I consult with a variety of businesses and regularly see a wide range of concerns and challenges. But one topic seems common to nearly all of them: What's the next big thing? What's my next opportunity? What trend can I capitalize on? Where's the momentum in my market? Many of the entrepreneurs I work with are looking at big-picture trends. They're hoping to get out in front of the next big wave, catch that wave and ride that market momentum all the way to the bank.
Sure, that sounds good. But what if the trend is in an area in which you have zero expertise? What if it's something you're in no way prepared to deliver?
It turns out that instead of looking for these macro-waves (huge trends in the general market), what we may want to start looking for are ripples—little shifts within particular segments we're prepared to tackle.
Here's a step-by-step look at how I capture market momentum through these waves.
1. Find the avatars you connect with the most.
Try to define a clear avatar of the ideal customers in your vertical, and see where your own interests overlap with that community. Shared interests can form strong bonds, and strong bonds can be the fabric of powerful market momentum.
Let's say you're an accountant. If your avatars are business owners of tennis gear manufacturers who need cost accounting, and you're an avid tennis player, you might look into tennis pro organizations. The obvious opportunities are at the manufacturing conferences, the strong bonds (and not-so-obvious opportunities) are on the tennis court.
At these not-so-obvious gathering points, you can often get a better sense for the pulse of the community since it is a less-formal (and perhaps less-guarded) venue. Try to learn their challenges, pain points and what's happening that could affect their livelihoods. Movements are inevitable in every market, and if you're bonded with a specific community, you can be ready to catch those smaller shifts.
2. Introduce a minimum viable product (MVP) to capture market momentum.
Eric Ries introduced the concept of MVP in his book Lean Startup. The idea is to test the waters with a product that's just barely beyond the conceptual stage—something that's the minimum you can offer and still give some value.
Imagine you are starting a new shared-economy app like a ride share program. You could invest millions in making an app, but will only know if people want it after you spend all that money. Or, you could start with an MVP. You could simply communicate with users via text. A rider could text you that they need a ride, and then you text a driver to arrange a pickup. Then text the rider back to say the driver is on her way.
This is a simple, inexpensive way to gauge interest and assess challenges to your concept. It allows you to prove out the essence of your idea before putting big money into it. On your next project, consider starting with something at the lowest possible cost to you, then refine and perfect it as you get user feedback.
3. Defend your buyers from naysayers.
Early adopters of new products may face challenges from people who don't understand the new offering. If you can give your first customers the ability to manage that criticism, you're arming them with a powerful tool that may even end up winning over critics.
I am a partner in a small business called Hedgehog Leatherworks. We believe we make the highest-quality performance leather sheaths in the world, bar none. But to do that we must use expensive materials and a world class leather-making process—and that translates into expense.
Therefore, a Hedgehog product will be more expensive than a generic version. That also means our buyers may have friends chide them for buying something so expensive—just like I do to my wife when she buys expensive shoes, because there is a cheaper alternative.
To defend our buyers, we equip them with plenty of information on why they made a smart decision and to disarm the critics who don't understand the value of the purchase. Consider doing the same for your buyers.
4. Gather knowledge about your market and competition constantly.
If you were in a desert, dying of thirst, then even muddy water would be a lifesaver. But if new sources of fresh, clean water appeared, you'd probably be far less interested in that muddy water you once clamored for.
Likewise, as your market segment grows and becomes more crowded, having your product keep up with (or better yet, surpass) your competition can help you stand out.
To do this, try conducting brief, one-on-one interviews with your best customers and ask what you can improve. Consider asking your best customers what you are doing right. When they tell you, realize this is in fact not what you are doing "right" but what they are measuring you by. Whatever they say you are going right, you may want to do that even better.
5. Expand your business markets.
So back to my earlier accountant example. Say you've captured the business of tennis pros. You understand their unique needs, and you've cornered that market. But where do you go from there? Why not take a look at golf pros? Or sports medicine or rehab clinics? With a little research to help you understand that group's unique challenges, there's no reason why you couldn't capture that business as well.
The point is to grow your business by expanding to new communities and to seize the opportunities you find in the ripples in each community.
Growing your business doesn't always (or even frequently, for that matter) happen in a dramatic way. You don't have to catch the wave of a lifetime to have a great ride. Following these tiny ripples can get you to shore just like mega-waves—you just may arrive a little more smoothly and slowly.