Intuition and the art of marketing: What should you do when things aren’t looking right?

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These are difficult days for me. The new daily, Ontario Construction News, hasn’t launched yet, and in fact our formal pre-sales have only been in place two days. Yet my sixth sense tells me something isn’t quite right — the vision of demand for the product/service we are offering may not match with the actual market. In other words, I’m sensing I have a possible flop on my hand, even before we get past the very initial phase.

Clearly, this is not “good news” and perhaps I am wrong in airing my doubts right now in a public place. But I realize that this blog’s readership doesn’t entirely interface with the market, and in any case, my doubts about the project really won’t have substantial impact on its marketability. In other words, what I say here won’t make a big difference one way or another whether the project succeeds or fails.

I could be wrong, because my speculation is based on very early data, which is this: We “opened our doors” for the first presales, and no-one purchased a thing in two days.

There could be many good reasons for this lack of immediate response, including the fact that the market wants to see the actual product happening before it will accept it. We may just need to give things a bit more time, and as early as Monday, the first orders may arrive.

From a practical perspective, I shouldn’t be sweating too hard, in part because I took several measures to mitigate risk before reaching this point. Our fixed operating costs are minimal; there is no need to run up debt to launch, and we don’t need “much” market to make this business work, at least at the early stages.

I have some thoughts about why things aren’t working quite as planned — namely that while we counted the numbers correctly for the overall market, we failed to appreciate the nature of decision-making and the concentration of clients in certain public (municipal) offices, where the ads are effectively ordered by bureaucrats who don’t really care about saving a couple of hundred dollars on each their purchases, and who probably don’t even know about the new publication because it isn’t within their regular frame of reference.

There’s plenty of time to observe the market, refine our processes, and give the publication a chance to succeed. I’ve seen far too many business owners dig their own graves with false optimism, where they “hang on” for dear life hoping for some miracle and change. That isn’t the case here — the new business has been designed with risk-reduction in mind.

So I’ll listen and respect my intuition, and yet work to evaluate and prove out the concept and find the way forward. Ultimately, our goal is rather modest — an extremely profitable business with 10 per cent market share (and with our pricing amazingly set at half the competition’s rates.).

Ultimately, whenever we enter a new market or start a new business, we need to accept that there is some risk. Things don’t always work out. Yet I’ve learned over the years that it is possible to enjoy the upside of real success without burying our heads in the sand. My intuition may be sending out yellow light signals — but my confidence in the business planning and risk management gives me real hope for the future.

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