- One isn’t an entrepreneur because of their idea; it takes a commitment to follow through actionably
You have an idea, or maybe a hundred. They could be new or ones you’ve thought about for years. It could be a couple of words on the back of a napkin, or perhaps you’ve already crushed through dozens of spiral notebooks detailing exactly how it will work and what it looks like.
When people get ideas, they get possessed by those ideas that take up most human brain space. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing; out of nowhere, ideas can suddenly energize people like a bolt of lightning.
While failure is a part of the process of becoming a successful entrepreneur — and life, in general — a little bit of time upfront to validate an idea can make all the difference in the world. Imagine working on an idea for years only to realize that it’ll never work. This article is here to stop you from taking entrepreneurial actions you’ll regret. Even more importantly, it will lead you directly to take steps to make your entrepreneurial journey a blissful success.
- To attain success as an entrepreneur, you need to glimpse into your future
The life of an entrepreneur is a life of freedom. If you decide to be an entrepreneur, you choose to live life on your own terms shaping it to whatever you want it to be. While it isn’t always a bed of roses, it is only through the thorns that you can learn, grow, and course-correct in order to build something successful and meaningful. Failing means you’ve missed the mark, but it doesn’t ever mean you’re done.
Failing simply means that you have come to a new starting point. While failures are bound to happen, every business person should work to avoid them.
Building a successful business, however, is not synonymous with building a successful life. People often leave their current occupations to start a better life without thinking about what that better life might look like. Businesses are not created equally, and not all ideas are built by the people who dream them is crucial to find your goals in all areas of your life and see if your target idea supports them. How your target idea will perform in the market means nothing if you can’t validate how it can support you first.
Before making an idea into a successful business, you should ensure it aligns with your values and long-term goals. If you are going to put your time, energy, and money into a project, you will be more satisfied if it comes close to matching your personal goals and values.
To make decisions about your future business that will leave you satisfied, you can simply interview your future self. You don’t have to worry about the business idea in your head right now. Just fast forward into the future and think critically about what would make up your life and all of the things that mean the world to you.
Who are you? What are your goals and ambitions? What’s important to you? It is vital to have answers to these questions now before you continue your plans because the answers will guide all your decisions. To do this, follow these steps:
- Get a sheet of paper and create four quadrants.
- Define the four most important aspects of your life. It could be family, career, finances, health, or even love.
- Assign each of those categories to the top of each quadrant on the paper.
- Within each of these categories, make a list of all the amazing things that would be happening in that area of your life in five years.
Now that you know about your future self, and you’ve defined the most important areas of your life, you know exactly how you want them to look. So how does the business idea you have in your head right now fit into your future self, if at all? Is that idea right for you? Only when your idea supports your lifestyle goals does it become worth exploring more.
- Your past is an important determinant in building a successful business
Aside from peeping into your proposed future, it is essential to examine and learn from your past to create a better future.
To go on the journey of self-discovery, grab a sheet of paper, and follow these steps:
- Write down the first job you ever had. If you haven’t had a job yet, start with something you consistently contributed to.
- Write down when you did the job.
- Write three things you enjoyed about the job.
- Recall a single favorite memory related to the work.
- Move on to what you didn’t like about the job.
- Rate your chosen job/experience based on how much you enjoyed it.
Repeat this process with at least two other life experiences. They can be other jobs or companies you’ve worked in, a goal you’ve worked on, or anything else you’d like to probe further. Then, layout the experiences in the order they occurred and observe the patterns between them.
Below are three questions to ask yourself about what you see:
- What motivates you the most about the work that you do?
- How much does your answer to the previous question reflect what you do now?
- How can you shape your future business into one that allows you to enjoy your work and stay motivated?
Your answers to these questions will help you think about the kind of work that’s actually involved with the direction you’re thinking of going, but beyond that, it helps you understand how you can set yourself up for success.
- Jot down your ideas so as not to forget in the long run
Our brains are constantly working for us, but the brain’s capacity is also very limited to consciously thinking about one thing at a time at any given moment. We don’t always think about things in the order that we need them, either. Unless we record our thoughts, there’s a good chance that we’ll forget a lot of what we think about. This way, we come up with many good ideas and end up forgetting about them. The solution to this problem is mind-mapping, and every entrepreneur should learn this technique.
When items are grouped together, hierarchies will emerge, and it’s not unusual to finish this exercise with a total understanding of all that noise in your head.
You can design your own mind map on paper or electronically; it doesn’t matter which of the two methods you adapt. To make mind-mapping truly work for you, don’t think. Our brains can’t be creative while editing, so just get all your thoughts out and focus on getting your ideas flowing.
- Set a countdown timer for 10 minutes and quickly list any thoughts related to your target idea. Do not make any edits or delete any draft; just keep writing.
- You can then begin editing by separating your mind map into different categories.
- Prune your mind map and discard those notes that don’t really matter. Then, finally, edit your mind map into a single sentence.
If you were to show someone your mind map right now, assuming they already know what a mind map is, it’s going to be very difficult for them to understand exactly what you’re trying to create. They could interpret it and be close, but when you present your idea to others for feedback, you don’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation. So, think of this as a translation exercise. You’re going to translate your mind map into something that can be easily understood. Follow these steps:
- Write one page
To help you zoom into your one sentence, you’re going to start with a larger field of vision and write a one-page summary of your target idea. This will run about 400 to 500 words and allow you to write with freedom, turning your mind map into something tangible.
- Write one paragraph
Take what you wrote on your single page and condense it into a single paragraph — about 3-5 sentences in length. Keep it to that and remember to focus on what the person on the other end might need to know in order to fully understand what your target idea is all about.
- Write one sentence
Take what you wrote in your paragraph and distill it into one single sentence. This step will likely take you the longest to complete, even though it requires the least amount of writing. You might come up with several different versions before you finally land on one that you like, but it doesn’t matter. Just keep making adjustments until you have a sentence that sounds perfectly right to you.
- Share your idea with people and adjust it with the feedback you get
A huge way to refine your idea is by sharing it. It helps to talk openly about your idea. You might feel nervous doing this, and rightfully so. It isn’t easy, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t take criticism or negative feedback well. When you put yourself out there, you open the floor for both positive and negative feedback, and if you’re like most aspiring entrepreneurs, one negative feedback might have more impact on you than 100 positive feedbacks.
Now, you’re going to get negative feedback at some point in your entrepreneurial journey, and it’ll likely come very early on. Expect it because it’s a part of the process of becoming an entrepreneur. It’s as if the world begins to test us to see if we’re actually cut out for what we’re trying to do. You are cut out for it as long as you keep going.
Start with people you’re comfortable with, people who would care to listen and provide quality feedback. Then, go further to speak to at least two people who you’ve never met before.
The following are tips on how you can share your idea:
- Don’t share any of your thoughts leading up to the conversation. Let the idea itself do the work for you.
- Don’t sell yourself — or your idea — short. If you start negatively, your idea will be perceived negatively. Be confident in your approach.
- When sharing your idea with someone you’ve never met before, it’s always good to help that person before asking for help yourself. For instance, you could buy a coffee for the person behind you in line so that when in turn, you ask to be heard, they’ll be more than happy to return the favor.
Here are tips on how to listen:
- Consciously listen to the person’s response. You’ll be better able to receive feedback when you’re conscious about listening.
- Don’t take notes or record the conversation. Many people get timid in the face of a recording device, and you may end up getting falsified answers.
- Let the person speak. Don’t interrupt. Give them the chance to get to the heart of what they’re trying to say.
- Dig deeper by asking quick follow-up questions. Help them continue with their thoughts by asking them follow-up questions like “What else comes to mind about that?”
- Don’t just listen to the words. Many people say a lot using more than their words. Therefore, you need to pay attention to a person’s intonation and body language, in addition to their verbal reply.
Now that you have gotten feedback from others, you can go back and work on your mind map. However, you should know that positive feedback is not 100% true validation that you’ve got a winning business on your hands. Just because someone says they like something, and even if their body language further illustrates this, it doesn’t mean your target end-user will actually follow through — whether that’s subscribing to a website and becoming a fan or actually purchasing something from you.
Did you know? Depending on the type of business you have, you may even get paid for the idea that you have in your mind, even before it’s built or fully functional.
Or unless you are sharing your ideas with the people online, we would recommend using Survey Sparrow a survey platform that provides many good questions to choose from up to concept testing.
- Research your target market and add a unique dimension to it
Aside from the fear of failure, another reason people hesitate to get started is that someone else has already taken their idea.
If you find that others have already done what you’re planning to do, don’t be discouraged. Look at the positive angle — someone else has already done the heavy lifting for you. They’ve taken the time and have spent the money to serve that audience or attempt to do so, and by following their lead, you can determine what’s working and what’s not and adjust your business accordingly. Research your target market thoroughly and find your unique position in that space — something different. That’s how you stand out.
Create your market map by finding the 3 P’s within your market:
Whatever business you’re trying to build, you need to find out where your target audience resides online. The research phase allows you to not only know what other websites exist in the space but helps you learn more about who they are. Through various platforms, you’ll be able to hear feedback directly from your end-user and use that information to modify your product and how you share it. At the end of this exercise, the results will become a list of places you could potentially put out your articles to gain exposure and build trust in the market. Google is the most effective tool to find the top websites — blogs, forums, social media groups — that can serve your market.
It’s beneficial for you to learn who is in the space already serving your target audience. When you identify existing authorities that your target audience already trusts, you can gain more insights into what appeals to your audience and what you should avoid. You’ll be able to follow these top players in the space, learn how they interact and engage with their audience, and begin to determine what you can do to be different. You can find influencers on social media.
By looking at what your audience is buying, you can determine what kinds of offerings already exist and what else might be missing. Take note of what’s being sold and purchased — not just websites that people can visit for free. While running your survey, you should prioritize sites where there are hundreds of millions of buyers and a ton of data to show us exactly what they are purchasing and their feedback. Amazon is a good example.
After your research, you may find that it is very easy to see what’s missing and what you could do to add value to this existing community.
- Understand your target customer better by developing a highly effective customer profile
Now that you have discovered exactly where your target audience resides, who the top influencers are, and even what products are being offered in the space, you need to dig deep into understanding your target customer. This is because they’re the ones going to pay for your products.
To do this, you should develop an actionable customer profile, also known as a Customer P.L.A.N. This tool will help you pinpoint how your business idea connects with your audience.
To get started, add a page to your spreadsheet called P.L.A.N. and make four columns, one for each of these categories:
A business idea is really just a potential solution to a target customer’s pain or problem. The better you can address that person’s situation, the more successful your business will become. When you can extract the pain, you’ll find that marketing can easily take care of itself. Learning about your customers’ problems is easy — just get in touch with them and ask open-ended questions that will help identify potential issues. Emails are fine, but a personal or over-the-phone conversation will serve you much better. However, if this doesn’t work, try doing an online survey.
When you are starting a business, one of the most important things you can do is understand the language your target customer uses to communicate. What words do they use to share their pains and struggles? How do they describe their aspirations and goals? When you can learn the language of your audience, you can more easily make a connection with them, and ultimately, they begin to trust you more.
Anecdotes are short, exciting stories, and they’re some of the most powerful tools you can use in your business. When you are creating content and promoting products, framing it all within a story can have a massive impact on how well others relate and respond because humans are programmed from the start to tune in and listen to stories. When you hear the stories of real people in your target audience, you can feel what they feel, and when you do that, you’re going to easily set yourself apart from the rest and be more committed to serving with these real people in mind.
A need is an aspect of your target customer’s life that isn’t satisfactory. Your job here would be to create a solution to that part that needs refining.
Having had your P.L.A.N worked out should fully equip you to come up with ideas to fulfill the needs of your target customer.
- It is essential that you, as an entrepreneur, know the value of validation
The second worst mistake you can make when building a business is building it based on someone’s word that it’s something they would buy or use. What people say can be completely different from what they end up doing, hence the importance of validating your idea financially. There are a lot of side benefits to validation, which will help you become a smarter entrepreneur. First, you get useful feedback from the actions people take. Even if what you do fails, even if your pre-sale fails to generate even one purchase, you will still end up with a clear direction to move forward — or not. You can reassess what went wrong and tweak things until they work.
You also get early experience selling something. Pre-selling to validate your product is a great way to train yourself for bigger, more profitable launches down the road. You can have money in your pocket upfront. Getting cash upfront for something is great. You can begin to see an income from your potential work, get cash to help you pay for the development of whatever you’re creating, and it could also help you convince a doubting Thomas to try and have more support for you.
Validation motivates you to follow through and get things done. Having financial proof of people’s interest in your business will show you that what you’re working on is actually working and will motivate you to put in the work required to follow through and deliver on your promises.
- Before launching your product or service, validate your idea by inviting your target customers to invest
Now that you know the benefits of validation, you should get right to it. You can start by testing potential investors’ and customers’ commitment to your product. There is a process to this:
Get in front of an audience
You need to get access to an audience of people in your target market. You can use advertising platforms like Google AdWords, Facebook, or Twitter to access people’s interest in these products and to understand the demand. People will see these ads, click through to the sales page, and click the buy now button to make a purchase. There’ll be no product, of course, so the user will be prompted with an “out of stock” message, but because every click is tracked, it will be easy to see if people actually want to buy these products or not. You can also write guest article posts on an open forum or group related to your idea. This way, you’ll add value to the platform and, at the same time, gain people’s attention. With time, you can begin presenting your product or service on these platforms and ask people if they’re interested in investing. Another platform you can use to validate your idea is crowdfunding.
This means finding individuals in the primary target market who indicate that they want your product. The easiest technique is by initiating a hand raise. There are lots of different methods we can use to get a hand raise from our audience. A comment or response is typically the easiest way for people to say “yes,” such as in a forum, a blog post, or social media post. A link click is another way to gauge interest, such as links within an email, blog post, or even an advertisement. Other forms of a hand raise include downloading something, subscribing to an email list, sending you a personal email, or even picking up the phone and calling you.
Interact and share your solution
This step requires you to engage with the people who have shown interest. All selling starts with the relationship, which means that you have to make sure that you start by earning the other person’s trust. You can interact with your target customer in person or through a video call, phone call, a private message, or a direct email.
Ask for the transaction
You might feel uncomfortable asking for payment before you’ve built your product. But if you’re honest with your customer, this should be easy. At this stage, you have your customer’s attention because you have shared your plan and explained its value. To identify the people who want to pay for your product, you can do two things: place a link on your website or send it out through an email that prompts customers to buy your product in advance. If you use the email strategy, send a follow-up email if the customer doesn’t reply within 24 hours. If at the end of it all, you receive 10% positive responses, your idea is good to go. If not, ask for more feedback and keep improving the idea.
You won’t always hear what you want to hear. Don’t let it discourage you. Keep pushing through the criticisms and remember every second you stay upset or angry about a negative comment is a second you take away from improving your business and the lives of others.
Now that you’ve learned a lot about your target market and audience, you have to keep going. Keep in mind that things are not always going to go as planned — there are bound to be potholes — but with the right guidance, you will make it work.
If you haven’t started your business yet, hopefully, you are inspired to do that now. Act on your ideas and develop them as your business grows. If you are already established as an entrepreneur, take the lessons from this summary and work to make your business better.