OK, having started a couple of businesses myself, I am a big proponent of getting plenty of advice and feedback before launching. It doesn’t mean I believe the entrepreneur should listen to everyone who gives “advice.” FedEx’s Fred Smith’s college paper getting a C grade on the idea for the overnight delivery services serves as good warning against that. That being said, in addition to the advice from Small Business Development Center and Rocket Ventures, there are five other places I would recommend to go to for input:
SCORE – SCORE, the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, is a national nonprofit network of 364 chapters and 13,000+ volunteers started in 1964 in Virginia to help provide advice, mentoring and tools to entrepreneurs and small business owners. The Northwest Ohio SCORE, covering Seneca County and 12 other counties in the region, is located in Toledo and provides about 1200 free, confidential counseling services a year through its face-to-face, seminars, and online tools.
Chamber of Commerce – although the Chamber is best known for helping businesses market themselves and save money through its discounts, I also recommend it as a good place to get input about anyone’s prospective business. The Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce has 300 business members and has a good pulse on the local marketplace. I have found John Detwiler and Deb Martorana are always willing to give an entrepreneur or small business owner their perspective.
Specialty Assistance Centers – there are some very good specialty assistance centers that might be worth a conversation and/or a visit if one is considering starting a business. Minority and/or women-owned businesses should check in with David Wood at the Minority Business Assistance Center (MBAC) in Toledo. Manufacturers should check in with Charlie Chambers at the Manufacturing and Technology Small Business Development Center (MTSBDC) and check out the Edison Technology Centers throughout the state. Businesses looking to sell to the government (local, state, federal) should speak with the Procurement Technical Assistance Center. Jim Laipply in Columbus heads that up and will be happy to direct you to the closest PTAC.
Marketplace – perhaps the best source for input, I recommend going to businesses in similar industries with whom you will not be competing as well as to prospective customers. Networking here is key (Chamber, Professional Associations, personal network) as well as some cold/warm calling. Don’t be afraid to go to your local library to access the business databases through Reference USA as well.
Professional Associations – should be considered for both the industry the new company will be in as well as for prospective customers. Several lists online, including The Planning Shop’s.
Books, Articles, Videos – I am a big proponent of continual learning. Here are a few good resources to get you started as you build you virtual or literal library: Lifehacks’ 20 Books to Read Before You Start Your Own Business, Y Combinator Startup Libary, 11 Books Startup Founders Should Read, fortunepick’s List of Must-Read Books for Startups and Entrepreneurs. On YouTube, you can hardly go wrong with videos by Guy Kawasaki, TED talks, 10 YouTube Videos Every Entrepreneur Should Watch.