Do you have a great idea in mind for a business, but you're not sure if it will fly? This is such a common issue for entrepreneurs, and one that often deters people from ever getting started.
To get past this obstacle, without investing a lot of time, energy, and money into developing the idea, the smart move is to take it for a test spin. Fortunately, these days there are a ton of ways to do this, which we call validating your idea with your target market. I'm going to share with you some great methods to validate your business idea for free before putting it into production.
Ask your most reliable connections
The people you communicate with on a regular basis -- those who already know you and what you are capable of -- should be the first people you turn to for feedback on your new idea. Assuming they are not potential competitors who might steal your idea, let them know exactly what you are thinking about doing to get their honest, unfiltered feedback.
Let those people know that they do not have to hold anything back. You do not want them to be nice--you want them to be real. Feedback from someone who is skeptical about your new idea is likely to be more useful than supportive feedback, as it may help you avoid pitfalls or think of ways to make your idea more valuable.
Survey your current audience
If you have email subscribers, blog readers, or social media followers, they should be next on your list of people to reach out to. In this case, since you may not know them as well as you do your closest connections, the best approach is to use what's known as a pain points survey.
With a pain points survey, you will ask your current audience if they are struggling with any concerns, complaints, or problems that your new idea would help to solve, without actually revealing the idea directly. It will give you insight into what problems your target market really has and if your new idea has the potential to solve those problems.
Check out your competitors
You do not necessarily have to have a unique idea in order to create a solid business. If there is successful competition for your new idea, that is actually a good thing. It essentially validates your idea on the spot. Your task is then to offer an improved take on the idea, and do the best job of executing it.
What you will want to do is see if your idea is going to stack up to the competition. What does your idea have that your competitors do not? What will you be able to do for your customers that your competitors can't? Those are the validation points you will want to look for when sizing up your competition.
Reach out to your competitor's customers
Does your competitor list their top customers or testimonials from happy users? If so, take those names, reach out, and find out what they love about the product or service. More importantly, find out if there is something missing.
No matter how happy the customer, there is almost always going to be one little thing that they would love to see added to the mix. If your business will have everything your competitor has to offer plus those little extras, you will be in great shape.
You can also get into potential customers' heads by checking out your competitor's support forum or help desk. Both will be filled with customers who want something to be fixed or added to a product or service. Public posts will show you exactly what things you will need to provide to beat the competition.
Tap into social groups
Social media groups (the ones that are filled with quality users and discussions, not the spam ones) can be a great source of insight into the minds of your target market. Find the social media groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ that your target market are actively engaged in.
Once you join them, you can use the group search feature to find discussions about topics related to your new idea. As you read through the comments for those discussions, you should be able to find information about the pain points your target market deals with and whether there are any solutions to solve them.
You can also use these groups as opportunities to dive deeper into your target market's problems by engaging them in discussion. Ask them to describe their ideal solution, and see if you can make your idea match it.
Tap into Q&A networks
Question and answer networks are another great place to find your target market discussing their pain points. You will even be able to skip the general discussion to find the people who are asking for help with specific questions, and you will be able to find out if those questions have answers or need them.
Tap into forums
When doing your market research, do not forget about forums. Quality forums that are well-moderated tend to have the most loyal, dedicated members. You will typically find both your target market and your competitors who are trying to lure your target market to their products and services in the right forums.
Again, you will be looking for discussions about the pain points you intend to solve with your new idea. Just like social groups and Q&A networks, you can jump into the discussion to get even more detailed information about your potential customers' needs.
Thanks to all of the publicly accessible information online, you no longer need to spend tons of money researching a new business idea. You just need to reach out to the right connections, survey your current audience, analyze your competitors, and find the communities your target market belongs to. These free resources will ensure that your new idea is not only valid, but will be hugely valuable and ultimately successful.