By Derick Martin, CEO, Innovate Services

When I launched Innovate Services into the school catering sector in 2006, we were entering an established market that hadn’t changed its way of operating for years. In fact, I found the way in which educational catering was being delivered to schools and students hadn’t dramatically altered since I was attending school, and that was some 30 years ago!

But I wasn’t about to let that phase me, just because things have been done that way for years, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right way or that there isn’t a more efficient way. Taking best practice from businesses I had run in the retail space, ranging from fast food, bakeries and IT, and looking at the school catering model from a different perspective, my business partner and I identified a glaring gap in the market for a radically different approach. Like most business ventures, it didn’t come without risk, but we did our homework, went ahead and launched.

By taking a very different view, and a leap of faith, into an established arena we’ve built up a business that is growing at around 100% year-on-year in just five years. So don’t be put off setting up your stall in an already crowded market — but here are some tips on what you need to succeed.

The key word is Research

You’ve had that eureka moment and come up with a business idea, before you get carried away it is vital that you undertake detailed market research in order to test the viability of your concept. Look at your potential customers, their buying trends, market conditions and competitors. Are you confident that you can fill a market need, you know how to reach it and your efforts will pay off. If the answer is yes to all three you can go forward with confidence.

Preparation & The Four Big Ps

In an established market you need to be acutely aware of your competition and understand them. Look closely at their product, placement, pricing and promotion strategies. Differentiation is important, but you have to fully understand the potential of the market you are planning to launch into.

Develop a strong team

It is important to have a strong and committed team around you to drive the business forward. Appointing a core team early that have the right skill-set and background is high on the agenda. It maximises their ownership and buy-in to the business and what they can contribute. This will pay dividends in the long-term. Setting up a business can be a lonely occupation — so having experts on board you can trust eases the burden.

Don’t be scared to be different

If you look at other businesses that have successfully entered an established market and made a success, it often comes as a result of surprising the competition by adopting a radical way of thinking. One good example here is Dyson. By coming along with a completely new innovation, it challenged existing vacuum cleaning suppliers, who had perhaps become complacent with their new product development and were not ‘thinking out of the box’ (or, in their case, out of the bag). Spot a gap and run with it!

M is for Marketing

Don’t forget that marketing is vital in promoting your new business. Without getting the message out — it doesn’t matter how good your business — no-one will know it is there. So don’t leave this piece of the jigsaw until the last minute. Identify where your customers are, how they consume their news and consider what marketing tactics would be the most appropriate, based on your audience, and of course, budget. Map out what makes your business different and make the most of your unique selling points.

The elephant and the mouse

As a new market entrant, you will have the benefit of being small, nimble and faster on your feet than the larger established corporations that operate in your sector, so use this to your advantage and promote the benefits of working with an innovative start-up who knows its clients personally and has an open-door policy.

Be bold and make change happen!

There is a saying that reads: “If you always do, what you always did, you’ll always get, what you always got.” Change is a good thing and just because an industry has been operating in a particular way for a period of time, it doesn’t mean that identifying a new approach will not work. It’s all about being confident in your business, your products or services and challenging conventions!