THE CATCHING OF A STARLING
To be a small business owner or single practitioner is to experience times of revenue drought or stagnation. Other times business opportunities seem to abound. They suddenly appear like a flock of starling. They delight and excite with an ever-changing pattern of swoops and rising together. Their brilliance seems there for the catching, but just as suddenly they can disappear over the horizon.
Entrepreneurs are always searching for opportunity. So how do you catch the elusive starling? How do you capture a true business opportunity? Large companies have entire departments devoted to evaluating and implementing new opportunities. As a small business owner, its all on your shoulders.
The right opportunity can make your business. The wrong one can ruin it. There are excellent articles (see footnotes) on this subject. Here are some of their highlights together with my own experience from working with clients.
Passion- The best opportunities are always the ones you have passion for. That same passion can lead you to the wrong decision. You might grab an opportunity before evaluating all the potential impact and circumstances.
Research– It’s important to know why the opportunity is there. The flocking of birds can be the result of everything from a potential new feeding ground to a threat to the flock. In business, there could be market changes happening that created what appears to be opportunity. When in reality, it is a destressed opportunity. Taking the time to explore what’s really happening is a great approach. Market research on industry trends is readily available on the web and at libraries.
Reward vs Risk– Is the potential profit from the new opportunity worth the risk. It’s always good to do a five-minute business prospectus on any new venture. It helps answer basic questions on the size of the market, potential revenue per sale, overhead costs, and how many customers you need. My venture capital friends call these “teaser papers.” It’s always sobering to know how many transactions you need to make a profit. A simple one-page analysis will tell you if further research is warranted or if the opportunity should be passed on.
Resources – Do you have the time, money and skills to capture a new opportunity? Time and money questions play around any new opportunity. Time maybe the most important for a small company. How long will it take to turn the opportunity to profit? Upfront time can be especially significant if you have to ramp up your skills. You can take risks if you have deep pockets. If your financial resources are too thin to weather the run up, problems will abound.
Your Existing Business– The opportunity should be evaluated in terms of its impact on your current book of business and business channel. Good opportunity fits smoothly with your current book of business and helps expand it. Ones that are a departure from normal business may impact the level of customer service you can deliver to your existing customers and change your image in the market place. Its always better to be great at one thing than average at many. The effort involved in capturing the opportunity might better be spent expanding the business you already have.
Competition– Sometimes the opportunity can be too attractive, quickly drawing larger players. These “tall dogs” can easily push you aside. They can also build new business approaches around your model basically putting you out of business.
Pioneering– It takes huge effort to pioneer a market. The sales effort is always underestimated. A successful consultant friend of mine told me he spends two thirds of his time on client building and one third on actually doing the work. This is not unusual. The opportunity that already has an established client base or attracts them in the door because of the product is always better. It’s also important to evaluate repeat business potential.
Leveraging - Sometimes you can find partners with skills and resources to help capture an opportunity. That way you don’t have to build all the skills necessary yourself. I have worked with clients that were able to capture large business by combining their sills with other specialty contractors. Partnering leverages the chance of success. This is especially true in the area of invention. Many inventors want to take the invention from idea to market. A huge gamble, less than 1% of inventions ever reach the market. Finding a company who already is in the industry your invention targets will make the trip to success much shorter.
Scale– There is the fundamental question of how long the opportunity will be viable in the market place and whether it can be scaled or duplicated once it is captured. It might be the perfect business model now, but is the market changing (i.e. AI, Robots, Off Shore). How will the long-term impact the opportunity?
Scientists who study starlings learn their habits and identify the elements that make those amazing flocks. They know when and how to capture them. They also know when it is best to just gaze and admire the passing glory of the flock.
The right opportunity will build and make your business more valuable. It can expand your market and make money for you. The wrong one can limit your potential success in the long run.
There will be times when you walk away from an opportunity. Was it worth taking a look, absolutely! You have learned about a new market. You have learned how better to evaluate the next opportunity that comes along. You have not spent valuable resources chasing a destressed opportunity. You have learned how to deploy those resources better in the future.
There will always be the next flock of opportunities just over the horizon. One will be right for you.
Sources and Further Reading:
Why do Bird Flocks Move in Unison by Remy Melina
How do starling flocks create those mesmerizing murmurations by Andrea Alfano
Four ways to identify more business opportunity by Amanda Jesnoewski
5 Steps to Evaluating Business Opportunity by Linda Ray
Expanding your business? Ignore these pitfalls at your Peril by Entrepreneur
9 Factors for Evaluating Business Ideas and Opportunity by Mike Fisbein
15 Characteristics of a good business Idea by Paul Jay Burns
Business Opportunity by The Oracles
12 Characteristics of Ideal Business Opportunity by Isabel Isidro