5 Steps to Validate Your Business Idea in the Real World

If you have a business or are thinking about starting one, it’s going to be in the real world. Not in your mind. Your audience and customers are going to be real people, not imaginary. So why are you validating ideas in your head? You need real, hands-on feedback. This feedback helps you make better business decisions.

Note from Corbett: I had the pleasure of witnessing Omar Zenhom’s simple “real world” idea validation process in action earlier this year. I was so impressed with Omar’s results at Business Republic that I asked him to write up the process and share it with you here. Take it away, Omar…

I’m going to share a 5-step process for idea validation. We’ll talk about how to keep it simple, how to get your idea out there, and how to get feedback.

This straightforward approach will improve your launches and help you build compelling solutions. I know because I personally tried what I’m about to share with you. Corbett actually shared the story of how we validated our business idea in the real world on The Fizzle Show episode 18 (around min 35:50).

First, let’s get a broader idea of what idea validation actually is.

What is Idea Validation?

Idea validation is the process of testing and validating your idea prior to launching your business name, tagline, product, service or website. This is like the research and development process big companies use to test product ideas before they’re released to the general public.

Idea validation can involve anything from information-gathering interviews to special landing pages on the web. The entire purpose is to expose the idea to your target audience before you build and release the final product.

I personally think the best way to conduct the idea validation process is face-to-face, in person or over a Skype video call. The advantages will be highlighted below.

Why Should I Do this Idea Validation Thing?

In short, it will save you a ton of time and money, as well as generate interest in your idea. Since you’re testing your idea, you will be exposing it to the marketplace.

Don’t make the rookie mistake of working on an idea that no one is really interested in. Idea validation can save you time by giving you a good feel as to whether your idea appeals to your potential audience. It can also save you a lot of money.

This process will tell you whether or not you should pay to create your thing. For example, you could end up paying thousands of dollars building an expensive version of a product that your customers may not even want, need or use.

5 Steps to Idea Validation in the Real World

Idea validation is fairly easy but it will require some hustle on your part. In order to best demonstrate how to do this, I’ll be using my own experience as a running example.

Earlier this year, my partner, Nicole, and I needed to validate Business Republic’s new tagline. This process I’m going to share is based on what we followed for our own validation.

Step 1: Brainstorm Internally

You need to have some starting ideas to present to your potential clients. You probably have thousands of ideas about what you want to do but you need to present only 4-5 at a time. In our case it was 4-5 versions of our new tagline. In your case it could be 4-5 different features of your business or product.

Any more than five is way too confusing. Trust me. Plus, you do not want to take too much of the potential customer’s time. Ten minutes max. You may want to contact them later for more info so you want to keep it light.

In this step, your goal is to offer your best solutions or versions of your idea. In our case we came up with four versions of what we thought was the best tagline we could think of for our business.

Step 2: Don’t ask Family and Friends

Yes, in step 2 you are required to NOT do something. Why did I include this step? Because it’s so hard to skip. We all want to feel good about what we are doing so sometimes we ask our loved ones about our ideas knowing that it will feel good.

I’m not saying that your family and friends are liars. I’m saying that they are biased and in most cases not one of your potential customers.

They also might feel forced to give feedback for feedback’s sake. They might even make up a point they don’t really believe in so you feel like they’re being unbiased. Do you see how tricky asking family and friends about this can get?

Unless you’re creating a new app for professional weightlifters and your grandfather was Mr. Olympia, please save sharing with your friends and family until after you finish this process.

Step 3: Choose your Interviewees

Next, make a list of 15 potential clients you can reach out to and interview for 10 minutes in person or over a Skype video. Think about your ideal customers.

For us at Business Republic it was new, small, local businesses that would need our media services. We identified businesses in our neighborhood we could approach. We listed businesses we frequent, among others: a pilates studio, an Italian restaurant, and a custom leather bag store (we like leather bags).

Your potential customers may be found elsewhere. Maybe they’re already on your mailing list. After reaching out to them you will end up with around 10 “yeses”, a few “I’m sorry, I can’t’s” and a couple no replies.

Make sure you can secure 10 minutes of their time in person or over Skype. A natural back and forth conversation is essential. It’s hard to see or feel hesitation, excitement or a “wow” expression over the phone. This is essential when we cover the actual discourse you’ll be having.

Step 4: Conduct Your Informal Interview

The first thing you want to do when conducting your informal interview is thank them for their time and tell them how their time will help you offer something that your customers will actually want.

Second, explain plainly that you are not selling anything to them and what you are going to be talking about is actually not even available yet. Put them at ease and remind them of how much their feedback is valued and will influence your business. People like knowing that their opinion matters.

Third, take a minute to explain what you do and the nature of your business before explaining what you need their opinion on. Remember to explain things with their perspective in mind. Don’t use jargon that they wouldn’t understand.

Fourth, tell them you are going to present 4-5 versions of your idea. And that you will show all 4-5 first, then go over each one asking for their thoughts on each one at a time. Let them know you might be jotting down some notes during the process to remember their advice later on.

Fifth, after going through all 4-5, ask them for their initial thoughts for each one individually. Ask then how the idea makes them feel as well as think. Look at their body language and how quickly they answer. Compare their reaction to the reactions of other ideas you present to gauge what is a brilliant to them and what is a dud. Not everyone wears their emotions on their sleeve.

Lastly, after you have received their feedback on each idea. Thank them again and ask them if they would mind if you contacted them again if you need to as you work on your project.

When we tested our 4-5 taglines with our local small businesses we got feedback we never expected. We also got a lot of interest about our business in general. The Italian restaurant we visited was so intrigued they asked us when some of our services were going to be available and even allowed us to put our marketing postcards up on their notice board.

Step 5: Review and Decide

The last step is to review all your feedback and decide what worked best for your potential clients. For us, it was unanimous. Every business LOVED one of our taglines. Their faces lit up immediately and said that it spoke to them directly.

Our old tagline was: “Build a brand that matters. Share it effectively.”

During our interviews we got to the heart of what our customers identify with. We realized that our customers don’t really resonate with the word “brand.” It was too abstract or nebulous. Additionally, they said “share it effectively” felt to “self-helpey.” The word “business” means a lot to them because they are in business and want more business.

Finally, we confirmed that every business owner fears being ignored. Ultimately that’s why they would call upon our services.

After our idea validation exercise, we found our new tagline and it felt so good: “Build a business that can’t be ignored.”

When you decide based on the feedback your received, remember that it’s about the customer, not you. Sometimes you will have to give up what you think is best for your business based on what you learned. After all, your customers are the reason why you exist.

One last thing

This doesn’t have to be painful. Don’t be afraid to have fun with this.

This is your business, your baby. Show your love and care for it and for your customers. Your interviewees take cues from you, so if you are relaxed and casual about it they will loosen up and give you more than you ask for.

This isn’t a sales exercise. It’s a great conversation with someone you respect. It’s not win or lose. It’s a win-win! And it’s the best way to take your idea and business to the next level.

Have more tips or strategies to share about idea validation? Have you tried doing any real-world validation yourself? Share in the comments! We’d love to chat about your experience.

If you’re serious about nailing your idea and creating something your customers want, get access to our free course and workbook on idea validation here »

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  • http://www.jasonloveslife.com/ Jason Love

    Great idea.
    I’m still trying to define who my target market is in order to interview them. Which is something I’m struggling with.
    I feel it is easier to get businesses to sit down with you, but if clients are individuals I see it being a lot harder for them to agree. Any suggestions?

  • http://pagerankworld.com/ Brandon Bear

    Alright so here’s my problem — I came up with an idea, I’ve validated it by actually selling it, let’s just say its a service business (that’s scalable and able to be outsourced on my end, or through an inhouse team so I don’t have to do the grunt work). I’ve been able to pull a few thousand in profit, but even though I’ve got a validated idea, I don’t know how to scale/take it to the next level. I guess what I mean is moving big-scale and starting to advertise on a much larger level. It almost seems like I’m starting a brand-new business now, because scaling to a larger market is completely new.

    • jhcorcoran

      Brandon – if I were you, I’d focus on one or two areas first. If it’s advertise, try out advertising on one platform and see if it leads to any returns. Be sure you can track any results. If that doesn’t work, move on.

  • Omar Zenhom

    Thanks Alex! Let me know how it goes. :)

  • Omar Zenhom

    @AlexDarnoffice:disqus Thanks Alex! Let me know how it goes :)

  • Omar Zenhom

    @jasonloveslife:disqus I completely understand you.

    At Business Republic we were thinking of introducing a new service to our clients- custom design Social Media pages. We needed more info from our audience. Info like how the process should be, what the design should entail and even how much to charge.

    We gave 4 new clients free custom designed Facebook pages and Twitter pages. In exchange they gave us detailed feedback on what they wanted in a service like this and how to go about it. We even were fortunate enough to get video testimonials from them as well.

    All in all it was a great way to connect with our potential audience and get the critical info were needed to build a great new service for us. It’s hard to refuse a free offer. It’s a win/win because it also allows you to get real feedback from real clients.

    In regards to figuring out your target market/ audience, at BR we wrote a post called Ten Ways to Evaluate a Market that has a nifty exercise that might help. http://businessrepublic.net/ten-ways-to-evaluate-a-market/

    Let me know if I can help in any other way.

    • http://www.jasonloveslife.com/ Jason Love

      Thanks Omar, offering something free (service/product) in return for feedback on it makes a lot of sense… not sure why I didn’t think of it.

  • http://thelifester.com/ Ritu

    This works for product development as well – including online service related products. Great article!

    • Omar Zenhom

      Thanks Ritu! Glad I could help.

  • Omar Zenhom

    @Ritu Thanks Ritu! Appreciate it.

  • Omar Zenhom

    @AlexDarnoffice:disqus Thanks Alex! You’re right, fear is a killer but is often unfounded. Great comment Alex.

  • jhcorcoran

    This is an excellent formula, Omar. Nice work. (BTW, check out the leather bags at Blue Claw Co. – they have good stuff.)

  • jhcorcoran

    Corbett mentioned your tag line process and you going into the neighborhood to test tag lines during the taping of the new course on elevator pitches recently. But it was good hearing more of the backstory.

    Recently, I’ve been doing these one on one conversations with Fizzlers who took my Power Networking System. It’s really helpful to have a casual conversation with them and to get feedback. In my case, I already had a sales page set up and a course set up I was getting feedback on, but I love the idea of proposing 4-5 different tag lines or concepts and getting feedback/impressions on each.

    Great post, Omar.

  • Omar Zenhom

    @jhcorcoran Thanks John! Yeah, the experience was pretty fun and enlightening. It helps to know what your audience actual cares about so you’re not just rambling on, digging yourself into a hole.

    Thanks for the tip about Blue Claw Co. Will check them out!

    • jhcorcoran

      I actually followed your advice today. I am taking my digital product (the soon-to-be-renamed Power Networking System) and I’m using it as the basis for a 7-part coaching training. I had my first coaching session today with 1 student, a realtor who I know. Our agreement was I would coach him on how to grow his business by nurturing relationships with the right people, and in turn, he would give me feedback and advice. It went well. It was good to get that instant feedback as I talked things through with him.

      • Omar Zenhom

        Awesome John! Instant feedback is great! Love it my man.

  • Omar Zenhom

    It was a gentle slap ;) Glad it was of value.

  • http://writtent.com/ Sergey Shevtsov

    As for me, I have never tried real-world business idea validations yet. Only some organizational. And I actually used this strategy, partially of course=)

    These are amazing tips, I will try to follow them while validating my ideas, thanks a lot!

    • Omar Zenhom

      You’re welcome Sergey!

  • http://jimmyrose.co/ James Rose

    Good timing for this article. I’m just starting out on trying to validate an idea (or extract an idea). It definitely looks like an actual meeting with 10-15 people is one of the best way to really prove something

    • Omar Zenhom

      Awesome James! Let us know how it goes.

  • http://www.prolificliving.com/blog Farnoosh

    Excellent article here guys! I am sharing this with my client. Thanks for writing it up! I LOVE Step 2: Leave family and friends out of your business ;)!

  • http://jkoch.me/ Jan Koch

    Great stuff @omarzenhom:disqus!
    Another approach to real-world validation that I currently test out is simply setting up a landing page for a new project to collect email addresses of interested people.

    I’m building a business around WP maintenance and customization, but instead of doing all work upfront, I’ve set up a page to present the business idea and to build a list. Going great so far and now I’m even more excited to launch ;-)


    P.S. I’m in love with The $100 MBA Show, keep it up!

Up Next:

Everything is Derivative

Over the past few years, I've talked and worked with lot of smart, talented and motivated entrepreneurs-in-the-making who all get hung up on some variation of the same issue. The problem is usually described like this: "I can't decide what my business should be about. Every topic is already covered by someone else. How can I create something real and unique and not derivative?"

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