So You Wanna Break into the Catalog Business ...
Last week, I got an e-mail from a former student of mine telling me he was starting a company with mail order as one of its distribution channels. He had a neat idea, and I thought the items he was about to sell had merit. Clearly he had his product line thought out well.
It pleases me to no end when this happens: a budding entrepreneur, about to stake his claim in the business world. Then I get the question that I dread: “How do I buy a list so I can grow the business?” How do I buy a list? Oh man, haven’t I taught you anything?
So I politely start hammering him with questions I always ask businesspeople in start-up mode:
* Do you have a budget?
* Who is your target market?
* How much margin do you have?
* And, of course, do you have a business plan? (Thankfully he said he did, but direct mail was not in it!)
As a consultant, I’m consistently amazed by the startling lack of understanding people have for some of the most basic basics of what’s needed to start a business.
But that’s OK; entrepreneurs often are the very dreamers we need in this world to think up the new products and services that drive consumer demand. And there are plenty of resources available to start-ups to help them move forward.
Are you in start-up mode? Or are you a retailer looking to branch off to the direct/catalog channel? Here’s a short (and by no means complete) list of the basic core competencies you’ll need to start (dreams not included).
1. Have a plan, a business model, with at least three years of financials (though five is better) and cash flow projections. It should be tailored to the exact niche you’re about to enter. (Boilerplate just doesn’t cut it in my book.) If you’re not sure how to write one that’s speaks to your market and/or distribution channels, find someone in the industry who does. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a consultant; you always can find a mentor who’s already in the industry.