Weeding out the Wannabes

probably a few tire kickers—people who are simply toying with the idea of owning their own business, rather than the actual entrepreneurs you want to reach.

So how can you be sure you're making contact with serious small business owners? One way to approach this question is to think vertically. Dreamers are infatuated with the idea of being a business owner; they go to new entrepreneur meetings and read too many magazine articles about entrepreneurs. People who begin to identify with a certain industry have gotten past the dreaming stage and are actually in business.

I remember a friend of mine named Mark who was one of those guys who always had an idea for what he saw as The Next Big Thing. Every month we'd meet as part of an entrepreneurial association to which we both belonged and each month, Mark would have a new business idea. First he was starting a biotech company that would solve one ailment or another, the next meeting it was a company that designed golf apparel. Sadly, none of these businesses actually got off the ground; they all stayed largely in his head. Mark was in love with the idea of being an entrepreneur. As a result, he couldn't get enough of being around real-life entrepreneurs, reading about them in magazines and trying to associate with them whenever he could.

Real entrepreneurs get past this stage. If they are lucky enough to get beyond start-up, they become hardened and more pragmatic. Their dreams become tempered with a heavy dose of reality; they think less about being entrepreneurs and crave more pragmatic information about succeeding in their industries. In fact, they are less likely to fancy their businesses as revolutionary or unlike any business in history (common claims from the new entrepreneur) and realize instead that they are part of an industry and that it behooves them to get to know others in it. In other words, business owners that get beyond start-up are often more likely to identify with their industries.

Home Depot does a good job of targeting one industry segment—the company's Services for Contractors program zeroes in on the contractor market and offers a number of services that are available just for them. For example, the program offers a commercial desk that provides assistance solely to contractors, complete with dedicated phone and fax lines to ensure that contractor clients get the information they need right away without having to be passed around from department to department. Finally, a Will Call area allows contractors to call or fax in their order—the Home Depot staff will either deliver the order themselves or help the contractor load it into the vehicle.

By narrowing your focus to a specific industry, you will have a better chance of weeding out the wanna-be entrepreneurs and capturing the attention of the real-life business owner.

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