Friday, February 21, 2014

No shortcuts in selling business solutions

Dipping into the mail bag again, I recently got this email from an entrepreneur in Western Canada (his name has been changed to preserve his privacy):

Hey Rick -

You don’t know me, but I came across your article on Financial Post about “Playing detective with your 2014 planning.”  I’m a small business owner and fan of the E-Myth book and enjoyed the read!

I’ve run a couple of small businesses with varying success, but my core skill set is as a software developer.  I’ve been knocking around an idea for a product that dovetails into the E-Myth philosophy a bit, and I was wondering if I could get your thoughts.

The idea basically started a couple years ago when I was running an e-commerce store and trying to dig myself out of the usual “working in your business” mindset.  I was making procedures for processing refunds, handling damaged deliveries, etc, but I wasn’t finding an efficient way to build and improve these processes.  

What I’m picturing is some kind of software product that helps define procedures. I’m wondering if you know of any other structured software systems that help accomplish this? Do you think this is something that’s worthwhile, or do you think people are more into their own low-fi solutions?

I’d appreciate any input you have on the topic.


And here is my response:

Hi Frank. Thanks for your note.

I think your idea sounds terrific. However, having worked with an entrepreneur who tried to sell knowledge management software to small business, I know how resistant to change this market can be. So many business owners prefer inefficient paper processes to automated solutions, due to the perceived cost, fears of loss of control, and concerns about having to learn new things. 

So even a great idea is no slam dunk.

However, if you have the time and passion, pursuing this concept could pay off. But you have to research your prospects relentlessly, because chances are you have part of a solution here, and surveys and interviews with potential customers might uncover the tweaks that would make your product successful. 

Below is a link to a similar case, my recent article about an entrepreneur who spent two years working on a one-trick app before he realized that he was seeing only one tiny part of the real problem that business owners would be willing to pay for. You might find his experiences helpful.

Best of luck. Let me know how it goes. 

Rick's additional comment:

As Jeremy Potvin, the Toronto entrepreneur behind the story linked to above, learned to his cost, customers will only pay for business solutions that solve the most acute pain points. When selling BtoB, make sure you have identified the highest, most costly problems your market is facing. Your first hunch is a good start, but probably only a hint of the final product your target market is actually happy to pay for.