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Hispanic small business owners have incredible ideas for new products and services. But before going to the expense of rolling them out, it's a good idea to test how business ideas will be received by the market at large or a niche customer base.
Read on to find out how Hispanic business owners test out their ideas before they bring them to their customers.
Find Out Whether Customers Understand Your Product
Ten years ago, when Hispanic business owner Josephine Caminos Oria launched her small business, La Dorita, a line of dulce de leche products, the U.S. specialty food market was just on the cusp of truly embracing international food goods.
But, Caminos Oria says, that doesn't mean consumers' awareness and understanding about those products matched their enthusiasm for them.
"Many people outside Argentina think dulce de leche is caramel," she says, "and it's not. Plus, dulce de leche isn't a household item for them. It doesn't make it onto the weekly shopping list. We learned that rolling out our two dulce de leche spreads and a dulce de leche liqueur would require that we learn not just whether consumers were interested in the product, but also whether they understood what it was, exactly, and how it could be used."
Test the Market's Hunger for Your Products
Caminos Oria continued to hold down her C-suite executive job as she matured her start-up, testing her products and the market's hunger for them every chance she got. She participated in all the usual activities for specialty food vendors, such as trade shows and fairs, but soon learned that in addition to high expenses she incurred to attend these events, they didn't always reach an audience that reflected the typical consumer in her own market of Pittsburgh. To reach those consumers, she explains, she set up stands at regional farmers' markets and participated in local schools' holiday craft bazaars.
The latter is where she experienced one of her first big breaks. After an eager child kept double-dipping apple slices in the dulce de leche, Caminos Oria decided to give her the whole jar. The child's mother soon approached Caminos Oria to apologize and offer to pay for the jar, which Caminos Oria refused. The exchange led to a vital connection: the girl's mother was an executive at Giant Eagle, a large supermarket chain in the area. Soon, La Dorita products were on Giant Eagle's shelves.
Always Create Opportunities to Connect
While luck was certainly at play in this scenario, Caminos Oria says the anecdote contains an actionable lesson for every small business owner who wants to test a new product idea, especially for a good or service that may be totally new to the market: always create opportunities to connect.
It's not only through conversations that a small business owner can learn whether their target market is aware of, interested in, and likes their product.
In fact, Caminos Oria says, small business owners should offer multiple ways for prospective customers to provide feedback that's likely to be valuable.
One way she solicits information? By putting comment cards on display tables at trade shows and food bazaars, so clients who are less interested in conversation, can still share their opinions.
Andrea M. Garcia, a co-founder of COMMS/NATION LLC., a public relations agency and a small business owner herself, praises Caminos Oria's initiative. "Small business owners really have to be willing to cannonball into the deep end of the pool," she says. "Don't just assume that your product or service is going to be a hit because you like it or you think it's needed. You have to find out if your target market sees your offering as something essential, as something that brings value to their lives."
But as a small business owner with limited time and resources, how do you test that target market and their enthusiasm for what you have to sell?
Garcia offers a few clutch tips:
- Research, research, research. "With the internet, there is no reason to not do your research," Garcia says. An abundance of free resources is available online. She recommends starting with particularly useful tools, such as the Small Business Administration's market research and competitive analysis guides.
- Avoid the echo chamber. It's tempting to stick to family, friends, and other members of your inner circle to give you feedback about the idea you want to roll out, but most small business owners will want to keep these folks as their personal cheering squad, rather than as sources of incisive insight about that new business idea. The people who are closest to us are often those who find it most challenging to dampen our enthusiasm with constructive criticism, so cast the net wider to get outside your personal echo chamber.
- Get offline and network. Yes, Garcia said the internet is valuable, but she also advises small business owners not to eschew good old-fashioned, offline networking. "People laugh when I tell them to join the Chamber of Commerce," she says, "but your local Chamber has lots of resources, and the connections you make there can be invaluable, both for testing your product or service idea and for launching and scaling it."
- Stay in permanent testing mode. Even if you've done your research, received positive feedback, and launched your product, you want to continue testing and gathering information from your clients and prospective customers across the life of the product or service. People's needs and interests change, Garcia points out, and as they do, their perception of your product or service can change, too. By always inviting feedback and testing for customers' opinions, you'll be able to catch such concerns before they impact your business negatively.
Finally, Garcia advises, if your research and testing don't yield the result you want, don't lose heart. You don't have to discard an idea just because it doesn't resonate with your target market. "You may be ahead of the wave," she says, "so keep the idea close and re-test it periodically to see what kind of changes in response you're receiving."