Developing your ideas

If you decide to start a new business, you will need to spend some time developing your business idea. One of the greatest advantages of being an entrepreneur is being able to work on something that interests you and that you are passionate about. Unfortunately, passion does not always translate into profits.

Research, research, research! The more information you can gather about the potential demand for your product or service, about your competitors, and about the needs and wants of your prospective customers, the more successful you are likely to be.

Before starting a business, you need to evaluate your idea and determine what your chances are of making a profit from that idea. This document lists some things that you should consider and provides links to additional information to help you assess your idea.

Table of Contents

    Is your idea truly original?

    You will need to research your idea to see if it is truly original or whether someone else has commercialized it. Capturing a niche market — one that no one else is targeting — may be more profitable than competing with others who sell a similar product or service. A business expert or mentor can help you evaluate or enhance your original business idea.

    • Conducting market research
      Learn more about market research, how it can improve your business decisions, and how to conduct a market research campaign.

    Will people be willing to pay for your product or service?

    A great idea can only translate into a successful business if people are willing to pay for the product or service.

    • First, you need to determine the target market for your offering. Are you planning to sell to young people or to seniors? Is your product primarily for women, men or both? Is it a necessity or a luxury item? Are you going to sell to individuals, other businesses or to the government?
    • Once you know who you are going to sell to, you'll want to find out how much the target market would be willing to pay for your product or service.
    • If your product or service is something people would be interested in, but not willing to pay for, you can consider alternate business models. Some businesses, in particular in the service industries, offer their service for free or at a low price, but are able to make money through other avenues, such as advertising.

    Who is your customer?

    Before you begin selling something, you need to know who you are selling to. If you haven't determined who your target market is, you are likely to try to be all things to all people and end up with a product nobody likes or a service that doesn't meet anyone's needs.

    When developing a general profile of your customers, you might want to define them by their demographic characteristics, such as:

    • Age, usually given in a range (20-35 years)
    • Sex
    • Marital status
    • Location of household
    • Family size and description
    • Income, especially disposable income (money available to spend)
    • Education level, usually to last level completed
    • Occupation
    • Interests, purchasing profile (what are these consumers known to want?)
    • Cultural, ethnic, racial background

    For example, a clothing manufacturer may consider a number of possible target markets — toddlers, athletes, grandparents, teenagers and tourists. A general profile of each of these possible markets will reveal which ones are more realistic, pose less risk and are more likely to result in a profit. A test market survey of the most likely target groups, or those who buy for them, such as parents for babies and toddlers, can help you separate real target markets from unlikely possibilities.

    Once you have defined your target customers, you must learn about their needs and preferences.

    • What challenges do they have that could be solved with your product or service?
    • What are their needs and expectations regarding this product or service?
    • What types of things do they desire?
    • What do they spend their money on?
    • Where do they shop?
    • How do they make spending decisions?

    Those are just a few of the many things you might want to learn about your prospective customers.

    To develop a profile of your customers and understand their needs, you will have to do some market research.

    • Conducting market research
      Learn more about market research, how it can improve your business decisions, and how to conduct a market research campaign.

    Will your product or service be able to compete with those of existing businesses?

    Once you find out who your customers are, you will need to look at who else is selling similar products and where they are selling them. Will you be competing with a product that has already been marketed? If your idea is a consumer product, check stores and catalogues or visit trade shows to find out what other products are available and what companies market them. You need to determine why customers will buy from you and not from your competitor. Is your product superior or is your price lower than other businesses? The best way to do this is to conduct market research using existing data or by doing your own survey.

    Do you need intellectual property protection for your idea or invention?

    Your idea, invention or product may need to be protected from being copied by others. Find out if the tangible result of your intellectual activity is eligible for intellectual property protection and how to get it.

    • Copyright and intellectual property
      Learn about intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs and integrated circuit topographies, and how they can protect your business.

    How will you manufacture and distribute your product or service?

    When it comes time to turn your idea into a tangible product, you will have to decide whether you want to start your own business, or approach other businesses to take on the task of developing, producing, packaging and distribution. Do you have the means and the desire to do it yourself?

    If you are an inventor who is not necessarily interested in the day-to-day operations of running a business, licensing may be an interesting option to explore. When you license a product (or an idea for one), another business handles all, or part of, the manufacturing, distribution, and marketing of that product for you. In return, you get royalties, which are a percentage of the sales once the product goes to market. There are advantages and disadvantages to the different kinds of licensing deals, and you'll want to weigh your options carefully before deciding to go that route.

    How will you promote your product or service?

    An idea or invention is not very useful without customers to buy it! Have you considered how potential customers will discover your product? Some ways to market your product are:

    • Having a website and being active in social media
    • Participating in and attending trade shows, and by getting known through your trade association
    • Placing advertisements in newspapers, on the radio, on television and on the Internet
    • Distributing brochures

    To learn more about effective marketing and promotion techniques, see:

    Are there any government restrictions or obligations that could limit your idea?

    Before you move ahead with your business idea, you may want to check to see if there are any regulations that may prohibit or limit the sale of your proposed product or service or the operation of your business.

    What resources do you need to get your business off the ground?

    Developing a solid business plan is critical to the success of your business. A business plan will help you determine how much money you need to start your business. Also, a lender or investor will want to review it to determine your eligibility for financing. Your plan should clearly outline how you plan to make money and include an estimate of your projected sales for the first year. Base your estimates on the size of your market, your competition, your price, marketing plan and trends in the industry. Also include in your plan your expected expenses for things such as supplies, rental space, salaries, insurance, etc.

    • Business planning
      Find out how to write a business plan and access templates, sample business plans, market research information and statistics.

    Where can you go for help to evaluate and to clarify your idea?

    While you are still considering your idea, you may wish to get some help along the way.

    Contact the Canada Business Network

    For more information, you can call, visit or e-mail the Canada Business Network service centres and regional partner offices. Our business information officers are prepared to provide assistance with your business questions and can direct you to relevant information in our extensive collection of business-related publications, directories and electronic databases.

    • Contact the Canada Business Network
      The Canada Business Network has centres across the country that offer guidance, information and resources to help make your journey in business a success.

    Business advisors

    You may also wish to get help from professional advisors such as lawyers, accountants, and business consultants. Consult our directories of Canadian companies to find ones located near you.

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