October 17, 2014 Starting and Managing a Small Business

This is the part of your business plan where you really get to shine and show off that awesome idea you have. Of course, your product or service is the best! Now, let’s talk about how you know it’s a hit. Be prepared to show you know your market AND that it’s big enough for you to build a sustainable, successful business.

In writing up your market analysis, you’ll get to demonstrate the knowledge you’ve gained about the industry, the target market you’re planning to sell to, your competition, and how you plan to make yourself stand out.

A market analysis is just that: a look at what the relevant business environment is and where you fit in. It should give a potential lender, investor, or employee no doubt that there is a solid niche for what you’re offering, and you are definitely the person to fill it. It’s both quantitative, spelling out sales projections and other pertinent figures, and qualitative, giving a thoughtful overview of how you fit in with the competition. It needs to look into the potential size of the market, the possible customers you’ll target, and what kind of difficulties you might face as you try to become successful. Let’s break down how to do that.

What Goes Into A Business Plan Market Analysis?

Industry Description and Outlook - Describe the industry with enough background so that someone who isn’t familiar with it can understand what it’s like, what the challenges are, and what the outlook is. Talk about its size, how it’s growing, and what the outlook is for the future.

Target Market - Who have you identified as your ideal client or customer? Include demographic information on the group you’re targeting, including age, gender and income level. This is the place to talk about the size of your potential market, how much it might spend, and how you’ll reach potential customers. For example, if women aged 18 to 54 are your target market, you need to know how many of them there are in your market. Are there 500 or 500,000? It’s imperative to know. Similarly, if your product or service is geared toward a high-end clientele, you need to make sure you’re located in an area that can support it.

Market Need - What factors influence the need for your product or service? Did the need exist before or are you trying to create it? Why will customers want to do business with you, possibly choosing you over someone else? This is where you can briefly introduce the competitive edge you have, although you’ll get into that in more depth in following sections. Focus on how the product or service you’re offering satisfies what’s needed in the market.

Market Growth - While no one can predict the future, it’s important to get a possible idea of what business may be like down the road and make sales projections. Have the number of people in your target market been increasing or decreasing over the last several years? By how much per year? To make an intelligent forecast, you have to start with current conditions, then project changes over the next three to five years.

Market Trends - You need to take a look at trends the same way you look at population and demographics. Is there a shift to more natural or organic ingredients that might impact your business? How might energy prices figure in? The easy availability of the internet and smartphone technology? The questions will be different for every type of business, but it’s important to think about the types of changes that could affect your specific market. In this section, you can cite experts from the research you’ve done—a market expert, market research firm, trade association, or credible journalist.

Market Research Testing - Talk about what kind of testing and information gathering you’ve done to figure out where you stand in the market. Who have you spoken to about the viability of your product? Why are you confident of its success? Again, if you can, cite experts to back up your information.

Competitive Analysis - There’s no way to succeed unless you’ve examined your competition. It might be helpful to try analyzing your position in the market by performing a SWOT analysis. You need to figure out their strengths and the weaknesses you can exploit as you work to build your own business. You do need to be brutally honest here, and also look at what the potential roadblocks are—anything that might potentially stand in your way as you try to meet your goals and grow your business.

Barriers to Entry - Lenders and investors need to have a reasonable assurance they’ll be paid back, so they’ll want to know what would stop someone else from swooping in, doing what you do, and grabbing half the available business. Do you have technical knowledge that’s difficult to get? A specialized product no one else can manufacture? A service that takes years to perfect? It’s possible your industry has strict regulations and licensing requirements. All of these help protect you from new competition, and they’re all selling points for you.

Regulations - As we touched on above, you should cover regulations as a barrier to entry. If your field is covered by regulations, you do need to talk about how they apply to your business and how you’ll comply with them.

Six Sources for Market Analysis Information

The Market Analysis section of your business plan is far more than a theoretical exercise. Doing an analysis of the market really gives YOU the information you need to figure out whether your plans are viable, and tweak them in the early stages before you go wrong.

So, where do you start? Research is the key here, and there are several sources available.

1. The Internet - Some of the first information you need is about population and demographics: who your potential customers are, how many there are, and where they live or work. The U.S. Census Bureau has an impressive amount of these statistics available. Business USA is another good source for links to the U.S. Departments of Labor and Commerce, among others.

2. Local Chamber of Commerce - A lot of local information can be gotten from the chamber of commerce in the area where you plan to operate. Often, they can provide details into what the general business climate is like, and get even more specific about how many and what type of businesses are operating in their jurisdiction.

3. Other Resources - When actual statistical information isn’t available, you’ll often be able to put together a good picture of the market from a variety of other sources. Real estate agents can be a source of information on demographics and population trends in an area. Catalogs and marketing materials from your competition are useful. Many industry associations have a great amount of relevant information to use in putting your analysis together. Trade publications and annual reports from public corporations in your industry also contain a wealth of relevant information.

4. Customer Mindset - Take yourself out of the equation as the owner and stand in your customer’s shoes when you look at the business. As a customer, what problems do you have that need to be solved? What would you like to be able to do better, faster, or cheaper that you can’t do now? How does the competition work to solve those issues? How could this business solve them better?

5. Shop the Competition - If you have a clothing store, visit others in your area. If you’d like to open a pizzeria, try pies from surrounding restaurants. If you’re a salon owner, park across the street and see what the store traffic is like and how customers look when they come out. Check out websites for pricing and other marketing information. Follow their Facebook pages. If you can’t be a customer of the competition, ask your customers and suppliers about them. Always be aware of what’s going on in the market.

6. Traditional Market Research - While you can gather a lot of data online, your best information will come from potential customers themselves. Send out surveys, ask for input and feedback, and conduct focus groups. You can do this yourself or hire a market research firm to do it for you.

What to Do With All That Data

Now that you’ve gathered the statistics and information and you’ve done the math to know there’s a need and customer base for your product or service, you have to show it off to your best advantage.

You can start the market analysis section with a simple summary that describes your target customers and explains why you have chosen this as your market. You can also summarize how you see the market growing, and highlight one or two projections for the future.

If your information is dense with numbers and statistics, someone who reads your business plan will probably find it easier to understand if you present it as a chart or graph. You can generate them fairly easily with tools built into Google docs and free infographic apps and software.

Don’t assume that your readers have an understanding of your market, but don’t belabor simple points, either. You want to include pertinent, important information, but you don’t want to drown the reader in facts. Be concise and compelling with the market analysis, and remember that a good graphic can cover a lot of text, and help you make your point. It's great to say you project sales to increase by 250% over the next five years, but it makes an even bigger wow when you show it in a graphic.

Always relate the data back to your business. Statistics about the market don’t mean much unless you describe how and where you fit in. As you talk about the needs of your target market, remember to focus on how you are uniquely positioned to fill them.

Don’t hesitate to break down your target market into smaller segments, especially if each is likely to respond to a different message about your product or service. You may have one market that consists of homes and another of small businesses. Perhaps you sell to both wholesale and retail customers. Talk about this in the market analysis, and describe briefly how you’ll approach each. (You will have more of an opportunity to do this in detail later in the plan.) Segmentation can help you target specific messages to specific areas, focusing in on the existing needs and how you fill them.

Remember to tailor your information to the purpose at hand. If your business plan is for internal use, you may not have to go into as much detail about the market since you and your team may already know it well. Remember, however, that the very act of doing the research may help you learn things you didn’t know, so don’t skimp on doing the work. This is a great opportunity to get information from outside that might affect your business. 

It’s not about your ability to do professional-level market research; a plan intended for a bank or other lender needs to show your understanding of where your business fits into the grand scheme of things. Yes, you need to detail the information, but your main goal is to show how you’ve incorporated that knowledge into making solid decisions about the direction of your company. Use this section of your business plan to explain your understanding of your industry, your market and your individual business so that lenders and investors feel comfortable with your possibility for success.

Keep the name of this section in mind. It’s not a marketing plan; it’s an analysis of the market and where you fit in relation to the competition. Your actual marketing and sales strategy will be included as another very important part of your business plan, however, so as you work on this section, keep that one in mind, and jot down any thoughts and ideas you have for strategies that fit in with what your research teaches you.

 

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