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.
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:
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.
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.
- Facebook & LinkedIn groups
- Google+ communities
- Forums & Reddit boards
Taking this phase offline by attending relevant events, reading industry magazines & even doing a spot of subtle eavesdropping is also essential.
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:
- Google Trends
- Google Keyword Tool
- Google Search
- 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
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’
GOOGLE KEYWORD TOOL
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
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
FACEBOOK AD TOOL
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.
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!