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Save yourself time, money and heartache by validating your ideas before fully developing them

how do you validate your idea?


Picture this:  

You’re walking the dog or standing in the shower and you have a brainwave of an idea for a new product, course or a new business idea. You get very excited by this and sit down and start fleshing it out and then put it into action.

After many weeks and late nights of work you’re finally ready to launch.  You’re very excited to get your product or business out there so you launch with a big fanfare but sadly to little response.

When we think we know what our audience wants, when we are absolutely certain our idea is a sure-fire winner, when we believe we know best for our clients WE HAVE TO FIRST VALIDATE OUR IDEA.

Now I am guilty as the next person for enacting this scenario.  About six years ago when I decided to create my first online course, I did absolutely no validation because I was so sure that people wanted to know how to start their own business. I even came up with a snappy salesy title of How to start your own business & gain financial freedom within 6-months. And guess what – it flopped.  Undeterred and without learning any lessons, I moved onto my next sure fire million pound making idea (!) which was all about selling. I was absolutely sure that everybody wants to know my secret sauce for selling so I created my next course “Step by step guide for generating new sales for your business” and guess what, another flop! 

How many times was I going to repeat this before I learnt my lesson - which is, we may think we know what our audience wants but unless we go and validate and test our ideas first, we are doomed to a cycle of repeated failure.  And this applies to an online course, a business idea, new product or service, and particularly at the moment, any ideas for pivoting your business.

So let’s backtrack somewhat and rewind to that ‘in the shower’ ah-ha moment. What should you do next?

Coming up with ideas

First of all, we need to take a more scientific, methodical approach to coming up with ideas rather than relying on those ‘in the shower’ moments.  Now of course those ah ha moments can be the inspiration for an idea, but you then need to go and research if the data supports the idea or not.

An obvious first approach would be to Google your idea – does it already exist? (if yes, then good because that tells you there is probably demand for it).  If yes, then is your idea a different variant or is there room for you too?  If no, then what is similar or are you creating something that no one wants and hence, no one has tried to create it before?

You can also use your own data to work out what ideas might fly.  Look at the Analytics data of your website – what content has really resonated with your audience?  How about your email marketing?  What emails got the most ‘opens’ and ‘likes’?

This are all clues or breadcrumbs that will lead you in the right direction.

how do you validate your product

Validation process

Now we have established that our idea has some merit, before we dive head long in turning it into a course or product , we need to do some validation and this validation process will tell us two things: Firstly, it will help us validate if our idea is a goer or not and help us refine the idea and secondly, as part of the validation, we want to presale to at least some of our audience before we even start writing one word or line of code of the product/course.

Now the validation process is designed to give you reasonable certainty that your idea will have a sustainable, growing, paying audience rather than wasting months building a final product or course that nobody will pay for!  The end result of the validation process is confirmation that your idea is viable.  This is confirmed by achieving a desired number of pre-orders or waiting list of customers.

Validation isn’t a guarantee of success and it most certainly isn’t easy. It’s not as simple as putting up a waiting list and hoping people miraculously discover your offering & fork over their hard-earned money for something that doesn’t exist yet (trust me I tried that too!).

Validation is designed to give you your first paying customers and foundation for future growth.

Think of it this way : if you follow the validation process and it turns out that no one is interested in your business idea, product or course, then consider how much time, money and heartache you’re going to save yourself by establishing this at the early stages before you’ve invested too much energy into your idea.

So now hopefully you agree with me that you should slow down to speed up and validate your ideas first let me outline a little bit about the process.

The process

You need a mailing list of at least 200 active contacts before you can start doing this validation so if you don’t have a list of that size I suggest before you embark on any kind of product development you focus on building that list of followers (download my free guide on building your mailing list).  Alternatively, if you decide to validate via one-to-one calls you’ll need at least 60 people to talk to.

From your research you need to write a short (1-3 pages max) description of your business, product or course idea.  Next you need to create a short survey (I use Google Forms for this) to send out to your audience (or to ask over the phone).  In this short survey, one question you will ask is ‘do you want to buy this product/service/course?’

The next task is to create the emails you will send out to your audience – the first asking your reader to read the short description and complete the survey, and the others to follow-up and chase those who didn’t respond to the first emails.

Using your email list (or phone contacts), divide your list into 3 x groups of 50 (or 20 for phone calls). Send out your email to group 1 and a few days later chase any update haven’t responded. Use the feedback from this group to refine your messaging and then rinse and repeat to group 2. Refine your messaging once again and send to group 3. 

Of those who responded, if 10% indicated their interest to buy then you have validated your idea and you can move into fully fleshing out and developing the idea, and focusing on your sales and marketing strategy, knowing that it is something that your audience is interested in.

I know this can feel a little tedious and a laborious process, and one that impedes your excitement to getting your idea launched but trust me if you follow this process you will come out the other side confident that your audience likes and wants your idea rather than assuming you know that they need it.  

Right now this is particularly important because we need to be selling painkillers not vitamins to our audience and this validation process will ensure that you have identified the pain points that your product, service or course can solve for your ideal target customers.

27-page Step-By-Step Guide - How to Identify & Validate Your Idea

If you are interested in a step-step guide on exactly how to do what I outlined in this blog, including the exact emails and survey templates, then grab a copy of my 27-page step-by-step guide on selecting and validating your idea BEFORE you go to market.

Navigating your agency through these uncharted waters

agency growth

We are in fight or flight mode right now. You either sit back and wait and see what happens and let the world happen to you or you get into action mode: regroup and replan. I am hoping you are choosing the latter.

It's a stressful time. We are all in a period of collective mourning: of the people we are losing, of our loss of freedom and all the things we take for granted and in many cases, loss of our clients or worse still, our businesses.

In these uncharted times, we need to focus on what we can control and not on what we can't (which is why I am limiting my exposure to the news and social media to only once a day). We need a plan and it's probably a different plan to the one we were working on 2 months ago. We also need to be listening to our market and ensuring we are truly serving them - and pivoting our businesses, if appropriate.

The businesses who do this and are nimble, are the ones who will survive this uncertain time and come out the other side thriving.

Each year I run a group online coaching programme, in the past it's been a big success. For the last 6-months I have been planning to open the doors to this year's programme today.

But as you know A LOT can happen in a few days in this crazy time we are currently living in and today is definitely very different to how I imagined it would be.

In the spirit of listening, I asked my community what their views were on whether I should still go ahead, and whilst some said I should delay many others felt that with the isolation and uncertainty ahead, getting some external help as well as being able to work with other agency owners, is exactly what they need.

So I have decided to go ahead and that means that the Agency Accelerator Programme for Agency Owners is officially open for registration. BUT I am going to do a few things differently because of Coronavirus:

  • Extend the enrolment period from 8 days to 13 days
  • Offer a 15% discount off the programme (just use '15DISCOUNT' at check out)
  • Offer more flexible payment terms (you can now pay for the programme in 1, 3 or 6 monthly payments)

Read more about the programme here.

Let me explain why I think I can help.....

I started my marketing agency back in the early 1990s during a challenging time (the gulf war) and rapidly grew (before selling up). I started my agency coaching practice in 2007 and then the world hit the financial crisis in 2008 .... and my business thrived.

Now I appreciate we are in completely unchartered waters with current challenges including:

  • Clients cancelling and retainers reducing
  • Moving the office to home working and ensuring staff welfare
  • Clients wanting more for less
  • Challenging cash flow
  • Immediate needs v long term planning - where do you focus your time?

I realised that now more than ever, getting some external support from me and from other agencies is really going to help you navigate these next few months, and that is why I decided to go ahead with the launch.

I am also running a series of free webinars (the first one is tomorrow), so please come and join me online to learn how to navigate these uncharted waters.

All quiet on the business front

business planning

How has your summer been?  Good I hope and a chance to enjoy the sun (when it’s been out!).  My August has been fairly quiet to be honest.  A good chance for me to take stock and focus some time on building my online courses (I have just launched my AtoZ of sales and marketing and am now working on “Customer service excellence” so watch this space).

I am not a believer in the ‘summer being quiet so let’s take our foot of the gas’. I appreciate some industries are seasonal but many aren’t and they only appear so since we believe things will go quiet so we stop marketing, selling, meeting etc and thus it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. I have no evidence that my industry is traditionally quiet in the summer.  Yes of course, people go on holidays and become harder to contact but with enough forward planning we can still have a profitable business during July and August.

The problem with a quiet period is that it causes us to go through big swings of being super busy and then super quiet, and these peaks and troughs are not good for our business, our cashflow or our motivation.

We need to plan for more challenging times by foreseeing them and working harder to avoid these peaks and troughs.  I have written before the importance of balancing how you split your time and in this instance you need to plan effectively.  Of course we can’t always predict what will happen (Brexit for example) but we can work hard to smooth out the peaks and troughs and ensure a consistent level of work.  What does this mean in reality?  Here are 5 tips:

  • If you want to ensure July and August are busy then work hard at your sales and marketing in March/April and May
  • Work out when you are working and when you are not (this is particularly important for the sole traders and start-ups) – don’t just sit at your desk trying to fill your time.  Work hard when you are working and don’t work the other times
  • Schedule your work, your client meetings etc in the weeks you are working and in advance.  Make sure your workload and staffing levels match
  • Plan ahead – know when your prospects are back from holiday and get ready to get busy in September
  • Use down time to get projects done – those things you put off or those new initiatives (for me the online training) that you haven’t had time for

So considering I started this blog post by saying I have had a fairly quiet August, what do I need to take away from this?  Several things really:

  1. We reap what we sow – put a lot of effort into your sales and marketing now and 3-6 months later it will bear fruit
  2. Having a slower client month has given me the breathing space to develop my online presence, something I have been planning to do for a long while
  3. Enjoy the downtime and breathing space before it gets busy in the Autumn!

If you have any other tips I would love to hear them and please get in touch if you want some help planning your business over the next 6 months.