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The Lean Approach to Validating Your Business Idea

As freelancers and small business owners, coming up with business ideas isn’t the problem. Rather it’s corralling those ideas into something resembling order & then moving forward with the good ones that presents the real challenge.

Got an idea for your freelance business but not sure if you can make money with it? Here's the easy approach to figuring it out.

But what is a ‘good’ idea when it comes to your unique business and how do you find out whether the people you want to serve will actually put their card details in and hit ‘Buy’?

Why ‘research, research, research’ is only half the story

Aside from being the procrastinating freelancer’s best friend/arch nemesis, research is touted as the key to validating your business idea. And while there’s a lot of truth to that, research needs to be paired with specific, goal-oriented action if it’s going to be of any real use.

Whether it’s driven by excitement or the desire to be right, research often simply results in us seeing exactly what we want to see in the data we collect.

And as Paul Graham wrote in ‘How To Get Startup Ideas’:

“So many founders build things no one wants because they begin by trying to think of [business] ideas, which often yields bad ideas that sound plausible enough to fool you into working on them”

We then run our ideas past others and, as Graham puts it,

“[People] don’t say “I would never use this.” They say “Yeah, maybe I could see myself using something like that.”

Minimise the risk by going ‘Lean’

While there are no certainties in the life of a freelancer or small business owner (bar uncertainty… and, um, taxes), a ‘lean’ approach to validating your business idea is the best way to gauge demand before going all-in.

Finding validation with the ’MVP’ approach

In ‘The Lean Startup’, Eric Ries describes the Minimum Viable Product or ‘MVP’ as:

“A product which has just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development.”

Applying this MVP approach to validating your business idea would therefore involve:

  • Selecting a target audience
  • Determining a pressing problem that audience is facing
  • Coming up with an idea for a product/service which (potentially) solves that problem
  • Following the steps below to gauge demand

A step-by-step plan to gauge demand for your business idea

“Try to please everybody and you’ll end up pleasing no-one”

STEP 1: Do the people I serve want & need what I’m offering?

Answering this (vital) question with a lean approach is a 3-stage process in which you:

  • Ask
  • Watch
  • Research

1. Ask
Do people want what you’ve got? Start by putting the question to them. Keep in mind though that the answers you receive are only an initial indicator of interest.

If you offer services, ask your existing & past clients which of your services they consider indispensable. Already have an email list? Send out a survey asking which of your services are most valuable.

2. Watch
For all of its incredible potential to distract, the internet is indispensable when it comes to validating your business idea.

Through the online version of people-watching, you can determine what your target audience is discussing, struggling with, asking questions about & seeking solutions to.

Sources include:

  • Facebook & LinkedIn groups
  • Google+ communities
  • Forums & Reddit boards
  • Quora

Taking this phase offline by attending relevant events, reading industry magazines & even doing a spot of subtle eavesdropping is also essential.

3. Research
Downplaying research was cheeky – but it was simply to illustrate that validating your business idea is multifaceted – but make no mistake, thorough research is still the foundational aspect.

While there are countless paid research tools on the market, Google & Facebook’s own tools are both extremely effective and, in the spirit of the lean approach, free.

The tools you’ll be using are:

  1. Google Trends
  2. Google Keyword Tool
  3. Google Search
  4. Facebook Ad Tool

STEP 2: What tools can I use to validate my research?


Google Trends allows you to search for & compare multiple terms. We searched for:

  • Direct response copywriting
  • Freelance copywriting
  • Web copywriting
Google Trends search volume

Search volume and overall trends in Google Trends

Google Trends search interest by region

Google Trends also gives an indication of where people are searching for your chosen term

We found an overall downward trend for both ‘direct response copywriting’ and ‘web copywriting’ while ‘freelance copywriting’ was resurgent. We’re moving forward with ‘freelance copywriting’


Entering the winning term into Google’s Keyword Tool will show:

  • The number of people searching for the term
  • The level of (advertising) competition for that term
  • Related terms that could spark an additional (or replacement) business idea
Monthly search volume in Google Keyword Tool

Monthly search volume in Google Keyword Tool for the term ‘freelance copywriter’

Google Keyword Tool search volume

Search volume for terms related to ‘freelance copywriter’


Using Google’s core search functionality gives you a high-level picture of the competition & whether there are established brands/service providers, which can:

  • Indicate the existing demand for a product/service
  • Give you insight into the likelihood of you carving a spot in the market for your business


Your research so far will have given you:

  • A clear picture of who you want to serve
  • A good idea of the product/service you want to offer

Using Facebook’s Ad Tool will enable you to combine those 2 pieces of info to get more granular and determine whether there is sufficient demand to justify dedicating your time to your business idea.


Defining audience in Facebook Ad Tool

Facebook’s Ad Tool allows you to go granular with your targeting

Say for example you determined that you’d like to offer freelance copywriting services to women between 18-33 who:

  • Are based in the UK
  • Are a CEO/Founder/Owner
  • Are interested in health, wellness & nutrition
  • Run a small, independent business

You would be able to determine that there is a large enough pool of possible clients to justify your business idea.

While validating your business idea doesn’t offer you any guarantees about whether or not the business will work, it’s a relatively small upfront time investment that can save you a lot of time, effort, course correction and rocking back and forth in despair on the bathroom at midnight!

James Longley & Sveta Kornienko Sveta Kornienko & James Longley are the team behind Healthpreneur, a London-based marketing consultancy that focuses on helping health coaches & health brands reach & impact the lives of more people by harnessing the power of online marketing. Specialising in email marketing, website copy and content strategy they’re fighting the good fight on Instagram @healthpreneuronline & on Twitter @HealthpreneurUK

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