Build It And They Won’t Come

by Matthew on June 12, 2011

A common mistake I’ve seen people make when starting a new business is to envision the empire their business could end up being and then trying to make that vision the reality from day one. You very well may build it and they…won’t come.

For example, let’s say your business idea was to produce tourist guides to sell in a local area and you hope to eventually build this up into the definitive source of tourist guides for your region. Day one of business planning would probably not be the right time to purchase a $50,000 high-volume, commercial printer. “But,” you say, “this business is going to be huge! If I buy a cheap printer, the quality won’t be nearly as good and that might turn people off of my product entirely, in the process sinking my business which would have made it huge if only I had a good printer.”

I suppose there’s a tiny, tiny, tiny chance that might be true. On second thought, no, actually, there probably isn’t.

What’s more likely is that you’ll begin interacting with your market and find out all kinds of other things you never anticipated. Maybe accurate, readable information is the most important aspect of tourist information and a lot of people don’t care at all about the print quality if the content is good and accessible. Maybe there’s an ideal size which makes all the difference in the desirability of the product. Or maybe people want to write on their guides and your high-end, expensive printer only produces glossies which can’t be easily written on.

Some people decide they are going to start selling real estate and immediately go out and buy a new Cadillac because, you know, prospective buyers need to be driven around and a brand new car will make a good impression and might mean the difference in having clients or not. Or so the reasoning goes.

I know some people who decided to become restaurant owners and after purchasing an operational restaurant, poured all their money into massive renovations to turn it into basically a different color schemed version of the exact same restaurant it was before…not only in food offerings, but in lack of customers.

Instead of trying to build to suit your dream, start small, as small as possible, and build a customer base large enough to provide you with feedback. Then adjust your offering(s) as needed to serve your market. Rapid growth challenges in the future should be cause for celebration; those are good challenges to have. In the meantime, you’re limiting your downside should there be no market at all.

Back to the tourist guide example, maybe no one even wants printed tourist information anymore and you would be better off creating a tourist application for the iPhone…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mrichmond June 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm

I agree completely, and have started by own business in just such a way. Two years ago, upon moving to Ohio, I had big dreams of having enough contracting work come in to keep the bills paid. Two big problems: 1) no tools, and 2) no references.

I’ve been doing odd jobs on the side for almost three years now, and word has spread about what I do and the quality of my work, to the point where I have been busy on every day I’ve had off of my full-time job since March. So far, I’ve spent about $15 on advertising (Internet domain and vistaprint business cards), and I purchase needed tools as I have the work to justify them. It seems like every job I do gets me at least one lead for more work.
My “big dream” for the business is certainly not for it to be huge right out of the gate (in fact, I don’t want it to get too big to the point where I have to hire more than part-time help). I hope that it will be just enough business to sustain our family completely (with a little to set aside to invest) within the next three years. My current employer is on board with my plans and has agreed to allow me to ween off of his work gradually as my own picks up.

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Matthew June 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

Hey Matt,
Yes, I can see for a contracting business how it would make a lot of sense to build the business as it grows. That way you can find the right niches and feel what the market in your area wants. Maybe you’ll find particular types of work with are good or bad fits for the area and can grow your business.

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