Confluent Forms LLC, located in Easthampton MA, is a boutique branding, graphic design, web design, web development, Blogger development, and PHP/MySQL application development firm providing services to customers from the Fortune 100 to local non-profit organizations and academic institutions. Serving Western Massachusetts and beyond.

Don't lament an unfilled need; fill that niche yourself

by on May 20, 2010
Last updated on
Have you ever found yourself saying "I wish there was someone that did [insert]"? You then scramble around, ask a few people, put out a few inquiries, perhaps run a google search, and low and behold, nothing. Without thinking much about it, you just stumbled upon an untapped opportunity. You've identified there was a need (because you just wanted it), and you've also, in a quick way, demonstrated that there was a lack of providers for that need. But that's often where the thought process stops. You might lament the fact that nobody is doing this thing that you've identified a need for, perhaps vent your frustration in a blog article or twitter post that you can't find this/that close to you, and then move on, perhaps missing out on a golden opportunity.

Lots of people express their desire to one day start their own business but feel that they haven't found "the Idea" that will lead them to the Promised Land of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Ownership. What most people fail to realize is that the Idea doesn't have to be amazing, it doesn't have to be entirely unique, and it doesn't even have to be grand in scale; the only business requirement is that it fills a Need.

The Valley Art Share, finding and filling a role

In 2008, the Commonwealth Center for Change approached the Northampton Arts Council. The Center lamented that there wasn't a good place for artists to post public profiles, discuss issues, and advertise their events in to a public events calendar. At first they wanted the Arts Council to fill this role, but the Council, due to limited budget and staffing, couldn't take on more work. The Arts Council encouraged the Center to create the site themselves; they then asked the Arts Council for a grant to make the site. Julia Handschuh, now the co-Director, and I sat down for a brainstorming meeting and we arrived at Ning, a free/low-cost system that enabled the organization to quickly, easily and inexpensively (almost free) set up the site that was named the Valley Art Share.

The site has been live for over a year and can be called nothing less than a success. Artists and arts organizations continue to join, events are published, profiles expanded upon, and discussions flourish. A need was filled by an organization with initiative.

My own example

My web design firm is a small business, and as such, our sales strategy has to be exceptionally organic yet targeted so that we're not wasting valuable time chasing dead-end leads. In the early stages of our company we chased any lead that we could find, paid for expensive Request for Proposal and lead-generating services to bring us potential projects, and even tried the cold-calling route. We often found great RFPs that we were qualified for, but found out about them too late. The lead-generation services we paid hundreds and thousands of dollars for turned up few projects that we could bid on. And nothing is truly as dispiriting as cold-calling. There was nowhere on the market that was compiling RFPs and providing them for a reasonable price.

This was our "A HA!" moment. Being that we're a web development firm it wasn't hard to create a website that was equipped for the task, and we realized that if we were having this trouble, there were probably hundreds and thousands of other sales teams having the same trouble. So, frustrated by the lack of return on investment on these costly services and wastes of time, we created a site called the RFP Database. We initially populated it with RFPs that we found in our searches for projects but that weren't good fits for our company. We encouraged others to do that same. That site has grown to over 70,000 registered users, has announced over 25,000 RFPs with an average of 400 new RFPs each week (~$1 billion in opportunities), and has grown steadily since its inception. It fills a need, while doing so with a unique value proposition that makes everyone's ROI calculations jump in favor of joining ($2 for a $1,000,000 lead? a no-brainer).

Put your talents and interests to good use

Perhaps you're a restaurateur, have you noticed that the your area doesn't seem to have a good Jewish deli? Or maybe you're a real estate mogul or venture capitalist; the lack of small-sized office spaces and incubator spaces is frustrating. Or dance classes, or book groups, or wedding planning, or what have you. Whenever you have a frustration from being unable to find something, you're simply identifying a need. And if you have that need, others likely do too.

So why not lead the effort? Write down your idea in as much detail as possible. Determine what it would need to exist. Does it need a store front, a storage space, a website... is it something you can do from home in your spare time or something that you'd have to take a plunge to accomplish? Could you do it yourself or would you need to partner with someone else? How much investment is needed in time and money? Are there people or organizations that you could reach out to that might be interested in partnering with you on this idea who could lessen your exposure or make it happen faster?

You can also approach it from the other angle of "what service can I provide that nobody else seems to be providing?", "what do I wish I could drive down the street to get instead of driving to Hartford?", or "what would I do more of if it was located nearby?".

Then take the plunge. Make it happen! Become a doer, a mover-and-shaker, an inspired individual on a mission. Create something that fills that need in your community and don't look back. It's not always so simple, but there is no harm in taking just that first step.

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