Going to Market

Posted: January 20, 2013 by Eileen Weisenbach Keller in People, Startup

KellerConversations in this column and in many places where entrepreneurship discussions occur often revolve around how the entrepreneur can bring his or her great idea to market, get financing and build it into a raging success. One skill touted as essential to this process is networking. Networking is the ability to make and build connections among people (and this next part is critical) who can help you build the necessary components of your business enterprise. Having an active, integrated circuit of acquaintances who support one another through knowledge, contacts and a willingness to share expertise is considered essential to entrepreneurial success.

While networking is vital, it rests on the assumption that you have the “big idea” and are at the next step of finding those who can assist you in turning it into a concept and from there into a viable business. There are, however, people who don’t have a big idea, but do have a persistent, perhaps even nagging, desire to become an entrepreneur; to make a difference, to change things, to compete in the marketplace and win. Perhaps you are an individual who has never quite found your niche in the world of employment; holding jobs but not finding fulfillment because of that incessant urge to start something from scratch. Alternatively, you may have been successfully employed for a long time but climbing that ladder and the trappings of success that come with it has not put to rest that itch to go and try something on your own. Maybe you have always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but that’s your only real passion. You’re not like those other folks who are fanatical about some one “thing” and can’t sleep until they bring “it” to market. You don’t possess a love of fashion, or science or electronics that drives you.  You’re not fulfilled by what you are doing, but need help finding the “thing” that you can do better than everyone else that will lead you to taking the risk.

For those entrepreneur-wannabes who fit this description, consider combining the concept of networking with the context of the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati business environment. There are 9 Fortune 500 companies in Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati and more than 360 Fortune 500s that operate in some capacity in the region. What if you considered these large and successful firms not as employers, but as potential customers? Think about it, every one of these companies has an entire department in charge of sourcing (buying) goods and services. A search of indeed.com or other job sites reveals a long list of available jobs with titles like purchasing, sourcing, vendor management, supply chain, or buyer. What are they buying and from whom?

We often hear of the companies contracting with overseas producers for inexpensive supplies, component parts or raw materials. These tangible goods are one type of opportunity. Each company also contracts for information systems, logistics, marketing, finance, accounting, HR and many other services. Each of these contracts represents a need that the firm is trying to satisfy. Someone within the firm is in charge of that supplier account, that individual knows which areas are hardest to fill, most difficult to get quality and consistency in services. Who do you know in a position such as this? Does your company have someone with such a job? Why not begin the networking and discovery process? Ask people you know in such positions if they would be willing to talk to you about these contractors. Find out what services are most demanded or most poorly supplied. If you ask someone for non-proprietary information and help, most people will readily supply it. Imagine the knowledge that might be right down the hall from you.

Some might question the ethics of such moves. If you are looking to develop a better supplier for a company, where is the ethical issue? Competition is ethical. If you feel uncertain, go ask someone within the company who would know the firm’s stand on such conversations; someone whom you trust.

The advantages of this approach are many. If you are talking to those within your own company, there is a good chance you have some expertise in the area of inquiry – a must for entrepreneurial success. If you find services or items that are needed, the customer will supply the specifications, you do not have to guess or conduct market research to determine their needs. Yes, you might initially rely upon a single customer, but you have a customer and demand for your good or service! This is a position most entrepreneurs would envy.

With all the hype around entrepreneurship being the means to economic recovery, you may find yourself asking, how do I get in on this? In the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area we are fortunate to have multiple large companies who demand a broad variety of services and products that present equally broad opportunities for suppliers. Developing and leveraging the skill of networking in this demand-rich environment could mean more, sustainable new businesses for would-be entrepreneurs.

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