Got a great idea for a new online business but unsure of what to do next? Good news: In this two-part article, you’ll find a few helpful hints on when and how to launch your idea and, in Part 2, some specific tools you can use to make your idea a real, live product.
It seems like everyone we know—our friends, friends of friends, existing customers, new clients—turns to us for help launching their brand new business idea. As service providers and technical consultants, we are obviously thrilled to develop their websites. But we don’t just care about the technical side of startups; we realized a long time ago that we can help our customers find greater success by weighing in on their ideas, shaping their business goals and guiding implementation.
After listening to tons of cool ideas and business models, we’ve noticed some key things that good ideas have in common…and some red flags for ideas that ought to be trashed.
So before you dive into launching a site and implementing a business plan, follow these basic steps to see if your new idea has staying power.
Two weeks rule
When we first come up with a new idea, we’re so excited and optimistic that we overlook potential flaws—which become much more obvious with time. Better to be patient than to put time, money and energy into launching something that was never going to be viable.
That’s why we highly recommend that all our customers sit on their ideas for at least two weeks before moving forward. And guess what? Eighty percent of them move away from their original ideas. We’re OK with that!
No, we won’t make any money on those projects, but we are saved from working on a project that will fizzle out before becoming profitable. And our customers save money and energy, which they can spend instead on formulating other, much better ideas.
We apply the Two Weeks Rule to more than just new business ideas. Every web development milestone or new website feature, service or product is subject to the same rule. In other words, we don’t just do what clients tell us to do. We work with clients to do what will bring them the most success.
That’s how we’ve come to recommend the Two Weeks Rule to filter out not-so-good ideas and keep those that will really fill a need.
Are you solving a problem that actually exists? So it’s a real problem, but are people looking for a solution? Who are these people? Is your idea the solution they want? Is it the right kind of solution? Would anyone pay for it?
So many questions! It would be really nice if you could find out the answers before putting your idea on the market.
You might ask, “How is it possible to know the answers before my idea is released?” If so, you’re partially right—you never know for sure how consumers will respond until your product is live.
But instead of taking a shot in the dark and pouring money and time into an idea that no one’s willing to pay for, we suggest that you try to find some of those answers before you get too far along in the process. The easiest way is to ask friends, colleagues and existing customers for input. But they might not be the best sampling. You need to approach people within your target audience, especially people who don’t know you already.
Look for potential customers in online forums and discussion groups, and approach offline businesses who would be your key clients. Ask for their ideas and suggestions on your potential project. Their answers won’t give you 100 percent confidence, but you will get authentic, valuable feedback that may even halt your project.
But if the research looks positive and you want to keep testing your idea…
Build your audience
Start gathering people who might be interested in your idea. Publish regular blog posts with helpful topics for your target audience. Mix it up with guest posts. Add an email subscription form and see how fast your email database grows. Become active on social media and promote your idea across multiple networks.
You might say, “But it’ll take months of work to cultivate all those platforms.” Yes, exactly!
If you can’t find the time and energy to attract, at the very least, a few hundred interested people, then how are you going to sustain your business in the long run?
And no matter what, the time you spend building an audience won’t be wasted. If people don’t respond, you’ll know that your idea may not be as good as you initially thought. On the other hand, if you do stir up interest, you’ll already have fans ready to support (and buy) your product when it’s launched.
Check out this article for more details on building an audience and how to successfully use content, email and social media marketing.
Prototype and MVP
If you’ve done the above tests and are still convinced that your idea is worth the effort, then it’s time to define the core functionality of your product.
Before adding all the bells and whistles to your product, you need to determine the single most important thing it should do in order to provide a solution for your customers. This is called minimum viable product, or MVP. It’s the set of functions and features that are required to make your product useful at the most basic level.
If you can’t come up with a limited set of features—or better, a single feature—then that’s a red flag that your idea needs rethinking. So take your time and focus on finding that one thing your product must be able to do.
Then, with a little money, you need to test the market with a raw version of your product. The sooner you get it out the door, the more time you’ll have to gather real feedback, make adjustments to your product and increase your chances of success. Speed is key. Spending one or two years in initial development will exhaust your budget, drain your energy and ultimately kill your idea before a single user ever gets the opportunity to try it.
So don’t spend too much time thinking about nice-to-have features, scaling your product and other cool buzzwords you hear on Shark Tank. You need to make it quick and dirty. This is called prototyping. In most cases, prototyping sets you up for success, while delaying your product launch in order to plan for future scaling is just a waste of your time. Instead, use cheap, simple materials that will allow you to make the product fast with the minimum requirements. Later you’ll be able to adjust, migrate and update.
How can you create a prototype more quickly? What tools should you use? We’ll answer those questions in next week’s article. Don’t miss it—subscribe to our newsletter below.
The SoftFormance team is pretty confident that if you apply at least half the rules explained above to every new business idea, any ideas that pass will be five times more likely to go live and eventually earn you money!
And remember, ideas by themselves are worth nothing. Execution defines success.
Do you have other “rules” for validating your ideas before implementation? Share with us in the comments below!