I've had a great business idea for five years, and I've sought assistance from consultants and government agencies about it. They all tell me to make a business plan and protect the idea legally, but I don't have the skills, background, or funds to do that. I really don't want much, just someone who will listen to my idea, see my vision, and then take it to market. Can you tell me where to turn?
-- D.E.C., Marshfield, Mass.
Your question crops up frequently in entrepreneurial circles. No matter how many times it's asked, the answer is always the same: If you believe in this idea, you must invest time and money in order to reap a reward. There's just no getting around that reality -- ask any entrepreneur.
Even if you don't want to start a company, and prefer to sell the idea in exchange for a licensing fee (a difficult proposition), you still need to protect the idea legally and then put together some documentation that proves it's commercially viable. You can do this yourself, or you can hire professionals to do it for you. But if you hope to find someone who'll do all the work for free, you're asking an awful lot.
"Don't try and get off the hook so easily by just handing the idea over to someone else," advises Andrew Morrison, president of New Rochelle (N.Y.)-based Small Business Camp (www.SmallBusinessCamp.com). "You [have] this idea. You have to play a role in its development. Don't worry about skills, background, and funding. Stay focused on your passion, and unseen resources will begin to make themselves known."
QUESTION EVERYTHING. If you're still not sure whether you should pursue this idea, research and write down the answers to some basic questions, suggests small-business coach Anthony Hernandez (www.coachanthony.com).
For instance, why has no one else implemented this idea? Exactly what need does it fulfill? How much time, money, or other resources does it save over current methods? What exact components are required to implement it? (Think in terms of people, machinery, location, and communications.) How much do these components cost to purchase and maintain? Who is the target audience for the idea, and how much would they be willing to pay for it?
Realistic answers to these questions will help determine whether the idea is as great as you think.
When you identify your target customer, "resist the temptation to say: 'Everyone,'" Hernandez counsels. "Instead, apply as many labels as possible to your ideal customer. In so doing, you are narrowing down the number of people your solution will apply to, which will allow you to save money by targeting only those people in your marketing and by building a business just big enough to serve those people."
BUSINESS COUNSELING. Although you say you've already talked to consultants about your idea, Melinda L. Ailes, senior management counselor at the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center in Fall River, encourages you to give it another try. Such centers exist to provide free expert advice to people like yourself. They can help you determine whether the idea is commercially viable and how to best pursue it.
"Our diverse, trained counselors meet one-on-one with entrepreneurs to guide them through the planning process," Ailes says. If you prefer to try licensing your idea rather than starting your own company, a counselor can help you explore that possibility. "The MSBDC has access to and knowledge of myriad state, federal, and local resources to help along the way," she adds.
If your idea is really great, there's no reason you shouldn't profit from it. So roll up your sleeves, accept the help available to you, and get busy. Soon you may cash in on your hard work.