How to quickly validate a business idea
I love talking to people after conferences when I've told them about our [Cutting Edge Knives business](offroadcode.com/cutting-edge-knives "Cutting Edge Knives").
Not because I like to brag about what we've done but because it turns out many of my fellow designers and developers also have an idea that with a little nudge in the right direction could come to life and become a real product too.
Recently at DotYork Conference I spoke to Pete Lambert who I know is a keen road cyclist and he had an idea that he should make cycling caps that suit his needs and potentially those of other cyclists. It had been in his head for a while but it's great to see since speaking to him at the conference and telling him to get moving, he's making prototypes already!
It's not too hard to do and the best bit is that as web designers and developers, you already posess the skills to overcome one of the biggest hurdles small businesses face - validating your idea quickly online.
You don't need much to validate an idea
Sometimes it's easy to overthink it when you've got an idea for something like Pete did with his cycling cap but when you step back a second the beauty is in the simplicity.
He's got a single product he wants to sell, it's one he controls all facets of because it's made by him and as a small "toe in the water" experiment, it's one that can be easily put out there quickly and cheaply to guage interest.
To do that, you need a few simple elements:
1. A product you can feature on a site
You don't even need to have a full warehouse of stock, remember - you're testing an idea so ultimately you just need something you can photograph or write about. You can efficiently guage interest in the product wth a newsletter/stock notification email collection page.
We still "sell" knives we don't currently have in stock because we know people interested in them will sign up to our stock notification email and that those emails have a great conversion rate (usually around 60%). Don't overdo it by having a load of products out of stock though!
2. A simple but clear website/web page
Here's one of the first roadblocks the average small business hits - getting a decent website up and running is still a design and technical challenge and often has a significant cost. You can use the skills of your trade to set up a clear and concise landing page for your business or product in relatively little time.
3. Be ready to sell from day one if you can
The best thing you could do is be ready to sell if you can. We've spent a long time polishing our checkout process and payment (Stripe) gateway but in the beginning, we started with a simple PayPal button.
[!(/media/1130/cek-prototype_600x464.jpg)](/work/cutting-edge-knives "Cutting Edge Knives")
Version 1 of [Cutting Edge Knives](/work/cutting-edge-knives "Cutting Edge Knives") - A few static pages with a PayPal button
The key once again is not to over-think what you're doing - YOU CAN ITERATE ANY TIME - the aim of the exercise is to get the product or idea you want to sell and take it from being an idea in your head to getting people to give you money for it.
That's it, now do it
It sounds simple right? Get a product, sling up a landing page with a PayPal button and ... PROFIT!
The truth is that yes, there is a little more work to it over time but it's clear that there's a lot of people out there with proverbial itches to scratch and I've spoken to many who have told me about an idea that frankly if I'd have thought of it I'd be rolling out a landing page that evening.
These first 3 steps when broken down to their simplest level wouldn't take anyone who reads this site very long to do. You can even look at a simple framework for your landing page and pick up some tips from GoodUI on where to place your buttons.
What not to worry about
Paralysis by analysis often stops people from doing something bold but remember here the aim is to just to validate an idea. You don't have to have a full customer service system in place, don't worry about providing a million products or options, keep it really simple and iterate if you generate interest in your idea.
It may take time to get that interest but again, the idea is that you've not wasted a month building a full eCommerce system for your one product!
Worried someone's done what you're thinking about? Ideally the reason you've got an itch to scratch is that you've found a niche or an existing product or market where things aren't being done as well as you think they could and you can offer something extra.
But what about visitors?
That's a little trickier ... I've fallen for the "if you build it, they'll come" bit before and built things where the analytics have made me cry.
However, even with an incredibly modest amount of ad-words budget you can bring in some relevant traffic and to get you started it's actually quite a good way to validate your idea because it's relevant traffic and not just family on Facebook or friends on Twitter who won't buy anything anyway.
You'll probably need to spend a little money but you don't have to spend a lot. By all means try and spread the word on social media too.
Why scratch that itch?
If your product takes off, it can be a real eye opener in what you can learn. It's also incredibly rewarding to bring a product to a market whether it's one you've made yourself or you've spotted an opportunity to sell something else.
All those people I've spoken to recently who've passionately told me about a product or an idea they think they could sell - give it a go. You may be surprised how easy it is to get started and go from idea to real life sales (or not and if so, just try something else!).