So you have a great idea for a new product or solution and you think it will be a sure-fire hit.
Not so fast. To find out if your idea has traction, you need to test it.
It is an often-overlooked step that can help you refine your offering and ensure a successful go-to-market strategy. So before you put pen to paper and write your business plan, get out there and assess the validity of your product.
Here are six low cost tips on how to best test your business idea:
- Find your idea’s fatal flaw.
It is important to banish the idea that your product or solution is perfect. It isn’t. It may have one, two, or multiple flaws. Ask yourself the following question:
“What am I missing? What possible pitfalls am I not seeing? How might my competitors respond? What makes me think that my business or product idea will work when others do not?”
Once you have identified the flaws of your product or solution, find a way to fix them.
- Test outside your network.
There is a lot of advice out there about testing your idea on friends and family. Not always. Jeanne Rossomme of SCORE recommends (link is external) that entrepreneurs refrain from soliciting input from their immediate network, including their team. Instead focus on those whose opinion matters: Find the target market.
One way to do this is to crowdsource your market research. Form a focus group. This can be done virtually or in-person. Simply advertise for volunteers. Craigslist is a good place to start. Then provide these people with free samples of your product to test.
Alternatively, assemble your focus group in one place and have them try out your product alongside the competition’s and see what results you get.
If your idea is less tangible or you do not have a prototype in place, walk the streets and find out what people want. What is missing in their market? What is the competition not providing? If your solution was available to them, would they take advantage of it?
- Tweak it, but not too much.
As you test your idea you will encounter lots of feedback. In many cases, it can be overwhelming. This is especially true if you are trying to get investment or are pitching a concept or prototype to a new client—particularly one who promises to buy it in bulk.
It can be tempting to edit your idea to the point where it becomes so customized to the needs of a single customer, that you rule yourself out of the rest of the market or waste precious resources trying to check all boxes.
Instead focus on the must-haves that translate well across several markets or customer profiles. There is plenty of time for customized flavors of your idea down the line once you make a profit and can start diversifying.
- Perfect your elevator pitch
You see this all the time on television shows like Shark Tank. You need to pitch your idea in 30 seconds or less. What challenge does your product address? How? How is it different to the competition? What’s your differentiator? And what is the outcome for the buying customer?
People buy outcomes, not products. Your elevator pitch is something you will take with you for the lifetime of the idea—whether you are pitching to investors, customers, manning a tradeshow boot or briefing a marketing agency.
- Create a mini-version of your idea
Creating a full-blown version of your idea can be expensive. Pat Flynn, the author of Smart Passive Income, has some great ideas for creating a mini-version of your idea to test the market. He uses the example of the food truck industry, which is often used as a platform to test an idea, concept and menu before the owner commits to building a bricks and mortar restaurant. But the theory can be applied to other industries too.
If you run a hair salon and want to start a massage therapy business at a new location, you could test demand by starting small. Dedicate a small area of your current location to provide the new service on a part-time basis. Likewise, if your product can be experienced without launching a full-fledged version, such as a piece of software, music, literature and so on, test it as such.
- Run dummy marketing campaigns.
This is an increasingly popular and effective way to gauge market demand. Promote your idea for a product or service as if it is already available on the market.
One way to do this, suggests entrepreneur advisor Evelio Pereira of Epicster.com, is to create a landing page to promote your idea. This could be hosted on your website or on a new domain. Include sales information, product/solution features, etc. Be sure to include a “buy now” or “learn more” button.
Obviously you have nothing to sell yet so when the site visitor clicks through, take them to a page featuring the message that the product is not available yet but if they fill in the form they will be notified when it is launched.
You can use various outlets to promote the page. Perhaps you run an email marketing campaign to your existing customers. Or, if you have the budget, invest in Facebook ads (targeted to your geo-location and demographic) or Google Adwords or Bing Ads. Your click through data will also provide valuable insight into whether your idea is in demand.
Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer and marketing communications consultant. Caron has worked with organizations including the Small Business Administration (SBA.gov) and private companies to promote essential resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley