How To Start a Business: Do This Before You Spend Thousands Building Your Product or Service

Start your business with a small amount of money, not thousands right away. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

There are few things more exciting than coming up with a grand idea and getting ready to start your business to bring that idea to life. All of the people you can help. All of the problems you can solve. All of the money you can make. When this happens, it’s hard to think about anything else except introducing your business to the world and getting it into the hands of real people. It’s wildly tempting to just start building.

Don’t do it.

Don’t jump blindly into the ocean of an assumed great idea.

I know, I know. That’s the absolute last thing you want to hear. The entrepreneur inside of you is giving me the bird, assuring you I have no idea what I’m saying. This is one of the hardest parts of what I do, because I have to play the role of bubble buster, parade rainer, Debbie downer, and everything in between. But, I’m okay with that. I do it out of love.

Now, if you’ve gotten this far, you might think I’m telling you that you shouldn’t start your business at all. Although that might be good advice (kidding… kind of), that’s not at all what I’m implying. This is what I’m saying: before getting caught up in your own genius, figure out if others think your idea is worth something or nothing.

Here begins your journey to validate (or invalidate) your business.

Hopefully you’ve asked a few people whether they think your business could be valuable. It’s okay if the first few dozens of people are friends and family, just keep in mind your relationship will skew their responses. Even your no-BS buddies from college who pride themselves on always telling it like it is – probably not so accurate on this one.

If you haven’t even gotten around to asking others what they think, go call or text some of your people and come back to this after. If they tell you it’s silly or they don’t understand, no worries… at least you’ve started. And, if you’re comfortable, approach strangers and see what they think, too! Strangers’ feedback is extra valuable because they don’t give a shit who you are, so they’re more likely to tell you what they really think. Coffee shops, breweries, and social events are great places to ask strangers what their thoughts are.

The key to starting a successful business is sharing your idea.

You’ll probably get one of the following responses after pitching your idea:

1) They think it’s interesting, but a bit confused on how it works, the problem it solves, or who would use it. This can feel a bit discouraging, but try your best not to let it depress you. This is fantastic feedback, truthfully. Use it! If you’re solving a problem that truly exists, then you probably don’t have much to worry about. Now you know that you need to simplify.

Make a list of the questions you received when sharing your idea. Write down the problem you’re solving. Now, figure out how to combine the answers to your frequently asked questions with the solution you’re providing in 2-3 sentences. Then, figure out how to translate those 2-3 sentences into language that can be understood by a 12-year old. 

Once you do this, you’re ready to share your idea again! If you have friends and family you haven’t yet told, try your new revised explanation with them for some fresh feedback. But go back to the others, too. It’s likely this time around, you’ll get less confused looks and way more engaged conversations.

2) They love it and are excited to support you, or think it’s completely stupid. Hopefully it’s the former, but do not quit if it’s the latter. Though it’s unlikely you’ve got Apple or Uber on your hands (nothing is impossible, though), it’s very important to remember that actions speak louder than words. Of course, spend some time to reflect on the feedback you’ve received if it’s negative (and perhaps use some tips from scenario 1), but if your heart is still telling you the response you got was completely wrong, it’s time to test. And, if you’ve received nothing but support and positivity, it’s also time to test.

If you pretty much got crickets or no response, you need some new people in your life. Come on – I’m kidding! But here’s where you email me and tell me about your idea so we can see what’s up.

Actions speak louder than words. Trust those actions.

Starting a business is hard and expensive – that’s not an urban legend. Decent mobile apps and web-platforms typically cost $50,000+ depending on functionality and the experience of the team (I urge you not to take shortcuts when you get to this stage, but I’ll cover that later). Physical products often cost even more between development, prototypes, materials, distribution, storage, etc. Hiring and training a team takes tons of time and effort, not to mention wages and fees.

So, before you spend all that money, let’s see if people will take low-barrier action and indicate they have some real interest and intent to use your product or service.

This is the fun part. It’s also the scary part. If you’ve received a lot of positive feedback, this is the stage you get to see if people put their “money” where their mouths are. If you’ve received negative feedback, here’s your chance to prove those haters wrong.

To start your business, you must validate through user action - not just verbal feedback.

Here’s the key. This is what you need to do.

The best way to validate your idea is by conducting some simple landing page testing. This easy-to-manage test will allow you not only to see if anyone (and who) is truly interested in your idea, but also to generate some real data (yay!) to support it. My hands down favorite program for this is Unbounce (PS. You can use this link for a sweet 3-month 20% discount!) – which is also one of the most cost-effective platforms for landing page testing. The simple drag-and-drop interface allows non-designers and non-developers to quickly build, launch, and test landing pages. Your page can be live in less than an hour!

Your main goal for your landing page(s) is to get potential users or customers to submit their email addresses. Though an email address obviously doesn’t guarantee they’ll use your product or service, the action of submitting this information is a solid indicator that they are truly interested and have some sort of intent to support. These email addresses are 10x as valuable as the verbal commitments you’ve heard along the way!

As a bonus, you’ll have a waitlist and contact information so you can keep your supporters informed as you actually start to build and introduce your business to the world. As a double bonus, you also have real data to prove interest, so you know for sure that you can start building your company based on more than just a gut feeling (and/or use it to raise money from investors).

Keep these tips in mind for best results.

On your landing page, at a bare minimum, make sure to include: 

  • A one-sentence headline describing the solution you’re providing
  • A few sentences to explain your offering and how it works
  • A call-to-action so users know they need to leave their email addresses (and why!)

If you want to provide more context and information, feel free to include that underneath and throughout the rest of the page. If you feel up to it, I recommend creating two variations to start so you can test out some different wording and formatting. Remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect, and it likely won’t result in thousands or even hundreds of signups! This is your starting point.

Once your landing page(s) is built, start getting people to it! If you have a decently sized network, feel free to share this organically through online posts, social media, email, text, etc. You’ll want to get at least 100-200 people to the page, so how you do it is really up to you. The fastest (and again, most accurate since it’s stranger-facing) way to do this is by running ads.

Spending a few hundred or even a thousand dollars to drive traffic is well worth it, so don’t start cringing at the thought. And, don’t fool yourself by convincing yourself you can start your business by spending $0 and make $1M overnight. (Though I wish the world worked this way!) 

For a small price, you get: validation in the form of data, beta testers, feedback on copy/positioning, information on your users, and some serious peace of mind. This might not be as sexy as building your product right away and going full-on Steve Jobs… but, it’s WAY better than spending many thousands upfront only to realize no one wants what you’ve got, right?

Now’s the time. Go on and get validated so you can start your business the right way!

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