Starting a business is exciting. It’s fun to brainstorm your concept, design your product, build your website, and talk about the difference you are going to make in the world.
But how do you know if your business idea will work? And how can you be sure that people will actually buy your product?
Believe it or not…
Aside from consulting friends and family, most people seek very little customer feedback before launching their product. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. (I’m guilty of it myself!)
Caught up in the thrill of the ride, most people don’t talk to customers until after they have spent thousands of dollars on developing their ideal product and/or website. Which means that by the time they launch their product, they’re too far down the road to pivot, turn around or start again.
To help you avoid this common pitfall, here are three simple ways to get customer feedback before you launch your product:
1. Go talk to customers
Let’s say you want to create a physical product. Rather than manufacture it immediately, think about how you can talk to users of a similar or competitive product to ask their feedback about what they would improve on that product, and how much they would pay for that improvement. If it’s a sports product, can you talk to parents standing around watching their children at the local sports fields? If it’s for a niche global market, is there an online forum you could participate in to ask others for feedback in the initial stages?
Or let’s say you want to set up a home services company for cleaning, ironing, pool maintenance, or in my case, lawn mowing services. As a first step, why don’t you knock on some doors and just ask a friendly neighbourly question such as:
“Hello. I’m living here in [insert suburb] and looking for a reliable [insert type of service]. Can you recommend anyone please?”
If you find that all of your potential customers can recommend someone they trust, then maybe you need to start your business in another suburb. Alternatively, if you find that no one has found someone they trust enough to recommend to you, it could be your lucky day – you may have found yourself a profitable gap to fill in the market!
2. Go talk to stockists
Most store assistants are only too happy to give you their feedback on a product idea you might have, and tell you honestly if it’s something they might consider stocking in the future. (That is of course if you are respectful enough to avoid approaching them when their store is full of potentially paying customers.)
But even better than that, if you develop rapport with store assistants, given that you’re not pressuring them with a ready-to-go product that you want them to commit to right now, they might even help you improve your idea further (based on real customer feedback at their store). And for this reason alone, you should definitely pluck up the courage to go talk to stockists!
3. Survey Strangers
Another way to seek feedback that is not sugarcoated by friends and family is to commission a low-cost Google Consumer Survey. At just 10 cents per reply, you only need to pay $25 to find out the opinions of 250 strangers! Or for a more in-depth data set, you could survey 2,000 people for just $200 – both of which would be much more informative for your business than the silence that can come after a 2,000 home letterbox drop.
On the Google surveys, you can ask anything from “Which of these brand names do you like the most?” (to test out your brand name ideas), to “Which website would you go to first if you were looking for [insert product or service]?” (to test out who your competitors are and/or where to sell your products), to “If you needed [insert product or service], how much would you pay?” (to gauge your ideal price point). It’s a brilliant, easy-to-use tool that could save you making expensive product mistakes.
Get out of the building…
There’s a famous saying in business startup communities that you need to “get out of the building” to talk to customers before (not after) you launch your product.* And with at least three simple ways to do this, there’s really no excuse.
So, go talk to your customers sooner rather than later.
Chances are, you’ll be very glad you did!
* The phrase was coined by authors Steve Blank and Bob Dorf in The Startup Owner’s Manual.
Andrea Martins is an online entrepreneur who sold her business, ExpatWomen.com, to an investor in 2014 for an undisclosed six-figure sum. She is currently the co-founder of GreenSocks, an Australian online marketplace for lawn mowing services.