- Before you invest all your time and money into a product, build an audience that would be interested in what you want to sell.
- Find ways to capture your audience by getting them into a Facebook group, and especially on your email list.
- The validation pre-sell is where you ensure people want the product you're selling, and then asking to people to buy it.
You’ve heard how many startups fail. It’s extremely sad, but so many founders spend months of their lives building something, only to struggle to build a user base. Despite all their best efforts and intentions, they fizzle out and end up with nothing to show for their sweat and tears.
Most of the time, they’ve fallen to what I believe is the biggest mistake founders make: creating a product that nobody wants. The idea might have sounded great on paper, and all their friends might have told them it sounded great. But when the time came for people to sign up and fork over real money, they got nothing.
This is the all too common story of not validating an idea properly.
Only a couple of weeks ago I spoke to someone at a networking event that had invested 18 months of development into an app and had a total of zero people who had expressed interest in it. It’s so painful to hear this kind of thing, knowing that their chance of success is near zero.
So how do you validate a product before investing all that time and money in it?
One of the best ways is to build an audience of the people you want to work with, and then simply ask them!
Build an audience
You’ve probably heard this so many times that it goes in one ear and out the other. It did for me too, until I finally grasped the concept and made it happen.
Over the years, I’ve seen several “accidental” businesses pop up. I say “accidental” because these were just people doing their thing, creating regular content (blogging) or social media, and had created a large following over time. When they realised it could become a real business, they just needed to create a product their audience would love.
Seeing this enough times, it finally clicked: build the audience first.
This isn’t an overnight exercise. It can take months, but the result is worth it. An audience that knows you and loves the content you put out is much more likely to buy from you later.
How to build an audience
The underlying concept of building an audience is pretty simple: consistently provide something that has real value to your target audience, and get that content consistently into places they already hang out.
For a cookbook, the content might be as simple as taking awesome photos of meals and using the right hashtags consistently, day after day.
For us, it’s providing content, tools, and strategies for web designers to run their businesses better and get some of their life back. Everything we create is based around this idea, and this is what keeps people coming back.
I see a lot of people make the same mistake with content that they do with their product. They believe that all they have to do is “build it and they will come.” That never works. To get eyeballs on your work, you have to spend a lot of time or money to get it out there.
Our strategy was to get people to read our blog posts. Once someone had visited a blog post, we’d drop the Facebook remarketing pixel. That allowed us to show them specific ads to bring them back onto our website at a later date to opt in.
For blog post traffic, our two best sources were:
- Facebook Groups
- LinkedIn & LinkedIn Groups
The image below shows a period of traffic for our website. All the blue squares are Facebook traffic, around 90% from groups. The red sections are from LinkedIn. Unfortunately, we have had some issues with LinkedIn traffic showing up as “direct” so we can’t be sure of the exact numbers.
When linking to your own blog posts, you have to be very careful to stay within the group rules. If you go into groups and drop links (aka spam), you’ll be booted instantly.
Instead, provide some commentary and discussion around the blog post. Why are you posting it there? What value is in it for the target audience? Ask some questions to get a discussion going in the comments. The more comments, the more people will see your post, thanks to the Facebook algorithm.
Here’s a post from a group that I frequently visit, and regularly help people out.
At first glance, you’ll see it only got 11 likes and 12 comments. But this post saw 462 visits to the blog post.
Capturing the audience
Getting people to view the content is not enough. It’s super important to move the reader from an anonymous visitor to someone you can reference by name. We did this in two ways.
Every blog post was optimised to:
1. Get them into our Facebook group
2. Get their email address
There are so many benefits to doing this, like:
• Becoming an authority that people know by name
• Getting website traffic by emailing or posting in the group
• Seeing the questions people ask to get more blog ideas
• Noticing problems that you could solve with a product or service
Those last 2 points are critical.
Validating and pre-selling your idea
Once you have an engaged audience, these two parts of the process go from difficult to incredibly easy. That’s the number one reason building an audience is so important.
In our case, we lined up Skype interviews with some key web designers to hear about the biggest problems they faced in their businesses. The key with conducting interviews is to listen and prompt them to talk about their biggest issues.
If you’ve already got an idea for a product in your head, you have to fight the urge to guide them into talking about that. Otherwise, you might completely miss a bigger problem people are willing to pay more money for.
In our case, I had an idea to simplify the website briefing process for web designers. But instead, almost every interviewee complained about getting content from their clients. During the interviews, I asked more and more questions about why this was such a problem, and how much of a problem it had been for them in the past.
That’s when the passion comes out. They began describing how painful the process was to get content from clients promptly so they could move on with building their websites. They described how many jobs were held up, and how much it cost them. Their frustration enabled us to focus on a real problem in desperate need of a solution.
Even better, because of the honesty in their answers, the interviewees gave me the exact language to use on our sales website.
The result is a product that people want, and the sales messaging to sell it. At this point, you’re miles ahead of almost every other startup.
At this point, you should be fairly confident you have an idea for a product people really want.
The final validation step is asking people to actually buy it.
There is a huge difference between people saying, “Oh yeah, that’s a great idea,” and them actually pulling out their credit card to give you money. It’s a very large barrier that you should try to cross before investing thousands of dollars (or your time) in building a product.
With an audience, it’s easy.
To pre-sell our product, we drew up two simple wireframes and had an experienced UX designer make them look great. The total cost was about $250. We created a “sneak peek” blog post with those two screenshots and talked about the product we were going to build. Thanks to the time spent listening to our audience, the sales messaging matched what they wanted to hear.
To enable purchases, we created a simple sales page, but this could be as easy as creating a PayPal button. You are asking people to trust that you will follow through and create the product, so it makes sense to heavily discount the product at this point. We asked for $49 for a year of access.
The final step brought it all together. We sent out an email with a link to the blog post and sales page. Limited to 20 spots, we sold out within 3 hours from a fairly small email list of 400.
While that doesn’t mean the product has a 100% chance of succeeding, it’s a very good indicator that there are people out there willing to pay.
This is one of the most important things you can do before potentially wasting months or years on creating a product.