Donna Maria Coles Johnson
Donna Maria Coles Johnson

This week, I’m continuing my 12 Steps to Transitioning From Employee to Entrepreneur series. Our steps so far:

Step 1: Decide what you want your life to look like
Step 2: Research your industry options
Step 3: Consult your family
Step 4: Pave the way for a smooth departure
Step 5: Get Your Finances In Order

In Step 2, you researched your industry options. If you have not conducted thorough research, you need to go back and do that before you move to Step 6.

If you know what industry you want to participate in, now is the time to nail down exactly what you will sell and to whom.

Nail your target customer

I know you may be in a hurry to pick a product and start selling it, but that would be putting the cart before the horse. Now that you know what industry you want to be involved with, you must first identify your target market before creating a product to sell to them.

Just because you have a product doesn’t mean you can sell it.

But once you identify a target market, you can create a product they need. You are then in a much better position to influence them to buy what you have to offer.

Be very specific about your niche. For example, if you sell laundry detergent, you may think that everyone is your customer because everyone uses laundry detergent. But one look down the cleaning supplies aisle at your local supermarket will inform you that there is a laundry detergent for a million different niche markets, including natural laundry detergent, eco-friendly laundry detergent, laundry detergent where a portion of sales go to help people in third world countries, delicate laundry detergent, floral laundry detergent, high efficiency laundry detergent, laundry detergent in recyclable containers, laundry detergent for cloth diapers, liquid laundry detergent, powder laundry detergent, laundry detergent with bleach, and laundry detergent designed specifically for men. (No, I did not make that up.)

And that’s just for starters.

Nail down your target customer as precisely as you can. What is she like? What keeps her up at night? What turns her on? What does she hate? What would she lay down her life for? What are her core values? What makes her happy? What makes her cry? Is she more likely to be the late arriving life of the party or the person helping you set up the buffet? What does she give her time to? What does she avoid like the plague?

Pick a product

Once you nail and know your target customer, you’ll be empowered to pinpoint exactly what her needs and wants are. Only then can you fulfill them with a product she will repeatedly buy and tell her her friends about.

Do not make the mistake of choosing to sell a product you think your target customer needs.

Instead, chose a product your target customer wants. This distinction can sometimes be difficult to pin down, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Here’s an example. Let’s say you need to do some work to improve your marriage, but if you are not a person who values books, you will neither buy nor read a book on the topic of how to improve your marriage. You might instead be a people person who places far more value on learning in community than on learning on your own. You would therefore spend money on a weekend marriage conference, but not on a marriage book, even though you really do need to take a few hours and read that book.

Don’t confuse need with want. Need and want sometimes overlap, but not always. Make sure you know your target customer, and you are offering her what she wants — whether or not she needs it.

Next Installment: Step 7: Create, Protect, and Sustain Your Brand

I’ll be back soon with step 7, as we continue your quest to transition from employee to entrepreneur. Meanwhile, share this post on your favorite social media outlets so your entrepreneurial friends don’t miss out!

Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a nationwide trade organization offering classes, training resources, and product liability insurance to small business owners. Click...