I have heard from a number of folks in recent months about the businesses they are starting, some number of whom have published what they want to do or are doing on the Forum link on this site. So I would like to ask and answer a few questions about doing so. In particular:
What types of businesses? I have heard about and see opportunity in home care services, home renovation and remodeling, financial advisory services, portable health records, life planning, home activity monitoring, move and organizing services, personal concierge services, adaptive and assistive services, home assessments, bathroom-specific remodeling, and companion services. In addition to the above-mentioned, I would like to see more private transportation service businesses started in areas where the business model makes sense -- not just to medical appointments, but also (like SilverRide in San Francisco) accompanying older individuals into appointments or shopping locations.
Do these compete with non-profit or volunteer services? One of the main objections to starting some of the above businesses is that 'seniors don't have the money' and therefore won't pay for them. Like any other business, research and a business plan is required, with a solid understanding of the demographics of the region, the availability of non-profit and volunteer services and how many they are able to serve. Demographics plus that quantified gap becomes the target market. And in some cases, the target market is clearly the family caregiver(s) -- and the awareness generation must be done where the family members -- not the senior -- reside.
Nationwide marketers -- know the competition. I have been speaking to several startups lately that didn't have a particularly clear idea of the current competition or price tolerance of the market they plan to serve prior to starting the company. If you're looking for funding (angel or VC), this has got to be job one before picking the company name, hiring the first engineer, getting a prototype together, and seeking funding. If you're located near a business school, try to obtain an intern who is interested in doing market research on emerging business areas -- and ask them to do this legwork. Once you have all of that together, now it's time for national visibility. Speaking at events sponsored by ASA, AARP, and AAHSA is appropriate -- in some cases, after you join up. And just attending may be almost as useful -- there are plenty of experienced business people to talk to and learn who's who in the industry. And renting ($$) booth space may be the best use of marketing money if you can afford it. Finally, call up experts, prospective competitors, and possible pilot customers and ask them their opinion.
Region-specific businesses -- know how to gain visibility. If the product or service is for caregivers, find the local hospice, Alzheimer's Association, adult day program or whatever is appropriate -- and speak to the administration about a role you can play. This helps confirm the need for your service and gives you visibility. Write an article for a local newspaper -- even paying to get the article printed. Issue a press release that is picked up in the local newspaper. Create a video that you can easily and quickly show that demonstrates successful use of your product or service. Post to the blogs of others (like this one) with comments (not anonymous) about the business that you offer. Volunteer in related organizations where you can get to know advocates who work with your target audience. A website is a must-have -- without it you don't exist.