Last year, I embarked upon a personal challenge to validate a business idea in 30 days.
To make it even more difficult, it was a random idea chosen by my readers. They asked me to do it without using my existing website, traffic and business connections and without spending more than 20 hours per week on the project. On top of that, I limited myself to spending no more than $500 validating this idea.
The experiment was a success
In just two weeks, I built an email list of 565 subscribers without having an actual website. Then, I reached out to a handful of those subscribers and pre-sold 12 copies of a book that didn’t even exist yet, all in less than 30 days. I wrote about the experiment in real-time with in-depth weekly updates, successes, failures and lessons learned along the way, right here in my validation challenge.
Today, I want to share with you the five most effective ways to validate a business idea – quickly and without breaking the bank, based on what I learned through this experiment and from building several other businesses over the years.
1Join an online community
All great business ideas come from solving your biggest frustrations; the ones are also facing with similar obstacles. Want to uncover which problems you could get paid to help people solve? Join a topically relevant group on Facebook, LinkedIn or Slack, where members all have a shared interest.
Start asking genuine questions. Determine what their biggest challenges are in your topic area. Through these conversations, you’ll hear first-hand from your target customers exactly what they want. This gives you an incredible opportunity to create something more valuable, effective and unique to satisfy their needs in ways that others currently are not.
The logic behind guest posting is simple. Get a preview of your upcoming solution, the idea you want to validate, published and highlighted on a more popular website that already has your existing audience built-in.
Within your guest post on the same topic as the idea you want to validate, include links back to where readers can have the opportunity to learn more about what you’re building.
When I wanted to validate the idea for my first online course teaching people how to build a side business, I spent countless hours landing my first guest posts on blogs like Buffer, CreativeLive, The Daily Muse and other destinations, where I knew my audience was already reading.
Shortly after sending a cold email pitch to a writer at Buffer, my first guest post about finding meaningful work went live and in less than a week I’d amassed a couple hundred email subscribers that wanted updates on my course. The phone, email and Skype conversations I had with those early subscribers laid the foundation for the community I’ve grown and the products I’ve built.
If you’re willing to allocate a budget of $100 to $200 for driving paid traffic to your landing page through Facebook Ads, you can expect to get upwards of a couple hundred highly targeted visitors to come check out the idea you’re working on.
With a previous business, my partner and I were able to validate a brand new product line before investing in it. We spent $100 on Facebook Ads, collecting leads by offering a free downloadable guide.
Then we transitioned into phone conversations with those potential customers, before landing our first $5,000 sale in less than two weeks. If you’re ready to try out your first Facebook Ads, get started and do it right.
Choosing to run a contest or giveaway to help validate your idea can be massively successful in terms of growing your list of prospective customers, if you choose the right incentives to include in your giveaway. One of the most common mistake entrepreneurs make with hosting a giveaway, is awarding prizes that everybody would want to win.
Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!
If you run a giveaway, the prize needs to be very closely related to the solution you’re planning on building. That means no Amazon gift cards or iPhones. If you want to host a giveaway to validate your photography-related website idea, start by asking what photographers want most, which could be a free subscription to Adobe Lightroom, a new lens kit or a coaching session with a well-known photographer in their space.
Then, make sure you’re using the right giveaway platform to help incentivise entrants to share with their communities. If you can get each giveaway entrant to refer five of their friends, you can quickly go viral and build a large interest list. The Kingsumo Giveaways plugin for WordPress has this incentivised sharing feature built-in.
Want to validate your product idea? Start by combing through reviews of related products on Amazon to see what existing customers like, dislike and complain about most. Focus on identifying the two and three star reviews, where the customers are somewhere between ecstatic and wildly unhappy with their purchase.
Then, click through to the reviewers profile and click the button that says show more; the vast majority of Amazon reviewers that don’t edit their default profile settings, so you’ll likely see an option to send them an email. Reference their review, briefly mention you’re building something similar that’s designed to improve upon the product they reviewed, and ask whether they’d be up for answering a few questions.
At the end of the day, to succeed in business you need to be helping real people solve real problems. More importantly, as serial entrepreneur and TED speaker Derek Sivers shared with me in a recent interview, “Start now, you don’t need funding. For an idea to get big, it has to be useful — and being useful doesn’t need funding.”
The psychological trap of needing more time, money, experience or other resources before starting to build a business holds many aspiring entrepreneurs back from ever achieving their dreams.
You have to work with what you’ve got. Start by simply validating your idea. The goal of validation is to give you relative certainty about the viability of your idea; it’s not a guarantee of success.
Validating your idea today will help prove that you’ll have a growing, paying audience of customers for the solution you plan on building, before you go out and create a finished product or service.
Without validation, you run the risk of creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. Begin without grandiose expectations and just endeavour to be useful to people today. Help them overcome their challenges, document what works and see where it takes you.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Develop A Unique Brand Name In A Global Marketplace And Protect It
A helpful How-to-Guide on developing a unique brand name and conducting trademark searches.
As a marketer, I know just how important it is to choose the right name for a company or product. It needs to be easy to spell and pronounce (in various languages if you’re going international). If possible, it should have some positive connotations (definitely no negative ones) that can be associated to your company or product. And above all, it must be distinctive and unique.
The question is how do you work out what is unique, beyond a URL search, and then how to protect it? The answer is trademarks. I know what you are going to say…
Do I really need to worry about trademarks?
Yes, for two reasons.
- You might be a small business already trading under a name that already exists in the market. And maybe the other company that has trademarked that name in your industry classification won’t ever issue you with a cease and desist letter when you enter their market, because they are nice people and just don’t feel there’s any harm in letting a company by the same name trade in their market. Or maybe they do. It’s a decision that is totally out of your control. Do you really want to take that chance as you build a global brand?
- You’ve invested tonnes of money into building your brand in your market and then all of a sudden another company enters the market with the same name. Trademarking your name protects your brand from being copied or from another company riding the wave of your brand awareness you’ve invested so much into building.
Trademarks are important if you want to build a brand on a solid foundation and protect it in the long-term.
Related: When do I register a trademark?
How hard is it to successfully trademark a name?
According to the US Patent & Trademark Office, there have been 182,000 trademark registrations and 312 000 applications in the past 5 months alone. That’s more words than there are entries for in the Oxford Dictionary!
You can imagine how hard it is, and how much harder it gets with each passing month, to dream up a name for your product or company that is unique and distinctive enough that it can be successfully trademarked and protected in large markets like the US or Europe – especially in the technology industry. But there are a couple of routes you can try when developing a new name if you find your chosen one is already trademarked.
How to come up with a unique company name
When coming up with a company or product name, you can either go with:
- an acronym (IBM, SAP),
- a family or person’s name (Ford, Dell)
- an existing word (Amazon, Apple, Salesforce)
- a misspelled word that looks or sounds like an existing word (Xero, Google), or
- a completely new word either made up of a combination of existing words (PayPal, Instagram, Accenture), or
- a completely new word entirely made up (Skype).
How to make sure it’s available
Try Google first. If you don’t get any companies coming up that are using that word as a name in your industry, you’re off to a good start. Keep in mind that even if another company does come in the results, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve trademarked it.
Check the national trademark search database for the country or countries you want to trade in and search for your name within your industry classification:
- US Patent and Trademark Office search system
- Canadian Trademarks database
- European Union Intellectual Property Office search system
- United Kingdom trademark search
- Australian Government IP Search
- New Zealand IP Office Search
- South African Companies and IP Commission search
If you don’ t come across any trademark registrations for that same word in our classifications, then contact a trademark attorney to conduct a more thorough search using their local experts in those markets and advise you further. You don’t need to work through an attorney as you can register a trademark yourself, but working with one can save you a lot of time and increase your chances of getting your registration through the first time.
In conclusion, some advice
My advice to any company already operating and with ambitions to grow globally is make sure your brand name is trademarked and protected.
If it is not, you should
- conduct your own search in any of the national IP or trademark offices’ databases (some of which are listed above, others can be found through a simple Google search);
- hire a credible trademark attorney to either register your name or advise and guide you along the process of registering a new name.
If you MUST change your businesses name, then
- hire a brand development agency for the creative process of developing the right name for you. (We didn’t do this but only because we had no idea how time consuming and difficult it would be. Although it worked out well in the end and we love our new name, it did take up a lot of time and perhaps more importantly “headspace.” I could have been focusing on other pressing things requiring that required this level of strategic thinking or creativity;
- hire a change management agency or consultant to help with the communication and roll-out process of the new name to all stakeholders: staff, partners, customers, and the market. We managed well on our own, but if you don’t have the internal competency for this, or the time, rather outsource this very important and often neglected step;
- and finally, just pray to whatever god(s) you believe in that whatever name you finally come with gets the green light from stakeholders and your trademark attorney. (Yes. Seriously.)
Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles
Confronting your own doubts and fears is the essence of being an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship is not a destination; it’s a journey. On this journey, successful entrepreneurs don’t have an expectation of “arriving” to some finish line. If you do have that expectation, you won’t continue to push yourself to step outside of your comfort and grow. You won’t seek out the things that truly help your business experience explosive results because all those things require you stretching yourself.
On any journey, you have times of joy and more than a few setbacks. During the times of joy, you feel like you can accomplish anything. It gives you the strength and motivation to continue to put in the work that helps your business.
During the hard times, negative feelings and emotions can easily take over. Before you know it, you’re feeling sorry for yourself and you turn to your familiar coping mechanism.
That coping mechanism could be food, alcohol, binge-watching TV or any other thing that takes your focus away from what you want to accomplish in your business. Since you don’t have a boss or company dictating your day and what you accomplish, that time “coping” could turn into weeks of your doing no work at all.
Becoming a successful entrepreneur means understanding hard times are when you need to push. When there are obstacles, here’s what you need to do.
Acknowledge, then process your thoughts
The only way to get through obstacles is to start with acknowledging that they’re there. The gateway to your feelings and emotions is your thoughts. What you think about and focus on is what you’ll attract more of into your life.
When you’re dealing with obstacles, your thoughts focus on what you can’t control and why that situation is happening to you. That can be a dark place.
When you feel your thoughts spiraling, give yourself two minutes to fully feel what is going on in your head. Don’t try to suppress those thoughts – let them out. When you try to suppress them, they grow stronger and threaten to get control.
Once you have given yourself two minutes, take control of your thoughts. Focus on what brings you joy and what you’re grateful for in your life. It’s hard to be down when you’re expressing gratitude.
Focus on what you can control
Life is messy. Change is hard. Growing a business is not easy and it feels like everything can go wrong at once. There are always going to be things you can’t and shouldn’t try to control.
There are, however, things you can do something about. If your marketing plan is off, you can readjust. If your sales are lacking, you can go back what you know works. If a team member is causing more trouble than is worth helping them, you can let them go.
The point being, there are tangible things you can fix in your business no matter what is happening. Identify what the things are that you can do something about.
Create a plan that will help you get on the path to recovery. Make it practical and actionable. Fill up your to-do list and calendar with the tasks that lead to results.
Ask for help, then take action
Some obstacles feel like more than you can handle. Seeking counsel and support can be the difference between you getting through it or failing.
Don’t try to be Wonder Woman or Superman. Seek help. One of the best things you can do is make decisions that help you recover. Talking and planning with someone who understands and is trained in dealing with a crisis is valuable.
Then, make decisions that are action-based. If a decision pushes you toward the action that helps your business, make it. One of the best ways to recover from difficult situations is to take massive action. Taking action on the things you can control will give you progress. As you consistently take action, you’ll be closer to your goal before you even realise.
Obstacles don’t have to be business breakers in your life. You can learn from them and use them to make you a stronger and wiser entrepreneur. The most successful entrepreneurs understand that it’s not the crisis – it’s your response that determines how successful you’ll be. Stay strong, process your thoughts, create a plan and then take action.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Start-ups: Creating A High Tech/High Touch Environment
Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’.
In this fast-paced tech orientated world things are changing at a frightening yet exciting rate. It is so easy and so quick to create a tech start-up from anywhere in the world and office space as a requirement to start up has become obsolete, your garage will do. Yet because it is so easy and so cost effective for so many to create a start-up it is so hard to stand out amongst this entanglement of serial tech entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups.
The millennial generations’ general paradigm of thinking, which is more open –minded and entrepreneurial is slowly but surely breaking through the barriers of traditional business operations, mechanisms and methods, imbalances are created, however, when tech is the sole focus and people are forgotten in the process. As is so evident throughout history eventually by some means balance is sought in order to create equilibrium.
This writing serves as advice to all tech start-ups to seek balance from the onset in creating a “high tech/high touch” environment. A “High tech/high touch” environment can be defined as a balanced approach where both tech solutions, and of equal importance, team empowerment and inspiring leadership form a potent combination of enduring success.
Technology by itself cannot solve everything but technology applied in unison with a strong people centred approach can be a powerful catalyst towards solving at least some of this worlds’ major challenges.
Although many factors such as for example fiscal discipline and other management controls play a vital role in your start-ups’ success do not forget to create an inspiring environment for your team within which they feel safe and united in purpose. Key to business growth is the individual growth of all team members and no stone should be left unturned in moving from a toxic and/or culture of complacency to a learning and growth culture.
Co-create an inspiring vision for your team and get their full buy-in. If you cannot do that you might have to put in more effort when it comes to your own leadership skills and/or “free up the future” of complacent and lethargic employees whom simply do not want to work hard to collectively actualise your business’ co-created vision.
Although very hard, it is worth the effort to only hire people that are passionate about and have integrity in what they do. If a sustainable and successful “high tech” environment is the aim ensure that it is underpinned by very smart hiring and training practises further enhanced by a good dose of inspirational servant leadership.
Generally speaking, everyone wants to feel part of something bigger, exciting, and inspiring. It is your responsibility as founder and leader to create a motivating and energetic business climate wherein every team member is empowered to execute at a rapid pace and with a “zero defect” mind-set. A team environment wherein everyone sincerely wants to be great at what they do and are energised by ‘small wins’ on the path to actualising the grand vision of the company is far more inspiring and sustainable as opposed to an environment where ‘subordinates’ are only managed and basically forced to do their jobs.
Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance
Sincerely care for your people yet maintain balance,as caring does not mean you treat them like children. Caring means taking great interest in both their career and personal development, and to be tough enough to eventually let those go that does not constructively contribute to a positive growth culture.
Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’:
- Have a balanced approach in hiring. Hire for technical and people skills and ensure that there is a clear development and training plan for all team members that is reasonable and attainable.
- Find your purpose as an entrepreneur and with great enthusiasm model that purpose at every juncture as to inspire others to find their purpose.
- As ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ guard the positive and growth culture that you model as a leader with all your energy and remove anything and anyone from the aforesaid culture that is counter-productive to your business performance.
- Sincerely care about and show that you care about each individual team members’ personal and career development.
- Regularly put having fun and inspiration high on meeting agendas as we generally take ourselves too seriously.
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