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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
You might have noticed that I haven’t written a blog in a while. During August (a traditionally quieter month for my face to face coaching work), I launched myself head first into further developing and marketing my online courses. That has meant shooting videos, webinars and Facebook lives, creating landing pages, new eBooks and using advertising. Phew!
It’s been an interesting journey, frustrating at times but most enlightening and I have learned a ton. I am still ploughing on and applying all I am learning to more effectively engage with my target audience.
In case you are thinking about venturing into the world of online sales and courses, here are my 5 top learnings, that I thought I would share with you…
“Earn 6-figure sums in your sleep” they claimed. The allure of earning passive income (i.e. income that isn’t earned by selling your time) is very tempting but the truth is that for every £ you earn you will be initially spending £££. The stories you read about people making a lot of money are either the 0.01% or a lot of rubbish!
Following on from point 1 – the online world is full of a lot of hype and people claiming they have made a fortune and they can teach you how to. Don’t believe a word of it. At times it reads like pyramid selling. Any promise that seems too good to be true – almost always is (too good to be true)! The truth is you have to work super hard, and those that are successful have a team of people supporting them and are consistently working at it.
Whether you like it or not, Facebook is a great tool to reach your target audience (2.27 billon active users). I worked with a coach this summer and he was keen for me to use Facebook as my main channel to market. At first, I was very resistant (after all I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and watch videos of people’s pets doing silly things!) but I slowly came around to the idea of Facebook as a business tool and found many groups that contain my target audience. I even created my own closed group (you can join here).
Once you get your head around using Facebook as a business development tool you will then start considering how to use Facebook advertising. My caution here though is that you need to know what you are doing if you are going to start advertising. It is super sophisticated and can easily suck up a lot of money. There are 2 things you need to get right:
So, I admit it, I am fairly late to the game with marketing online and the truth is there are a million and one people already doing it (well actually more!) so you have to find a way to cut through the hype and noise. The best way to do this is to be clear about your niche and the value you are offering that niche. Try and be different and not look like everyone else (and that can be hard) and truly offer some value to your audience – that way they will want to follow you and as you build you audience you can then offer more value and ultimately sell to them. This is a long game and not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. So, if you venture into it, then be prepared to stick at it!
I hope this doesn’t paint too bleak a picture. I wanted to share a candid view of my experiences thus far. All these learnings have not deterred me from continuing on. On the contrary – I am just focused on doing it better. I am working on a new mega course right now (“The Agency Mastermind Programme – start, grow and scale (and sell) your agency”) and also adding new content to my best selling course on client and account management. I am also reviewing my landing pages and ads, and also revisiting my own website – so lots going on.
I know this is a topic that many are interested in, so if you want to have a chat then get in touch.
Over the past 4 months I have been developing my first online coaching course – (this first course focuses on starting your own business. My plan is to build a library of both paid for and free content to offer my customers and subscribers.
It’s been a steep learning curve. I am used to selling my time so it’s been a ‘low volume, high value’ sale. Moving into a very competitive space, it’s the opposite: “high volume and low price point.’ And not only that, I am developing a learning management system for my own website so I am having to get technical!
I certainly have no intentions that this will ever replace my face to face coaching and training but it does give me a much wider reach and another channel to market. If this sounds all very exciting then be aware of shiny new object syndrome. This is my 3rd product (my first being face to face coaching, my second being training) and it has taken me 10 years of coaching to reach the point of wanting to develop a new product – it certainly isn’t a ‘get rich quick’ scheme that many hope it will be!
I am developing this project in conjunction with video production company (and long standing client), Snow Digital – we think we can produce much higher quality videos than the majority of ‘speak over a PowerPoint slide’ courses that are currently out there. But of course developing a good course is just the start so now we turn our attention to marketing it. There is a ton of information out there about the best way to win new customers. It can be really overwhelming but regardless of that you have to work hard to get new customers and subscribers. It amazes me how many people think you can you put a product (or website) online and expect an influx of customers/enquiries – and this is where this blog turns into my usual business advice type of commentary: No matter how good your product or service, you have to work really hard to find your market.
We realise that producing a great course is just the start. Right now we are working hard to get ‘students’ and reviews (which is why I am offering you access to the course for free – if you find it useful, please leave a review). At the time of writing this, in one week we have had nearly 400 enrollments and 9 reviews. We are focusing on targeting forums and groups that we know will have some of the issues discussed in the course and we are even venturing into the world of Facebook and LinkedIn advertising (although the jury is out on that one). The key for us (and for you) is to be able to measure the effectiveness of each approach and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. We (you) also need to build your audience and this is where offering free content helps – because it gives a ‘taste of you’ and helps build credibility (and if you watch this course you will learn that no one buys anything unless the seller first builds credibility).
I am sure I will be writing more about this in the coming months, we have 3 more courses in the planning stages including my first totally free course. I would love to hear from you, especially if you have launched any kind of online product (help me avoid some of the pitfalls!) so please get in touch or leave a comment.