Instead of putting off the thought “I should start a business” until one day in the distant future, why don’t you take an action today that can be the first step in actually creating something?
Most people think that when you create a business you have to start with a finely tuned idea, move onto a lengthy business plan, get funding, hire people, move into an office, build the product, and finally go sell it to your customers.
Not only is that idea totally backwards – but it makes starting your own business seem as insurmountable as summiting Mount Everest.
The reality is – to start a business you don’t really need a grand idea and you don’t need to kick everything into full gear and dedicate your life to pursuing it.
The first and only real thing you need is a customer. Once you have a customer you are officially in business and until you do – you most certainly are not.
Here is a quote from Dane Maxwell – a successful web entrepreneur who makes over $400k/year with a largely automated online business.
” There’s only one thing you need to start a business, one thing. And it’s not a Twitter page. It’s not a Facebook page. It’s not a website. It’s not a company phone number. It’s not a logo. It’s not a business plan. It’s definitely not venture capital. It’s a paying customer, that’s the only thing you need to start a business.
Once you realize that, you can just go start doing things that are just important. You can do the least amount of work possible to sell that thing to a customer. So, if you only need a paying customer to start a business, then you don’t really even need an idea for a product because you can just ask them what their problems are, which is exactly how all of my products are built. I didn’t come up with any of the ideas on my own.”
-Dane Maxwell on Mixergy.com
The notion of finding a grand idea and throwing all your resources behind it is nothing more than an entrepreneurial fairytale. I like to call this the “Field of Dreams” approach to starting a business. Build it and pray that they come.
People have a natural inclination to build something and then only once its completed they go about attempting to sell it.
More small businesses have failed because of this oversight than any other factor. You quite simply should never build a business before you already KNOW that customers are going to come and that they want to gobble up whatever you have to offer them. The key is to “pre-sell” as much as possible to minimize your risk.
Your probably wondering – how on earth would I know my customers want the product before I build the product itself?
You can eliminate a tremendous amount of risk and save yourself a major headache by using a little concept called micro-testing. Think of this as floating a trial balloon – testing our your ideas as simply and cheaply as possible to see what sticks and what stinks.
One of the biggest keys to success in modern business is understanding the idea that no one truly knows what customers want and the only way to find out is to test, test, test until you find what people gravitate to and what they don’t.
There is no hard and fast method of micro-testing – but here is a simple strategy that can test out many different ideas.
Set up a basic one page website indicating you may offer XYZ and asking people to sign up with their e-mails if they are interested in hearing more.
Be straightforward and simply tell people – I am going to offer XYZ if we have enough interest – please sign up if you want to stay tuned for more updates. It can be software, a book, a digital learning module, or a physical product. It doesn’t matter.
I took 17 minutes to set up this example page on a great landing page service called Unbounce. Please note – this is not a real class – the page is merely an example!
The next step is to try and drive traffic to the site – you can either use social media assets like twitter or facebook, share it with the community you are targeting specifically through personal engagement or use limited paid traffic with Google adwords.
If you set up a page and a week or two passes with nothing but tumbleweeds – you have a pretty good indication that no one wanted to buy that product. Great. Move on with your life and count your blessings that you spent 45 minutes setting up a test campaign instead of 3 months building a piece of software or writing an ebook that no one wanted.
Another great example – what if you are thinking of starting a consulting business? Instead of taking days, weeks, and months to start the business and go out looking for customers – take a few days and write a 40 page white paper on the particular problem you want to solve. Offer it for free or for a small fee and see if you can drum up a lot of interest. If you collect all the emails of those who download the white paper – not only do you know there is interest but now you have a list of prospective clients.
The great thing about micro testing is that it is such a simple and effective tactic. You can field test hundreds of ideas – and once something sticks you can double down and invest in that idea.
Micro-testing is based on a process known as Customer Development – finding your customers before you create the business. It is an essential step in any business venture, no matter how large or small.
You don’t have to sit around on your couch waiting for “the one big idea” – think of something now – and test it. Maybe no one cares and your website will get 3 hits – maybe that idea turns into a goldmine. You will never know until you put it out there and see how people respond.
I wanted to finish by showing you an eye opening blog post comparing Ice Cream Gloves and Snuggies. The Ice Cream Glove is a joke product from a sketch in the Ali G show but the Snuggie is a real commercial success that has sold millions of units. Read this post and watch the videos – the ridiculousness of the example really drives the point home.
You will never know if your idea is genius or a giant flop – an idea that took you 30 seconds to cook up and 30 minutes to put online – could serve as the foundation for a real business. Only the customer knows for sure.