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Your Own Business: Deciding What is Right for You
In an earlier article, entitled “Your Own Business: The First Steps,” I discussed what the initial nuts-and-bolts steps are in starting a business. In it, I made the assumption that the soon-to-be entrepreneur had already decided on a business but needed some direction on what to do next.
The response to that article has been positive, but the most common question asked of me is “Okay…but how do I actually decide what business is right for me?” So I now want to take a step back and see if I can offer a little direction in helping the anxious entrepreneur make an educated choice.
Most businesses are basically selling a product or a service. My focus will be on products for the most part, but much of what follows can easily be applied to services. The main thing to remember is that if you are offering a service, then you are expected to be an expert in that service. If you are not a good plumber, accountant or massage therapist, then do not choose that as your business! That is, unless you take the time to learn and study first.
Whether your business is a product or service, always be sure you are offering the best you possibly can. Excellence creates value and value creates repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.
I also wish to address another issue that I get questions about. Many people have said to me that I don’t talk about business plans, business models, complex marketing plans and such things that are in all the other books or articles. My answer is that such things eventually need to be done, especially if you plan is to take out a huge loan just to get started. If your particular business idea dictates such formalities upfront or if you personally feel more comfortable doing them first, then by all means do so.
But I believe many people are trying to start small businesses using whatever limited capital and time they already have. That is to whom I am addressing my suggestions. I feel that if you spend all of your time writing business plans and feeling everything needs to be perfect then you’ll never get the business actually launched. Spend your time getting the business started small and perfect it as you grow. The following steps will help you build towards all that other stuff, but will get you the important information you need to know faster.
That being said, be sure you have enough time and capital to get it started and ready for growth. Keep your overhead low so you can compete until you are established. I should say keep overhead low for you, but spend what is needed for customer satisfaction. Be sure you set it up according to the local, state and national regulations. Seek support from professionals as needed, including accountants and attorneys.
Analyzing a Businesses’ Potential
1) Selecting Your Product (or Service)
While you are getting started, I feel it is generally more effective to focus on a specific product, product category, or customer base. This allows you to provide for your customers better by specializing and should also reduce your marketing costs since it should make it more cost-effective to reach the people who desire your product or service.
You will also find that your business and quality of life will be better if they are products or a service you are passionate about and in which have some expertise. If your business idea is a service, you probably know what you’re good at and do not need to follow this next step.
Write down a list of products that interest you and you know something about. Focus on what you can basically make a part of your life. For instance, I enjoy the feel of pashmina and cashmere products, and I enjoy interacting with others who are the same. I had also been to Nepal and Kashmir a few times and welcomed the opportunity to make visiting those countries a part of my business life. This made building the family pashmina and cashmere business, The Pashmina Store, which you can find at http://www.thepashminastore.com/, much more interesting and fun.
The list should not be too long, maybe five items or so. Remember that this is about focus.
2) Research the Existing Market and Demand
Obviously, you’ll never get any business or make enough profits if there isn’t a large enough market for your product or service. You’ll have to decide if the market is big enough by yourself. That decision will depend on what your expected profits will be per customer, your marketing costs, and how much money you wish to make.
To get an idea of the market for the products on your list, simply look at the existing companies out there. You can do this by looking in your local phone books or just driving around town. If you intend to market outside of your local area, such as an ecommerce business, do some searches in Google and/or Yahoo to see what the results are. Doing these things gives you an idea of who you competition would be, how they market, what their products and prices are, and just how many there are.
Keep in mind that if there are a lot of companies, it doesn’t mean you can’t compete. Conversely, if there are not many companies, it doesn’t mean that it is not a good business for you. You may be a pioneer! But it is a good idea to get a general idea of the potential demand for each product on your list.
One great way to do this is using a wonderful tool that Yahoo Search Marketing offers. It tells you how many searches have been conducted for your keywords in the last month. It also gives you other related keywords and the demand for them as well. An incredible wealth of knowledge for free. It can be found by clicking here.
Keep in mind that Yahoo is much smaller than Google in terms of the number of searches. If Yahoo has a good number of searches for certain keywords, it is likely to be several times larger at Google.
Once again, it is up to you to decide if that market is big enough. If you can make a larger profit margin, then typically the market can be smaller. If the profit margin is smaller, then you will have to sell more to make a living.
3) Learn More About Who Buys the Product or Service
As you do steps 1 and 2, you’re going to start learning about who actually buys the product or service, but it helps to dig a bit more. Be sure you are learning about the decision maker in the purchase of the product or service. For example, the decision maker for a children’s product is probably a parent. The decision maker for a type of men’s clothing may actually be the women behind the man.
By knowing about the customer, you’ll start to learn just how much it might cost to reach them with your marketing message, what their expectations are, how much they are willing to pay, and where they shop now.
A good way to learn more is to visit the competition and observe. Also, look at where they advertise. Talk to a salesperson where they advertise to learn even more. Find out the advertising costs at that time as well. You may quickly discover that it will simply be too expensive for you to get to the customer. That doesn’t mean to give up; it might just mean you have to consider new and cleverer ways.
4) Discover the Wholesale and/or Initial Costs
In order to get an idea of the potential profit margins and your initial costs, you will have to know what your products may cost you at wholesale, what your minimum order will be, what set-up costs may be involved, shipping costs, if there are any customs fees, and/or other initial costs – such as any specialized equipment you may need just to get started.
Most of this involves finding out who your wholesale suppliers and/or manufacturers are and contacting them to ask questions – and don’t be afraid to ask questions. As long as they know you are serious about your business and future success, they should help answer all of your questions about what may be involved.
Be realistic with them, it does nobody any good to brag about how you’ll be good for tens of thousands of orders if you know you’ll have to start with an initial order of 100. Find out what their minimum is, what the price will be, other costs involved, etc. Ask about where price breaks are so you know how your inventory costs will be affected as you do grow.
You cannot expect free samples on your first call with them so don’t be offended and do be prepared to pay for them. But do get the samples if you can. You’ll probably find that you won’t be going with the lowest cost provider since their product may be of a lower quality or their service leaves much to be desired. The cheapest product does you no good if your customers dislike it or you can never get a reliable stock sent to you. It may take time, but you’ll be in business for the long term if you offer your customers reliability and quality. In order to deliver this to your customers, your own suppliers have to do the same for you.
You may discover liquidators as you research sources of product. These types of suppliers are not typically going to be long-term, reliable sources of product since they only offer what is on the liquidation market at any given time. You may consider them for a one time deal if the quality if right, but don’t expect them to be your long time supplier for any particular product.
When you are researching and choosing the best products for your business don’t “fall in love.” Remember to never get too attached to a particular product, concept, location, supplier, manufacturer or such. If you do this, you’ll lose site of reality and try to make the facts fit your desired outcome. If the numbers don’t add up, then don’t do it.
Since I’m not in the business of selling you anything, I can use the words that franchises and business opportunities avoid like the plague – “work” and “sell.” Yes, you will have to work to be successful. Yes, you will have to sell to be successful. Selling is not just the normal concept of the salesman pitching a product and desperately trying to make the deal. It is much more complex than that. It is not a single transaction or one-off deal.
In business, as in life, you are always selling. You must sell yourself through your appearance and personality. You must sell the potential customer on just considering your business or product. You must continue to sell yourself even after the sale with excellent customer service and attention to any problems or issues that may arrive.
Remember what I said at the beginning about focus. Keep yourself focused for success. Focus your business on a product, service, customer group, or other such thing. By focusing, you truly are an expert and can serve your market better.
When you know what you business is going to be, focus even harder. It will be tempting to think the grass is greener doing some other business. You’ll never launch any business this way. If your research convinces you that something is a good product with a good market, stick with it and move forward. Don’t waste your time on activities not related directly to your business. Focus your attention on making yourself successful in the business you chose. You control your future, don’t let others give you second thoughts or steer you away from your objective.
Finally, never underestimate the power of organization. It seems so simple, but since the majority of your competition probably isn’t that well organized this is a simple way to beat them right out of the gate. By being organized, you’ll know just who to turn to when something goes wrong. By being organized, you’ll know where to go when the unexpected happens. Keep notes on your research, keep notes on your suppliers, keep notes on your customers, keep notes and know where they are. Keep organized, period.
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