We are starting a new series this month on Business Planning: Product and Market. Figuring out your product or service offering is obviously at the very heart of any new business. However, it is at this crucial, early stage that many would-be BAMers go wrong by failing to properly consider whether there is a real market need – and therefore customers – for the product or service they want to sell. There is no business without a customer.
A recent blog for The Institute for Faith Work and Economics on starting a social business puts it this way: [It] is imperative to have the customer in front of your mind when starting a social business… To start a social business, you have to know what will be marketable to your target customers.
The first thing you have to do is figure out what sells – don’t start with the cause. The cause is what moves us… but, you can’t start a business around a cause. – Jimmy Quach, via TIFWE
Many BAMers get the ‘cart before the horse’ – they start with a cause, or they start with the potential employees they are hoping to empower, or they think of a ‘great’ idea for a product or service that feels doable to them. However, if that idea doesn’t have a market – if there are no customers – then there will be no sales, no cash, no empowered employees, no credible business and the cause will be lost. You need both the ‘cart’ and the ‘horse’ to move forward. There is nothing wrong with having a cause, or trying to empower a certain group of employees or pursue a particular product; however you better make sure that there are customers and sales to drive that business forward towards making the impact you hope to make.
If customers aren’t buying your product, then those you are trying to empower by selling their goods will be left with shelves of products you trained them to make and no income. – Baylee Malloy, TIFWE
In this series we will be looking at the crucial questions you need to ask yourself in the planning and development stage about your product and market. We’ll explore different ways that the spiritual, social and environmental impact of a BAM company intersects with their chosen product or service. We will be retelling some real life experiences of what to do and not do when it comes to developing products and services. We’ll also share some key business planning ideas and tools and how they apply to business as mission.
IBEC’s first consultant and later CEO, Ken Leahy drilled into me, “You do not have a business if you do not have a customer”. Since then the key question for me is to identify a meaningful business opportunity early on. Vision is important, but it cannot be the key component at the beginning. Do you have a customer? What is the problem to be solved? The answer can be derived from research and counsel, but it is important to determine the need for the product before moving too far toward planning and product development. With no need, customers will not pay, and without sales, there is no business. – Larry Sharp, IBEC Ventures
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.