper to be a financial success. Finding an editor, graphic designer and sales director who understood the concept was a critical next step in building the business. Each of these team members is fully responsible for her area of expertise, meaning that Woman's Business doesn't operate as a hierarchy.
Instead, the Women's Business team communicates as equals providing a variety of input from every aspect of publishing, all of which keeps the process moving smoothly and in sync with the information each receives from the audience with which she deals.
As the publisher, it is my responsibility to lead and communicate the vision on a daily basis. Women's Business is a partner with the business community and, as publisher, I participate in every venue available for women in business and other business events. Regularly attending business organizational meetings, workshops and seminars keeps me in touch with the people who advertise and subscribe to the paper. It is my job to connect the paper with the region and promote our niche. I also handle the circulation for the paper as it is a comprehensive database built over my 15 years of networking and includes the women who have been at the forefront of the movement and those following in their footsteps. The Women's Business database is unmatched in the region and therefore is an incredibly valuable target for advertisers.
Stick to Your Plan
Once you've launched the idea, double check your instincts before listening to the constructive criticism of friends and family who believe in you but want to alter your idea. An entrepreneur must listen and believe in her gut. If you have done the research and written the business plan, you must stick to the plan and allow it to take hold. Women's Business was initially received with cautious enthusiasm and a lot of ideas that could "make it better." I listened to all that had something constructive to say and then stuck with my plan. I learned that the more well-intentioned people provided me with ideas, the more my plan was unique and, although new and unproven, just needed the time to take hold. We did not want to be a newspaper that covered all women's issues. Our niche is business and we have stayed with our plan. Women's Business was financially successful in the first month. During the next three years, growth has been remarkable in comparison to other newspapers in the region. Our success led us to launch Women's Business New York last fall. My plan of taking the model across the country into other major markets will become a reality in the next few years. If you believe in your model, give it all you have to prove it.
My enthusiasm for Women's Business has not faltered for one day since mid-1995. I've been patient for the time to be right, but I've been selling and promoting the concept every day since then. I believe in our model, our concept, and our ability to grow into a multi-regional national company that will eventually go beyond the newspaper business into other aligning arenas.
In summary, I've learned that getting an idea to market requires the following five key elements:
- First, timing. Research everything you know about your major market, which will be your source of revenue, and confirm that the timing for your product or idea is right.
- Second, know your market. Understand everything you can about the needs of your market, again your revenue source, and be prepared to specifically fill a need that the competition cannot.
- Third, build a team that shares your vision. The greatest idea cannot be successful without a team that understands its founder's vision from every aspect. If the team is constantly asking questions about the credibility or purpose of the product, there will be major problems in communicating that concept to outsiders.
- Fourth, keep to the plan as consistently and stubbornly as possible. Your product cannot be all things to all people. Once you have determined your market, keep to your niche. It may be necessary to adjust the strategy, marketing, team, and budget. However, to be successful, believe in your concept and stay the course.
- Finally, sell, sell and sell your idea and your product to everyone you meet. If you, the entrepreneur, can't sell it, who can?
Vicki Donlan founded Women's Business LLC in 1998 and serves as publisher of its controlled-circulation newspaper, Women's Business Boston. In 2001, she started a separate entity, Women's Business Media, to bring the concept to the New York area, with the launch of Women's Business New York. Women's Business LLC, which has been profitable from the beginning, expects revenue of $1 million in 2002, while the newer entity, in a developing stage, sees 2002 revenue of $500,000. Both publications endeavor to bring women business owners together with advertisers.
Copyright © 2002 Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 4801 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, MO 64110. All rights reserved.