Topic: Need some business advice.

So, I've been working on this idea for a business.  I know, I know, this isn't a business forum, but stay with me.

Last week my sister emailed me asking for suggestions for an iPad cover.  My nephew is 18 months and isn't very careful with such things.  I did some research, and a few hours later sent her my suggestions.

As I hope I've demonstrated in the form of show notes and such, I'm good at research.  Whenever I need to get something, I always do research, and shop around.  I also spend an inordinate amount of time looking at stuff online I know I don't need, and can't afford.  As such I'm pretty good at, and rather enjoy, researching consumer products.  I know what questions to ask to narrow down a selection to a few items based on what I'm told they need.  I have experience in a pretty good array of areas, and those areas I don't have experience I know how to research.

The basic pitch goes something like this: have you ever needed to shop for something you've never bought before, but don't know much about, and can't devote a lot of time to doing the research yourself?  Maybe you've already done some research, but you'd like a second opinion.  If your lucky, you or someone you know, "knows a guy" who can help.  Now, imagine a service where you can send an email to someone outlining what you need, and they do the research and get back to you with a list of recommendations.  Bonus: if you live locally, I'll even go to the store with you.

I'm not looking to get rich on this, just avoid a day job.  I'll count myself lucky if I can actually live off what it brings in.  Fortunately my expenses at the moment are very reasonable, so if I could get it going full time, I'd be sitting pretty.

My questions to the forum are thus then:

Is this something you yourself would use or recommend to others? (Yes, I'm sure a "Friends and Family" rate can be arranged.) wink

What would you be willing to pay?  I know that's kind of hard to say.  I'm thinking an hourly rate makes the most sense, since the charge will depend on how much research I have to do.  Offhand I think 2-3 hours per query (the iPad thing took me just under 3 hours with a trip to the crapper, so I'd have rounded that down to 2 if I were charging).  This is effectively freelance, hourly work, which I don't have much experience with, and with such a niche service I'm not sure what is reasonable to expect folks to pay.  At, say $10 / hour that iPad gig would have been a $20-30 job.  Eventually I'd like to charge more, but I think I'd have to start there to generate interest, and at full time that would more than cover my monthly expenses.  Remember, this is all customized to the individual, based on what they've told me they are looking for.

Finally, I need to crowd source the creative aspects of this idea, starting with the name.  The working title is Custom Consumer Research and Advice.  While CCRA might work in terms of applying for an LLC, it feels kind of stuffy to me.  I'm not a testing laboratory, and most of the products I'm going to be recommending are going to be based on researching what others have said.  There's definitely an "I'm a professional, but not at this" aspect to this whole thing.  Naturally if I have experience with a particular item I will put that forward, but I don't want to infer that I am in any way an expert at anything other than finding data, and pointing people toward it.

I'll also need a website, or more specifically, a domain name.  I've got my personal site, which I'm doing fuckall with, so it shouldn't be a big deal to move the service to a new one.  This part goes hand in hand with the name, since ideally they will be one and the same.  shoppingbuddy.com? I dunno. 

Finally, the catchall question: Whatdayathink? I've run this idea by a few people, and so far everyone seems to think it's at least worth trying, but I'm open to whatever input I can get.  General business and startup advice would be most welcome as well.

I figure I can't loose much by trying; there's no overhead, just me, my laptop and an internet connection.  I'll start with local ads, Craigslist and such, and see how it goes.

Thanks guys, looking forward to your feedback.

Re: Need some business advice.

This is basically being an online personal shopper, right? I think the reason people don't use personal shoppers more is the cost. Add $20 to the price of nearly any consumer item to pay a personal shopper, and you've made that item a lot more expensive.

Personally, the one thing that I think would make online shopping a whole lot easier for everyone is a website that has already done broad research and makes clear recommendations. I subscribe to Consumer Reports, but their site is a bit difficult to navigate and still geared toward 1960s housewives. And most other product review sites are too narrow and too cluttered with things other than product reviews or rely too much on testimonials from buyers, most of whom are idiots.

Last edited by Zarban (2011-09-29 17:41:01)

Warning: I'm probably rewriting this post as you read it.

Zarban's House of Commentaries

Re: Need some business advice.

Don't knock the personal shopper - my friend started a company called Trunk Club and is making a killing.  You might want to check that site out, Matt.  You could probably do something similar with what you're talking about.

But know your audience.  No one who makes under 80k a year is going to hire personal researchers.

The idea, as is, sounds ok.   Going off of what Zarban said, a Rotten Tomatoes for products could be really interesting.  Take all the review sites for, say iPads and consumer cameras, etc, and give an overall rating.

Dunno.  I'll think about it.

Everybody, get up. It's time to slam now. We got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam. Here's your chance. Do your dance. At the Space Jam. Alright?

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Re: Need some business advice.

I make less than 80k a year, and would probably be willing to go as high as forty or fifty bucks if I'm buying something north of a grand. A new computer or something, sure. Absolutely.

Teague Chrystie

I have a tendency to fix your typos.

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Re: Need some business advice.

Teague wrote:

I make less than 80k a year, and would probably be willing to go as high as forty or fifty bucks if I'm buying something north of a grand. A new computer or something, sure. Absolutely.

I'll go ahead and ask for Matt: looking at buying a new TV or computer anytime soon?

Last edited by iJim (2011-09-29 19:34:04)

Everybody, get up. It's time to slam now. We got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam. Here's your chance. Do your dance. At the Space Jam. Alright?

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Re: Need some business advice.

Zarban: Yeah, I guess I am basically describing an online personal shopping assistant.  Think about this though: I can't tell you how many times I've gotten the wrong thing in the past, because I failed to do the research, I was too cheap to get the right thing the first time, or I didn't have someone to get a second opinion from.  In those cases I wound up having to get a second item, to replace the first one, and got stuck with something I didn't need.  I'm a big fan of getting the right thing the first time, not waiting to get it home before you realize it won't work.  I'd have rather spent that money on a second opinion.

My top three recommendations for an iPad case for my sister ran from between $40 - $60.  The least expensive option that I could recommend was around $30, but I only listed it as a budget option, I wouldn't actually recommend it unless that was all you could afford.  But say you went ahead and got that one anyway, got it home, let the little one smack it around a bit, only to find that it's not really that good.  Now you've spent $30, and you'll have to spend more to get a better case.  I'll charge you $20, and tell you which ones to look at before you buy.

Admittedly this does make more sense for higher end products, but it certainly doesn't have to be limited to that.  I may not know anything about washing machines, but give me a couple hours and I can learn enough to offer an opinion.  How about cars?  Fortunately I'm a bit of a gearhead, so it wouldn't take me long to brush up on the latest models.  For my local clients, I think having someone to go to a store or a showroom who isn't there to push a sale could be a big selling factor.

iJim: Am I looking for a new TV or computer?  Well no, but I did recently brush up on TVs because my roommate was thinking of upgrading.  TVs are one of those technologies that is always evolving, so by the time someone is ready to buy a new one they usually have some catching up to do.  Sometimes all you need is someone to go to the store with you and keep the salespeople at bay.  An unbiased second to bounce questions off of.  My roommate did not decide to get a new TV, but he did get his first laptop.  He got it home, and realized it didn't have enough power to play Netflix, one of the main reasons he bought it.  I went back to the store and helped him pick out one that would do what he needed it to do.  Did it cost more?  Of course, and if I had been charging him it would have cost maybe $20 on top of that, but it would have saved him a trip back to the store.

Heck, I even helped Teague pick out the mixer DIF has been using for the last year, and when the roommate who owned the TV moved out, I helped him pick out a new one.  How those working for you buddy? smile

As far as the "Rottentomatoes for review sites" idea goes, I like it, but I don't want to spend a lot of time or money on updating and maintaing a website, not yet anyway.  If it could be done in such a way that I can do it myself fairly easily, sure, but that'll be between me and my web guy, whoever that winds up being; I know a guy who knows a guy who I need to get in touch with about it pimp.  For now all I'm thinking about in terms of the site is a place to get more information about what I do, give folks an idea of who I am and why I'm qualified to do this, an e-mail form, and eventually testimonials.

Keep 'em comin' guys, I appreciate it.

Re: Need some business advice.

Oh, I think you could make a go of being a personal shopper aimed at tech rather than clothes (which I think is the more usual personal shopper area, for some reason). It's just not a broad market, especially in the current economy, and you have to gear yourself toward higher-end clients and higher-end merchandise.

On the other hand—speaking of A/V gear—you COULD bill yourself more as a consultant and focus on a particular market. That's what the Podcast Answer Man does. He has free podcasts of general advice and bills out handsomely to people who want specific advice about how to start podcasting and what equipment to use.

Consulting, I hear, can be very lucrative indeed.

/corporate training and communications consultant

Warning: I'm probably rewriting this post as you read it.

Zarban's House of Commentaries

Re: Need some business advice.

Agree that the business model really makes sense for the more expensive stuff. But maybe you could build up a portfolio of research/opinions on less expensive stuff like iPad cases and then offer that at a lower rate. Don't know if you'd get enough volume of that type of business to warrant the overhead, but if it's something you already have "in stock" so to speak, it might get you some money on the margins.

Re: Need some business advice.

Zarban wrote:

On the other hand—speaking of A/V gear—you COULD bill yourself more as a consultant and focus on a particular market. That's what the Podcast Answer Man does. He has free podcasts of general advice and bills out handsomely to people who want specific advice about how to start podcasting and what equipment to use.

Consulting, I hear, can be very lucrative indeed.

Helps to have a lawyer who can demand percentages too.

Last edited by iJim (2011-10-17 02:20:04)

Everybody, get up. It's time to slam now. We got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam. Here's your chance. Do your dance. At the Space Jam. Alright?

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Re: Need some business advice.

Great ideas guys.  I have ideas about how to cater to lower end markets; like Brian said, offer the less expensive stuff at a lower rate.  Going back to the iPad case thing, I've already done that research; sure I'll brush up on it now and then, but be it parents with a little one, or a guy who wants to take the thing rock climbing, there is a spectrum of the market that are looking to protect their iPad, and the same recommendations will still apply.  I won't need to spend 2-3 hours researching that anymore, just call up my last recommendations, do a quick search to see if anything new is on the market, and I'm done.  In the future it's the kind of thing I could offer for next to nothing as a downloadable PDF or something, and eventually I could indeed offer a section on free suggestions.

I had a thought that once I received, say, 100 requests for the same sort of thing, I'd make a YouTube video or post  the list on the site for free.  Not sure as to the degree of business sense that makes, but that's why I'm here asking questions.

I'm definitely thinking more in terms of tech than clothes, lol (though there are still certain niche markets, folks going on their first camping trip, etc.)  I like the consultant idea, but part of the appeal of this idea is that I'm not focused on any particular area; it's my ability to research based on individual needs that's attractive.  I may have to revise that however, so thanks for the input.  I can always bill myself as catering toward the high end stuff, and have a little asterisk on the website to the effect of "And that's not all...".

Zarban mentioned Consumer Reports; that's another area I could tap (and as a business expense no less).  I'd like to have access to that stuff anyway, it's a great data point, but I don't buy enough stuff to warrant a yearly subscription.  I'm not sure what the CR TOS has to say about that kind of thing, but it's worth looking into.

I think what Brian is describing is scaling; charging more for the high end stuff, and just a few bucks for the low end stuff.  That makes sense to me, the trick being to figure out what that is worth.  Offhand, the highest end product I can think of that I know I could consult on would be a car.  Cars go for thousands of dollars, so maybe a couple hundred to have someone do some research and then spend the day going around to dealerships would be worth it to some folks.  Computers are another area I can definitely consult on, but don't go for nearly as much as cars.  Teague suggested $40-50 for something like a computer or a mid-high end TV, which sounds about right.

Obviously I can't depend on spending everyday at a dealership (wouldn't want to anyway), so the little stuff, once researched, can just sit there generating a few buck per download as a PDF.

I'd like to reach a point where I can give some of that stuff away for free, but until then I had another thought; a series of tips and walkthroughs based on things I've bought for myself.  Sticking with my iPad case senario, I walk folks through how I determined what I needed out of a case, how I went about choosing the one I have, and my opinion based on my experience.  Heck, if I'm real lucky I might even get to where companies are sending me stuff to review, but I don't see that happening for quite a while.

So, we're at consumer goods consulting and reviews.  Maybe if I'm aiming at higher end markets a little stuffiness would be called for.

iJim: could you elaborate on your last points?  I doubt I'll be looking at any corporate accounts, but if they come knocking I don't want to get caught with my pants down.  I'm sure I'll be looking into an LLC or something like that, and maybe even an accountant, but how do you know it's time to look for a lawyer?

I know I keep saying it, but really, thanks guys.

Re: Need some business advice.

Check your inbox.

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Re: Need some business advice.

You could also check out Choice, a consumer advocacy and advice service started in 1960.

There is a market for this, but first you need to establish some credibility. Customers want to engage with a person, not data points. What about some free advice on a youtube channel?

Re: Need some business advice.

Matt Vayda wrote:

I think what Brian is describing is scaling; charging more for the high end stuff, and just a few bucks for the low end stuff.  That makes sense to me, the trick being to figure out what that is worth.  Offhand, the highest end product I can think of that I know I could consult on would be a car.  Cars go for thousands of dollars, so maybe a couple hundred to have someone do some research and then spend the day going around to dealerships would be worth it to some folks.  Computers are another area I can definitely consult on, but don't go for nearly as much as cars.  Teague suggested $40-50 for something like a computer or a mid-high end TV, which sounds about right.

Yeah, scaling. I think you'll find that when people are deciding whether or not to buy your services, they'll think of it in terms of paying a percentage of the price of the ultimate purchase. Psychologically, there's some magic number where they'll think, "It's worth it to spend 10% of my ultimate purchase towards making sure I get the right thing, but not 11%." I don't know what those numbers are and I doubt they'll consciously be doing the math, but I bet that's the thought process. The trick is figuring out what that number is for most people and getting as close as you can without going over. There must be scientific studies somewhere out there that explore the topic.

Matt Vayda wrote:

I'd like to reach a point where I can give some of that stuff away for free

I'd recommend finding something you can give away for free up front and right at the beginning. The free sample/gift is a time honored sales trick that primes your customer to be receptive to the idea of spending money.

It totally worked on me the other month, as a matter of fact. They were selling sets of knives in the grocery store, but you got a free gift just for coming over at the start of the presentation and standing through the first part. By the end of the first part, I was hooked enough to hang around for the whole thing and by the end of it...well, they got me.

The more interesting or novel the free gift, the better. In the steak knife case, it was this little orange plastic thing that was an apple corer. It was just really goddamn neat. In your case, maybe something like a PDF about picking an iPad cover. Or maybe a PDF that has a couple general research tips and tricks, something that says "Here's a taste of the expertise I have, which I will teach you for free. For the rest, my rates are very reasonable."

Re: Need some business advice.

iJim wrote:

Wasn't for gear or tech, but I'm already retired thanks to consulting.

Was it murder for hire? Don't even answer! I've already decided it was murder for hire.

Matt Vayda wrote:

Zarban mentioned Consumer Reports ... Teague suggested $40-50 for something like a computer or a mid-high end TV, which sounds about right.

A Consumer Reports online subscription costs $26. And computers and TVs are exactly what I use CR for because their differences are not readily apparent. Advising people on connecting up their A/V equipment or programming a Harmony remote, tho... that's worth money. I'm just sayin'.

Brian Finifter wrote:

...

I agree 100%. I haven't bought any of the Podcast Answer Man's video tutorials or consulting services, but I keep going back to look at the free stuff, so it's probably just a matter of time. Plus, I've now mentioned him at least twice on this forum.

/Note to self: To kidnap Brian for sci fi marathon, lure him close with neat plastic doohickey
//IMPORTANT: Wear stab vest

Warning: I'm probably rewriting this post as you read it.

Zarban's House of Commentaries

Re: Need some business advice.

I agree about the free stuff notion, in fact if anyone is interested, here are my suggestions for protective iPad 2 cases.  It's also pretty much the email I sent my sister, regarding my nephew, Hunter.


Here's a list of recommendations.  I can't personally vouch for any of them, so I recommend following up on them yourself, but here are some tips based on how I chose mine.

I'm currently using a Switcheasy Canvas.  I started with an Apple Smart Cover, simply because that was all that was available at launch, but I knew I'd be upgrading because it doesn't protect the back side of the iPad.  I did like the fact that I could fold the Smart Cover into a stand, since one of my primary uses is watching video.  I wanted something that would fold into a more stable configuration, since I tend to do a fair bit of watching in bed with the iPad resting on my chest.  Ideally I also wanted something that would utilize the magnetic shut off function the Smart Cover utilizes.  I'm pretty happy with it, but I have been looking into something a bit more drop resistant myself lately, so I've already done a bit of this research.  The big problem I'm having is that most cases designed for good shock absorption are "housing" types, rather than "folio" types; i.e., they enclose the back and sides well, but leave the glass open, and vulnerable, whereas a folio design like the Canvas has a cover that folds over the glass when not in use.  It seems one can have one or the other, but not both.

One of my go-to sites for iPhone / iPod / iPad related reviews is iLounge.com.  For example, they gave my Switcheasy Canvas an A-.

My favorites in terms of something tough and Hunter-proof are the Gumdrop Drop Tech Series for iPad 2  (which iLounge also gave an A-), and the Griffin Survivor for iPad 2.  iLounge has not review the Survivor yet, but GadgetMac gives it a 3.5 / 5.

The Gumdrop case has an integrated screen protector which seems able to resist several direct paintball impacts.  Pitted against the heavy hitter Otterbox and their iPad 2 Defender Series Case, which had its screen destroyed by said paintballs.  I've read mixed reviews of the Otterbox case, despite strong support for its iPhone cases.  Still, iLounge gives it a B-, so it's still a contender.

The Griffin Survivor I would recommend based simply on the crazy stunts their QA team put their products through (though to be fair, most of those are for the iPhone/ iPod touch line of cases).  It was developed to Military standards, so it should hold up pretty well.  Personally an issue I would have is that the rear camera and the speaker are covered by the outer cover.  GadgetMac discusses it in their review; might not be an issue for you.

So here are my recommendations, in my personal order of preference, with links to Amazon.com since you'll probably have to order online, and it's useful to read other people's reviews.

1. Gumdrop Drop Tech Series for iPad 2, $59.95
2. Griffin Survivor for iPad 2, $39.36
3. Otterbox iPad 2 Defender Series Case, $52.48

I came up with a couple more, so the budget option, as well as award for thinking outside the box goes to iBallz, for their...unique solution, $19.95

Also, the Speck iGuy seems tailor made for this sort of thing, and got a B from iLounge, $39.95.

With a bit of tweaking I could easily offer this as a sample of what I can offer.