Many entrepreneurs decide to go into business and then cast about for the ideal business concept. There is nothing wrong in this approach, but it does beg the question as to how you determine which business opportunity is right for you and whether the business idea is worth pursuing. The formal business planning process provides for this type of analysis. It is a process that helps the small business owner remove their ‘rose coloured glasses’ and to investigate the business idea based on hard facts and realistic analysis. The planning tool used to determine the viability of a business opportunity is called a feasibility study.
The goal of the feasibility study is to minimise the degree of risk that a business owner is about to undertake. At the completion of a feasibility study you should be able to conclude if the opportunity has potential for profit and is therefore worth the investment of your time, effort and finance. If the study proves that the business idea is financially viable, much of the information collated can be used in the formal business planning documents.
A word of warning, curb your enthusiasm for a business idea until after the feasibility study has been concluded. Don’t spend a cent, don’t sign anything, don’t get anything underway. Heeding this single warning could save you much money, time and grief.
A detailed feasibility study should include:
The Business Opportunity
Start with a description of the business opportunity in as much detail as possible.
You need to investigate whether there are any legal constraints to conducting this type of business. This could include regulatory requirements for specific qualifications or licenses. Home based businesses usually require permission from the local council to operate from the home. There is no point launching into a business which requires qualifications or licenses you do not have.
Market and Customers
You need to undertake market research to determine the size of the market for your products and services and to profile the characteristics of both the market, your competitors and potential customers. You should also assess whether you can offer something unique, better or different to the offers being made by your competitors and determine likely purchase quantities and price points of your products. Your market research should also include identify any issues which are likely to impact the market or the industry in the near future.
Operational issues such as business location and the type of facilities required need to be investigated and addressed. It examines the space required immediately and assesses whether that will be adequate given your projected business growth at various timeframes. It asks how you will identify the most suitable location and type of space.
It should also examine how you will finance the required space. Will your purchase, rent or take out a long-term lease?
It examines the logistical aspects of operating the business such as how will you handle, transport and store goods into and out of your business? What distribution channels will you use? Do you need transport such as a car, van, truck or forklift? What other plant and equipment are needed to commence operations and what is needed over the life of the business?
This examines the management aspects of the business. It asks what types and level of skills are required to run this particular business? Who will manage the business? What roles are required and who will fulfill those roles? This includes marketing, finances, sales, managing information technology etc.
Critically, you need to examine the skills required by this business opportunity and compare them to your own skills. Do you have the skills required to undertake this business? If not, can they be acquired readily? Are you even interested in acquiring these skills?
This examines the skills required by the business. It asks how many additional staff will be required to operate this business idea. Will you need to recruit new workers? If so, what skills and competency levels will be required. Do you know how to recruit these staff members and are you able to effectively induct and train these new recruits?
Do you have sufficient knowledge as to the legal aspects of employing staff? Are you aware of regulations relating to salaries and wages, taxation, workers compensation, workplace safety and equal opportunity? Do you know where to go to obtain this information?
This takes a detailed look at the financial issues relating to the business idea. This includes the all important questions of what capital is required to start the business and how will you raise the required capital. What is your estimate of profitability after all costs, including tax, have been deducted? How much do you require to live on per annum? How long will it take to breakeven.
You also need to examine your own skills in relation to managing the finances. Are you able to do your own bookkeeping? Can you manage cashflows? Do you know where to go for expert financial advice?
Sales and Marketing
This looks at what you expect your sales and marketing strategy to be. It takes a look at how much time and money will be allocated to the sales and marketing function and determines what the most cost-effective promotional methods should be. It also asks who will be responsible for this function.
The above is not an exhaustive list of questions that should be asked when conducting a feasibility study but it gives you the flavour of what it should be. When you have done your research and found answers to the key questions you will be in a position to undertake a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It allows you to take all the information you have gathered and to make an overall assessment of the viability of the business.
Undertaking a feasibility study sounds like a lot of work, especially when you are eager to get started, but if you want to save yourself a lot of time, money, energy and grief, take the time to assess whether the business idea really is worth your investment. A feasibility study can help you sift through a raft of business ideas and allow you to discard those that are not worth pursuing and help you to identify the one that is most likely to be successful.