Match the Business to the Market

 “Desperate to escape her hand-to-mouth existence in one of the poorest regions of Brazil, Maria Benedita Sousa used a small loan five years ago to buy two sewing machines and start her own business making women’s underwear,” The New York Times reported.

Today, her business is thriving. She employs 25 people and produces 55,000 pairs of cotton panties a month. With the income she’s earning, she has bought and renovated a house for her family and a car. Her daughter, who is studying nursing, will be the first family member to finish college.

Sousa is living the entrepreneurial dream. “You can’t imagine the happiness I am feeling,” she said. “I am someone who came from the countryside to the city. I battled and battled and today my children are studying with one in college and two others already in school. It was a gift from God.”

A gift from God? I don’t know about that. But I do know that it was partly due to a loan she got from a private bank – that and her ambition, her persistence, and her instinct to start a business she already understood. We’ve talked about that many times in ETR. I’ve written about it in almost every one of my books.

If you want to have the best possible chance of making your new business work, learn about it from the inside before you start. Sousa did exactly that. Before creating her own clothing business, she worked for minimum wage sewing clothes for someone else’s clothing business.

By the way, Sousa doesn’t begrudge the years she worked for a dollar an hour. She was happy to get the work when she had none, happy to earn the money so she could help pay the family’s bills and – most important – she is grateful she had the chance to acquire the skills she uses today to run her business.

Sousa’s story is a life lesson in Ready, Fire, Aim too. She didn’t wait till everything was ready before she set up shop. She didn’t have any training in business. She didn’t have a facility to work in or any sewing equipment. All she had were the skills she’d developed from working and the money she got from a micro lending institution.

And she had one more thing: She got into the right business at the right time.

This is the aspect of the story I want to highlight.

Sousa was successful because she did all the things we talk about all the time in ETR: She set and pursued goals. She acquired financially valuable skills. She took a Ready, Fire, Aim approach to her business. But the reason her business did so well – grew so quickly from a one-women operation to employ 25 people – is because she went into the right business at the right time.

Business gurus like to tell people that you can be successful at any business, so long as you do X or Y or Z. But the hard truth is that some businesses will do much better than others. It’s not just your personal qualities that count. And it’s not how much capital or human resources you have either. It’s picking the right business for the market you are in.

I can illustrate this point by telling you about Y, the woman who takes care of our house in Nicaragua. Like Sousa, Y was dirt poor until she got a job earning $5 a day cleaning one of the upscale homes in our development. She didn’t know much about cleaning fancy houses at first, but she was a quick learner. And when my place was finished, she applied for the job and I was happy to give it to her.

It was a good deal for Y, because, with two houses to take care of, she doubled her income. It was a good deal for me, because I got a very good and reliable person at a fraction of what I’d have to pay in the States.

Because I can’t help but preach entrepreneurship, I several times suggested to Y and E (the young man who takes care of the outside of my property) that they should start their own businesses. To help them along, I offered them loans that could be repaid by doing little extra jobs for me on the side or even during their regular working hours.

E started a little sundries business. He built a shack in front of his house on the main road that runs by the development. And his wife and kids sell snacks and drinks and batteries and soap and other odds and ends that he somehow manages to get his hands on.

Y built a little store on the side of her house and opened a children’s clothing shop. She buys cute little outfits in the capital city, hauls them to her shop, and sells them to the locals. Her store is busy once a month – on the first (pay day for most of the workers). Otherwise, she has little traffic.

Y is learning to be a good businesswoman. She runs her store profitably and has reinvested those profits in a small truck (to save money on transporting the clothes) and an expanded inventory. At the end of every month, she also takes cash out and puts it in the bank for her children’s education.

So she is doing well. But she is not doing nearly as well as Maria Sousa. And she is not likely to do much better.

The reason is simple. Y chose a business that could not possibly grow quickly in her little corner of Nicaragua. Selling children’s clothing was and is a fine idea. It filled a need and it works. But no matter how hard she works, how much advertising she does, or how much money she reinvests in her business, her market is limited by the number of local people who can afford her wares.

When you decide to become wealthy, you should take some time to consider your goals and ambitions before you select the business you will start. Don’t believe the gurus who tell you any business will do. Yes, you can start a children’s clothing business if it suits your fancy, but don’t expect it to become a big moneymaker if the marketplace can’t give you the support.

For fast growth, choose a hot business in a hot market in an economy that is expanding. Manufacturing cheap clothing in Brazil fits the bill. Selling children’s clothing in Nicaragua doesn’t.

Now if you plan to take your business to the Internet – and I highly recommend that you do – you have a little more wiggle room. Because then your market expands to include the entire world.

But you must still be in the right business at the right time.

For example, there are thousands of options for getting into the Internet information publishing business. But if you decide to sell information about some obscure interest/hobby, such as bookbinding, you are going to have a smaller market than if you choose a more popular interest/hobby, like fencing or golf. And if you get into a market that is in a growth stage, such as yoga or Pilates, you’ll do better than if you choose a market that is shrinking, such as aerobics.

How do you determine the size of your market?

According to Edwin Huertas, ETR’s newest Search Engine Optimization specialist, keyword research should be your first step. “The first thing I do to show a client the potential for their business,” says Edwin, “is research the keywords for that industry – the words that are being searched for on the major search engines. Each search engine has its own set of keyword tools that will tell you how many people have searched for any given keyword phrase (and any combination of words in the phrase). I like to ’see’ what people are looking for online instead of guessing.”

If your keyword research indicates that there’s a big pool of potential customers for the product or service you intend to sell online, you can start testing. Because there’s a good chance you’re about to enter into the right business at the right time.

[Ed. Note: The Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to making money. And you can get 12 separate plans for making $100,000 with your own online business at this fall’s Internet Ultimatum Bootcamp.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]