By Nancy Ingalls "Most successful men have not achieved their distinction by having some new talent or opportunity presented to them. They have developed the opportunity that was at hand." - Bruce Marton If you do target a new niche market, make sure that this niche compliments your overall business plan. January 10, 2004 -- Good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and at any time! But can one consciously foster creativity and new ideas on demand to find the niche you need to stay in front of the competition? Certain successful companies and creative experts suggest it’s not as hard as most people think. Everyone can be more creative with technique, practice, and motivation. Perhaps "a leap of faith" is also required for the skeptical. Before you roll up your sleeves and try a new concept for your multimillion dollar making idea, let’s look at some techniques to help foster creativity. One of the best strategies for any business is to divide demand into manageable market niches. To go about dividing and conquering, I suggest the first step in your strategy would be to study your market carefully. Begin with a survey to identify any significant business problems. Then, once you have identified them, you then can determine how to best solve them. 20 Questions Your survey should start with open-ended questions. Ask what it is your prospect or existing customers lack with their printing/marketing/web needs. What is it your customer really needs? What is the customer is looking for? Are they looking for print, or are they looking for a solution to a business problem? While researching your own company's niche, consider the results of your market survey and the areas in which your competitors are already firmly situated. Put the information you collect into a table or graph to illustrate where an opening might exist for your product or service. Try to find the right configuration of products, services, quality, and price that will ensure the least direct competition. Additionally, a well-designed database can help you sort through your market information and reveal particular segments you might not see otherwise. For example, do customers in a certain geographic area tend to purchase products that combine high quality and high price more frequently? Do your small business clients take advantage of your customer service more often than larger ones? If you do target a new niche market, make sure that this niche does not conflict with your overall business plan. For example, a small candy shop that makes candies by hand would not go after a market for inexpensive, mass-produced candies, regardless of the demand. Likewise, as a digital print provider you certainly aren't going to compete on price with big commercial print shops. If you do target a new niche market, make sure that this niche compliments your overall business plan. Look for opportunities to upsell customers or for points of synergy between the new niche and your broader market. Refresh, reposition, improve Look at how you can improve your offerings, perhaps combining features/benefits of separate offerings into a new one. Are there any opportunities for your company's products to be refreshed in the marketplace by being repositioned, improved, or presented in a new way? There are many techniques that one can go about finding your niche. If you are not doing this now, I suggest you periodically screen your products and compare them with those of your competition. Look at how you can improve your offerings, perhaps combining features/benefits of separate offerings into a new one. Instead of just offering printing, offer creative consulting services, web site hosting, distribution services. Remember the survey we discussed earlier? It should help you examine needs of your customers that are not being met by your competition. Roundtables with customers can stimulate ideas for your business. Look at your competition and see if they have a product or service that can be improved upon. Most importantly, in concert with your survey, you must stay close to your customers. Get out there and ask them what they need that they are not getting from your competitors. Keep the cadence going and make sure your talk with them often. Have you ever considered staying close to the ultimate product user? How often do you talk with the end users of your product, if they are not the same people who actually buy your product? Get your sales force together and asked them if they have seen anything that is better or that they like better? Ask your sales force if they have any ideas. And don't forget your suppliers. They are often the closest to the latest technology, materials, ingredients, international advances, and competitive improvements. Brainstorming is a way of generating a lot of new ideas quickly. Last but not least, have you ever considered using idea-generating methods like brainstorming? Brainstorming is a way of generating a lot of new ideas quickly. Have a meeting with your staff, sales people, customer service people and even key customers and ask questions to encourage new ideas and "what if" thinking. Once you have a long list of possibilities to work from, you can begin to evaluate each idea from a more practical standpoint. Brainstorming techniques include assigning roles for people who attend the meeting. The facilitator acts as official encourager and police officer against improper group or individual behavior. The facilitator keeps the meeting on track with the agenda. The scribe records all ideas on large sheets of paper or a whiteboard visible to the group. The scribe must write down short phrases exactly as given. A Time keeper keeps everyone on track and on time for each idea generating activity The general objective of brainstorming is to solve a specific problem (e.g., "how to provide printing services to small businesses without it being too expensive"). Everyone in the group has the chance to state whatever ideas come to mind and the wilder the ideas, the better. Criticism is not permitted in any verbal or non-verbal form. Bits and pieces of ideas are encouraged. No idea is rejected at this point. A large quantity of ideas is encouraged. Combining and using pieces of other ideas from the group is encouraged. All ideas are recorded as they are stated, in short phrases or words. Keep the group size small to approximately six to 10 people. It should only last one-hour and you should recap group behavior rules. Ideas are edited later by the scribe of the creative information. Unusable ideas or incomplete ideas are discarded. If longer sessions are conducted, group participants may break into smaller groups and be asked to provide a shorter list of ideas (or combined ideas) that they unanimously recommend. If your company is small, you can gather a group to practice informal brainstorming. All that is needed is an easel or two (or even a large memo pad) to record ideas. Seven individuals alone will seldom, if ever, produce the volume or creative range of ideas of a group of seven people together, practicing brainstorming techniques. I hope these ideas will help you generate new business ideas that are unique. Remember, if your business provides a service or product, sources of uniqueness can range from pricing, packaging, distribution method, or feature differences, to creating the mere perception of a difference that may or may not exist. Happy New Year.