6 Free (or low cost) ways to prove your business idea is a winner

Test your business idea

I am a great advocate of testing your idea in the market if possible prior to launch. [Tweet this]  The benefits of doing this are that you get a lot of information that will help you build a strong business, such as:

  • You get more information about your target market – who they are and what they want.
  • You may get some sales!!
  • You can refine your business model before things are really fixed and its hard to change.
Test your business idea

Photo by bigyahu, Creative commons licence, Flickr.com

Here are some ideas to help you do that:

  1. Create a website using a free service such as WordPressWeebly or Wix. (Don’t ask me why they all start with ‘W’!)  Once your business is up and going, you will want to go with a website solution that gives you more flexibility and control but for testing your idea, these will do fine.
  2. Create an online survey to collect feedback from potential customers. Surveymonkey has a free version and also a cheap paid version with more functionality. It’s pretty easy to use. There are other free services also.
  3. Use eBay to test selling products. I know someone who tested a very specialised niche information product and successfully sold it on eBay before it was even created. (After that of course, he had to create it quickly!) The benefit was that he proved there was a demand for it.
  4. I got the first Ready Set Startup course off the ground by emailing my contacts and by posting a note in my Facebook status – followed by writing like mad to deliver it. Again, I did the large task of creating the product after I had done the easier task that proved there was some demand – and I spent nothing on marketing!
  5. Direct mail to potential customers can also be an option for some businesses. This may not be free but can work quite well and be done fairly cheaply, especially if you have a service type business based in a particular area. For example, a mobile hairdresser I know started her business by creating and printing some flyers on her home computer and dropping them in letterboxes near where she lived.
  6. Going to speak to people at an industry association can also be valuable. I tested an idea once by going to speak to a group of 30 accountants about a proposed service for them at one of their monthly professional development meetings. They were happy to hear what I was proposing and to give me feedback. The people who work at Industry Associations can also be a valuable source of feedback.

The idea is to test whether people will actually buy your product or service. The most accurate way to test this is of course to ask them to hand over cash! This will ensure you get their honest opinion.

What other techniques have you used to test your business ideas that have been successful?

If you’ve found this helpful, you’ll love my video series on how to use my proven process to create great business ideas that give you an unfair advantage. Click on the banner below to get access.

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Comments

  1. Delighted to see you used Boy9’s photo on your blog post (thanks for leaving the comment on the Flickr page). I’m particularly pleased because I work in a related area, helping web startup teams with communication and product strategy (see my work on http://www.doingwords.com).

    Cheers!

    • Susan says:

      Thanks for making the photo available through Creative Commons license Alan. It’s perfect!
      Sounds like we should have a chat sometime!

  2. Really liked the post.. To every entrepreneur his/her idea is very dear but getting the idea tested gives an idea bout the reality and strong confidence to pursue it.

    • So true, Ashish. There is nothing like testing your idea to give you a reality check – and confidence in the direction you are going – or information to make changes.

  3. I just tried the Facebook approach, and have already gotten a ton of useful feedback in the first 15 minutes. Thanks for the idea. Time to take it to the larger web!

  4. Another thing I always recommend for really fast test traffic is to create a simple and very (very!) low budget adwords campaign. I found it helps to force founders identify their target market (even if they never actually activate the campaign) and then lets you experiment with marketing language incredibly quickly. Of course, it also lets you test the effectiveness of your funnel (from ad to landing page to conversion) in a cheap way before you really rev up marketing.
    Creating the survey or web page is great… but then relying only on social posts to drive traffic can limit the reach of your early tests to only your network, which gives questionable results. An ad campaign lets you reach broader, but also more specific audiences to test the response of your message.
    Just started watching your site – nice work!

    • Thanks for sharing Jonathan.

      That is a great strategy. Do you think every idea can be tested this way or are there some ideas that are not readily testable via adwords? I’m thinking of business models that have an offline component.

  5. Alphan says:

    I don’t agree with the #2 above. Surveys are the most unreliable way of testing your business idea and always they have a poor return rate. I’d strongly suggest face-to-face interviews in order to validate ideas.

    • Thanks for the comment Alphan. Both surveys and face to face interviews can be useful ways of collecting data depending on the situation and audience.

  6. Hey Susan, nice starting list!

    Another little trick I saw for really, really early validation is to look at he demand on twitter from early adopters for your value proposition.

    This is particularly fun if you’re at the very early “whiteboard” stages and you might have a few different ideas for how to tackle your particular problem/market:

    1) Create a twitter account for each startup. Add a proper avatar, background, description
    2) On each account, follow 2,000 people who are your absolute perfect target customer (geography, size, industry etc.)
    3) Over the next month, see how many people follow you back

    What This Does:

    It’s just an indicator as to how awesome your short value proposition sounds. Which is as good as you’re going to get until you have a landing page, product screenshots, testimonials , working demo… etc.

    The above is flaky if your target customer aren’t very tech savvy… but there are always front-runners, so even if you’re building a platform for Employment Solicitors to manage cases more effectively, target the more digital-savvy firms first :)

    Also for the early website, don’t forget about LaunchRock & Unbounce

    • Interesting idea Liam. I would take Twitter follows with a big grain of salt though. The reason why is that people follow accounts on Twitter for 2 reasons: one is because they want a follow back and the second is because they may be interested in what the person they are following has to say. They also make their decision based on how many other people are following, the types of tweets you are broadcasting, whether they like your profile picture etc.

      That means that there is a lot of noise in the Twitter following ie. They are not following just because they are really interested in you as they would be if they were giving you an email address – or even better $$.

      However, as you say, this strategy could be used as a very early indicator for testing. I would suggest that no follow backs would definitely be a signal that you have a problem but followers don’t indicate a green light – unless your account went absolutely viral of course.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Jones of Ready Set Startup! also voice the same idea. She mentions that she is a great advocate of testing an idea in the market prior to […]

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