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Senin, 18 Mei 2009

Making Market Research Pay

Laurie Bebout made a dramatic career change: She quit her job as a nuclear-safety engineer to run a door-to-door advertising business. Why? Because a year ago, in a moment of frustration, an entrepreneurial idea was born — an idea that Bebout has since devoted weekends and evenings to researching.

When Bebout, 34, and her husband moved to Paducah, KY, she was annoyed to discover that coupons were not delivered in the mail. Bebout wanted to get coupons without having to buy a newspaper, so she turned her grievance into a business concept. The rookie businessperson founded Precision Advertising Distribution to deliver ads and coupons to doorsteps.

Turning her pipe dream into a reality hasn't been as easy as coming up with the initial idea.

Bebout started her market research by scouring the Internet to soak in ideas from other companies providing the same type of service. Her Web research revealed she'd have no competition for a door-to-door advertising business in Paducah. Bebout also used the Internet to pick up distribution tactics such as street intercepting, or standing on streets and handing out advertising material. "I love the Internet," Bebout says. "I got at least 50 percent of my information off the Web."

Bebout also relied heavily on contacts she made through friends and the SBA. These contacts provided assistance that Internet research couldn't offer. Early on she met with a woman at the SBA who gave her vital information about how to write a business plan as well as some much-appreciated inspiration. "I was coming out of a male-dominated engineering environment, and it was amazing to meet with an intelligent business woman in a position of authority. The experience helped me know I could do it." Bebout's SBA mentor also tipped her off when the local Chamber of Commerce was offering $1,000 worth of free advertising for new members — another real boon to her upstart business.

When she connected with local business owners, Bebout confirmed the need for more advertising companies: Area car dealers had boycotted the local newspaper for what they considered exorbitant advertising rates. Through her conversations around town, Bebout also learned she was eligible for a special government loan program available to business owners in towns in need of economic stimulation. Because she was basing her new company in Paducah, Bebout qualified for a $50,000 loan.

Of all her contacts, Bebout's husband proved to be one of the most useful. Through his own online search, her husband discovered census information about income, education, and homeowner status for the different neighborhoods in Paducah. Now he combines this information with mapping software to help his wife offer targeted advertising to her clients — a unique add-on that helps differentiate Precision Advertising Distribution from the competition.

Because of her thorough market research, Bebout was able to finish her business plan, secure funding, and send her first four employees walking door-to-door with her advertising bags within a matter of months.

Now that her company is officially up and running, Bebout's next challenge is to finish converting her dining room into a home office. Because she has three children, Bebout says she desperately needs to install doors to her office.

Despite the all the hard work and the craziness at home, Bebout concludes, "Being my own boss is the best thing in the world."

— Heather Stringer


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