Meet with a Counselor
Several organizations throughout the state offer free one-on-one sessions with trained counselors. Counselors act as sounding boards as you move from evaluating your idea to planning your business and can address a number of start-up issues, including markets, competition, operations and your business plan. When you contact a potential counselor, be specific about what information you need and what kind of business you are starting so you can be matched with the best resource.
Before meeting with a counselor, make note of the following:
- Questions from your market research
- Concerns about how your business will operate
- Issues about competition or location
Plan Your Business
Here are some helpful resources to help you with writing a business plan:
- Find counseling in your area through the Resource Navigator. Under “Area of Assistance,” select “Starting a Business.” From there, also select “Start-Up Business Counseling" under “Specific Need."
- Be sure to contact the Business Concierge for free market research for your business plan or to request an industry specific template for your use.
- Scroll down this page and learn about the Business Model Canvas for another way to think through and plan your business.
Before moving forward with your business idea, it’s important to complete basic research, to make sure that you have a good understanding of your total market. Many times this preliminary research is needed to obtain funding.
There are four main areas that you should research thoroughly before starting your business. You will also want to incorporate much of this research into your business plan.
Who is Your Customer?
Your customer description should be specific and identify their characteristics such as age, gender, location, income level, occupation, education and general demographics. It may be helpful to include your customers’ likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. If your customer is a business, you will want to include a breakdown of the types of businesses you are targeting, industry, location, size of firm, etc.
What/Where is Your Target Market?
Next, you will want to determine the geographic area where most of your targeted customers will be coming from. Are your customers mostly local, or will you reach out to customers nationally? Will you target customers within a 100 mile basis, or will you primarily target customers driving by your business on a daily basis? In the market area you defined, how many customers are there?
What is the Industry Like Both Locally and Nationally?
You will also want to take a look at the condition of your industry locally and at a national level. Is the industry booming, or is it a fading fad? What is the demand for your product/service in your defined market area?
Who is Your Competition?
What companies or products/services will be in competition with your business? List your direct competitors and compare them to your company by looking at the products/services offered, location, price, target markets served, reputation and image, customer service, marketing/advertising, and their current market share. It is also important to examine competitors that are not considered direct, but still make up a part of the market share. For example, if you owned a movie theater, a bowling alley would be considered an indirect competitor, as another location customers could spend their recreational time and money.
Below are some additional ideas on what research you’ll need to get started:
- Research market potential using census data and demographic databases (who will pay for your product or service?)
- Research production options using business databases (how will you deliver the product or service?)
- Research patent filings (is your product or idea patented or trademarked?)
Free and Low-Cost Market Research Resources
- Iowa Small Business Development Centers- The Iowa SBDCs also provide free one-on-one consulting and market research assistance at no charge to Iowa firms.
- Small Business Administration- SBA's online articles can point you to additional resources to help you find market research data.
- SizeUp.com- This tool can help you know how your business stacks up against competitors. It can also map your customers, competitors and suppliers, and locate the best places to advertise.
- Resource Navigator- Use the searchable database on IASourceLink with the keywords "Business Research" to find other Iowa organizations closest to you that can help.
The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool. It allows you to describe, design, challenge, invent and pivot your business model. This concept allows anyone currently in business, or starting a new business, to think through the business model of their organization, competitors, or any other enterprise.
The 9 building blocks of the Business Model Canvas include: Watch Video
- Customer Segments - For whom are we creating value? Who are our most important customers?
- Value Propositions - What value do we deliver to the customer? Which one of our customer’s problems are we helping to solve?
- Channels - How are we currently reaching out to our customer segments, and how do they want to be reached?
- Customer Relationships - What type of relationship does each of our customer segments expect us to establish and maintain with them? Which ones have we established and how are they integrated with the rest of our business model?
- Revenue Streams - For what value are our customers really willing to pay? For what do they pay currently pay and how are they paying? How much does each revenue stream contribute to overall revenues?
- Key Resources - What key resources do our value propositions require? Our Distribution Channels, Customer Relationships, and Revenue Streams?
- Key Activities - What key activities do our value propositions require? Our Distribution Channels, Customer Relationships, and Revenue Streams?
- Key Partnerships - Who are our key partners? Who are our key suppliers? Which key resources are we acquiring from partners? Which key activities do partners perform?
- Cost Structure - What are the most important costs in our business model? Which key resources and key activities are most expensive?
Learn More About the BMC
The Venture School program is a 6-7 week program, put on by the University of Iowa, that emphasizes real-world entrepreneurship and takes you through the Business Model Canvas in a collaborative environment. Each year, multiple cohort sessions take place around the state. The program works for startups, small businesses, non-profits, and corporate innovation teams. For more information on participating in a Venture School near you, view their schedule.
Want to find programs that can help you write your business plan?
Contact the Business Concierge
for free high quality referrals to our network of over 360 resource providers, located within our Resource Navigator