By Olivia Pawlowski
Whether we realize it or not, one of the first things we notice about the brands we love is their marketing. Brands can set themselves apart from competitors by investing in marketing strategies that reflect who they are and what they stand for as a business. While your brand represents what you value, your marketing is how you communicate those values to your customers.
If you’re about to launch your business or you’ve been scouting for more cost-effective ways to market your brand, then here are some ideas on how you can market your brand and save at the same time!
As you begin marketing your brand across different media channels, it is important to remain true to your brand voice, even if you’re limited to 140 characters, like on Twitter. Representing yourself and your business honestly across all mediums is one way to build trust between you and your customers and ultimately amass a loyal following without spending a dime. Your brand becomes your customer’s first choice if your marketing strategies reflect who you are and choosing the right strategies for your business is important to building and maintaining that loyalty.
Social media can be a powerful marketing tool if used correctly. Creating a Facebook page or an account on Instagram or Twitter can be a way for your business to gain more visibility without dipping into your company’s budget. Unlike a traditional marketing strategy that is cost heavy, such as a billboard or a commercial, your business can easily reach a wide audience if you establish a social media presence for it – and you don’t even need to establish more than one! Investing in just one platform–Facebook, for example–helps to humanize your business because it creates a direct relationship between you and your clients. It gives your customers a space to provide feedback, suggestions, and ask questions, and gives you an opportunity to build trust and strengthen your relationships with your customers. The trick to social media is that the more active you are, the more followers you get. So, once you create a page or account for your business, start posting!
If you like the visual displays that a billboard or commercial affords but it is out of your budget, you can still create compelling visual media without breaking your bank. There are a myriad of online programs and tools at your disposal that are either free or offer free trials to get your feet wet in the digital editing world. You can test out the Adobe suite with a free monthly trial – you can create powerful photo galleries, engaging infographics, and even develop new logos. If you find you don’t need the resources offered by Adobe’s Creative Cloud afterwards, you can use Inkscape, Seashore, and Scribus, which are popular free alternatives. Your desire to create interesting and powerful visuals for your marketing should not be hampered by a tight budget. Taking high resolution photos and posting them on social media, using online tools to generate fun infographics for your website, or even using your smartphone to take and edit a content marketing video are all great ways to market your brand in a cost-effective way.
While establishing a social media presence for your business and creating engaging visuals are important aspects of marketing your company, the easiest way to market your brand without spending a dime is by being genuinely invested in your relationships with your customers. Even if your business is not in the customer service industry, your clients’ happiness should always be at the center of your mission because your customers are what ultimately determine and drive your success. By investing your time and energy into building real relationships with your clients, you can establish a loyal following that maintains itself and grows. Your customers, because they feel connected to your brand and your business, will post online about your business, refer their friends, and continue coming back to you instead of your competitors. Making simple strides to build customer loyalty, like interacting with clients on social media, is one of the best ways to market your brand without stretching your budget.
Olivia Pawlowski is a contributing author at OnDeck, a technology company focused on providing small businesses with the online resources they’ll need to be successful. With her experience in the marketing and communications fields, Olivia’s marketing tips and advice offer small business owners insightful industry information as they tackle new marketing strategies.
All of us want to make more money. However, we have been led to believe you have to spend money to make money. Or we’ve been told to be successful, we have to be the hardest worker in the room. The truth is, making money isn’t as time consuming or expensive as it’s made out to be. The issue is, there aren’t any sources that show the various ways you can make money quick with no risks.
These 6 strategies offer fast ways to start making money and do not require any monetary investment. These ideas are all actionable, take no more than 1 hour a day, and can be monetized within one month.
1) Dropship on eBay
Dropshipping has taken the world by storm recently and it’s no surprise why. Dropshipping is when the retailer (you) does not keep goods in stock. Instead, you transfer the customers’ orders to a manufacturer. They then fulfill the order and ship the item to the customer. By design, this method leaves you with a low-risk business model because you run an inventory-free business.
There are costs associated with traditional dropshipping as you need to pay monthly for an eCommerce platform like Shopify. You may also end up paying for other tools like an email service provider, lead generation software, and landing page builders. But the highest cost for all traditional drop shippers is the cost to advertise. When you launch a Shopify store, you will start with no traffic. That means you will usually have to spend money on Google ads and Facebook ads to drive traffic to your store. To avoid those advertising costs, a great platform to launch your eCommerce business on is eBay.
You don’t need to spend money advertising your product as there are over 180 million eBay users worldwide. And eBay offers 50 free listings a month or up to 1000 for free with an eBay store subscription.
Now there are limitations to this business model as you can’t capture email addresses or retarget customers. Still, this business model takes no money to start, and some people make 6-7 figures a year doing this.
2) Create an Instagram theme page
An Instagram theme page is an Instagram account that posts content around one topic consistently. You have probably seen this in the form of funny videos of cats or motivational quotes. Most people don’t think much of theme pages, but there is serious money to be made.
Once you create an established page of around 20-30k followers, then you can start charging for sponsorships. You will see that around the 20k mark, brands will start reaching out to you for promotions. What you can also do is flip Instagram accounts. After you have built your theme page, you can reach out to bigger pages in your niche and ask them if they would be interested in buying your account.
3) Become an Airbnb host
If you have a spare bedroom in your house, you can start monetizing that space by becoming an Airbnb host. They make the process effortless. All you need to do is take images of your home, fill out a brief description, and upload your listing on their platform. It is entirely free to list your home on Airbnb. Just like eBay, you don’t have to pay to promote your house as Airbnb already has over 100 million users on its platform.
How much money you can make through the platform depends on your location. You can use Airbnb’s calculator to get an estimate of how much money you could make a day.
4) Sell used textbooks
If you want to find a goldmine of valuable items, go to a college campus at the end of the academic year. Most college students throw away perfectly good items that they don’t plan on bringing home. One item in particular that they will rarely keep is their textbooks. Although the textbook may have no value to them, some businesses will pay a lot of money for it. Websites like Sell Back Your Book will buy almost any textbook and pay for your shipping costs.
To find students looking to sell their textbooks, you can set up shop in a high traffic area of a University and advertise you will buy textbooks. When someone asks if you’d buy their textbook, you look up the book on the website and see how much the website would buy the book for. From there, you tell the person looking to sell their book that you’ll buy their book for a fraction of the price you can sell it for. Again, you incur no inventory risk as we have a guaranteed buyer once you acquire the book.
5) Manage Youtube Influencers
Most Youtubers start their accounts because they love talking about their topic of interest. What they don’t know is that if they build a strong following, they can easily monetize their account. What you should do is find Youtubers in a specific niche and ask them how much they would charge for a promotion in their video. Most won’t know what to say as they do it more for fun than for-profit and will give a low number.
From there, with their permission, email companies in that niche and say you manage this Youtuber. In the email, ask if the company would be interested in having the Youtuber promote their product in a video. When they ask for pricing, give a number higher than what the Youtuber asks for. Make sure to be completely transparent with the Youtuber that you are making money from these product placements. Usually, they will be fine with this as long as you pay them what they ask for.
6) Print on-demand t-shirts
Print-on-demand is a similar business model to dropshipping as you only process orders after they come in. Now, all colleges have various organizations, clubs, and teams that they make t-shirts for every year. These organizations don’t usually go price shopping for the best t-shirt deals, which means it is easy to undercut the competition.
First, go to a school’s directory and find every student organization on campus. From there, send them a message saying you provide high-quality, custom made t-shirts and ask them for their t-shirt design and how much they are currently paying. When the organization sends you their design and price, you can input their design to your print provider and see if you can get a better price. You want to make sure that you can undercut their current provider while still making a healthy profit for yourself.
Bank loans and venture capital aren’t the only ways to get a new business up and running. Countless entrepreneurs have started successful businesses without borrowing a dime. Known as bootstrapping or starting a business without outside capital, small business owners who’ve gone this route have had to rely on their resourcefulness, drive and creativity instead of cash to build successful enterprises.
“Being undercapitalized was a great thing for Barefoot,” says Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Cellars and co-author of the upcoming book The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestselling Wine. “It forced us to think creatively and to be resourceful every step of the way.”
According to Houlihan, instead of having the luxury of throwing cash at every problem that surfaced, Barefoot Cellars had to create processes and procedures that stood up on their own merits. As a result the company learned in the early days how to operate lean and to survive on a shoestring budget.
For Heather Whaling, founder and CEO of Geben Communication — which she started in December of 2009 and was completely self-funded — one of the key takeaways from bootstrapping her PR firm was incorporating a pay as you go mentality that is still in effect three years later (even though the business has grown more than 150% and she has six months of operating expenses in the bank).
“If we want to do something we make sure we have the funds available to do it,” says Whaling.
While getting a loan or raising capital may seem the easier way to bankroll your new business, here are some tried and tested ways to grow a start-up with little cash.
No. 1: Start in the garage
Bill Gates isn’t the only one who can be successful starting a business in his garage. According to experts, a great way to save money is to run your business in a location that won’t require you to pay extra rent — whether it’s your garage, bedroom, basement or attic.
“Barefoot’s first office was a laundry room,” says Houlihan. “It wasn’t glamorous. But it held our files and a desk and most importantly, it allowed us to get the job done without spending any extra money.”
No. 2: Get paid upfront
Whether you are manufacturing a product or providing a service, the sooner you can get paid the quicker you can grow your business, which is why experts say it’s a good idea to try and get paid, even partially, up front. Whaling, who typically gets paid on a retainer basis, has clients make a down payment when they sign on. Not only does it mean money is coming in from the get-go, but it bolsters her relationship with her clients.
“The new client feels they have skin in the game if they paid,” says Whaling.
If you’re selling a product, Houlihan says a win-win strategy is to offer retailers a discount if they pay cash for the product or buy a large quantity. By doing that you can be ahead of your bills and the retailer wins because it is saving money.
No. 3: Barter for what you need
Bartering hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs, in fact it is alive and thriving and is a great way to get the goods and services you need without spending a dime.
“Find other start-ups that have what you need and need what you have,” says Houlihan. “A good place to start might be any suppliers that are also start-ups. They are cash-strapped like you and probably need to spend money they don’t have.” You can also use a barter company that specializes in handling business trades.
No. 4: Commit to keeping costs low
In order to build a business with little cash you need to first commit to keeping costs as low as possible. Once you make a conscious decision to do that, it’s easier to implement strategies to make that work. For Whaling it meant working out of her home for the first couple of years, outsourcing functions and using freelancers.
Barefoot Cellars also embraced outsourcing as a way to save money in the early days. According to Houlihan, he and his co-founder outsourced wine production, bottling and the logo that went on the bottles.
“If we’d had to pay for all of that space, equipment, and manpower up-front, we would never have gotten Barefoot off the ground,” he says.
No. 5: Get free advertising through non-profits
Let’s face it, you are going to have to advertise or market in order to build awareness and thus sales. But for many start-ups the funds simply aren’t there. To get around the costs of advertising, Houlihan says to partner with non-profits that you care about. Sure you’ll be giving your product or service away for free, but you’ll also reach potential customers that share the same beliefs and concerns that you do.
Houlihan says the best approach is to reach out to small, local non-profits and charities.
“We sought out organizations that believed in causes close to our own hearts,” says Houlihan. “We gained access to huge numbers of potential customers and gave them a ‘social reason’ to buy Barefoot wine.”
When I started Bridesmaid for Hire in 2014, I didn’t have much money to put behind launching and scaling as a business. But I did have time. I’d recently been laid-off from my full-time job as a copywriter, and knew that I had to make my new business work, even without much of a budget.
What I lacked in financial resources, I decided to make up for in mastering knowledge that I could use to become my own marketing department. I spent time learning social media strategy and PR. I even researched other businesses, in all types of industries, and put together a master plan of how to use viral tactics and customer satisfaction to level up and expand my business, all for free.
Over the past six years, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients without spending a dollar on advertising or marketing. Here’s exactly how I did it so far.
1. Build a personal brand
When you first start a business, a lot of trouble in getting new customers lies in people needing to trust you, especially when you’re the one providing the service to them. That’s why I turned to my personal brand, which consisted of years worth of blog content, a social media presence, a website, press interviews, and more. This allowed potential customers to get to know me and my reputation, apart from just my new business.
Everyone needs a personal brand. Start by understanding your value, skills, and story. Then communicate that consistently across multiple platforms, starting with a website and one to two social media channels.
People like to do business with people they can relate to and know. That’s why your personal brand will help attract new customers who might be wary of taking a chance on a business they just discovered.
2. Do your own PR
Getting featured in news articles and going viral multiple times helped me bring in new customers on a monthly basis. I never hired a PR firm and instead found ways to pitch media myself.
I started out by researching and creating a long list of media outlets I wanted to be featured on, and then learned what kind of stories they like to focus on. Then I adjusted my pitches to each of these press outlets and followed up with them, many times, to get feedback and eventually get featured. By doing this, I’ve been featured in over 250 press outlets in the last six years.
Create a wishlist of places you’d like to be featured on, then do your research and craft a pitch that is relevant to what their audience will care about and what will make a good story for them to run with. You can also use tools like Help a Reporter Out (which is free) to get an understanding of what reporters are looking for from sources.
3. Provide free value
Although I was eager to make money when I started my business, I realized that I also needed to create constant value for my customers and oftentimes that came in the form of free value.
I decided to write weekly blog posts and create advice videos on YouTube so that every time someone found out about my company (through press or social media) they could consume tip-based content for free. This was my way of providing credibility for the business and value for the customer.
In addition to products or services you offer, create at least one way to share free value with your audience. Consider a blog, video series, podcast, ebook, or other marketing materials that won’t cost you anything, and will give so much to your audience and prospective customers.
4. Tap into social media
Social media can be a powerful free avenue of finding new customers for your business. I decided to use Instagram and Facebook heavily, posting at least once a day on both platforms. I also interacted with other accounts that my audience would adore in the industry (but weren’t my competitors), I used hashtags so my content would be searchable, and I only posted content that had value for my audience (and wasn’t too salesy or generic).
Pick two platforms to launch on and maintain them regularly. It will help new customers discover you and leave with a mighty first impression of the business.
5. Keep industry friends close
I spent a lot of my free time finding people within the wedding industry I could network with. If you don’t have a budget for ads or marketing, word of mouth referrals can be a big way to gain new customers.
I sent cold emails to other wedding vendors and introduced myself and my services. I met at least five industry professionals for coffee every month to network. I sent them business, and they sent me business. This was a great way of building relationships with people who interact with my audience but aren’t my direct competitor, and create a connection to gain new customers on a regular basis.
Research who else in your industry your customers often interact with or buy from. Reach out to them and make a connection. This can significantly help you build your business and help you get referrals.
6. Create superfan customers
I prioritized over-delivering for my customers to ensure they were happy with my service. This helped me create superfan customers who would share my information with their friends and networks, and also be happy to act as a good referral. Sometimes I’d ask past customers to share my information, or I’d offer them a free service (like a check-up phone call) if they brought in a new customer.
Think about how you can encourage past customers who enjoyed your product or working with you to become ambassadors who help bring in new business.
You can be successful without having a big budget to spend on bringing in new business, you just have to have a strong strategy and think outside of the box. Tap into skills you already have and learn how to be your own master marketer, so you can use different avenues to spread the word and grow your business.
Marketing is one of the thresholds of any business.
To get more paying customers, you need a solid marketing strategy. It goes without saying that every marketing strategy includes paid ads.
You have to invest to bring more customers which ultimately generates more profits for you. But sometimes, implementing a marketing campaign can cost your company a lot.
So, what happens when you need to push a product or service and you do not have money to spare?
How do you go about marketing your product without spending a dime?
The good news is, this is very much achievable if you know the right channels to market through and the best way to do your marketing through these channels.
So, if you don’t have money to spare for marketing, how do you market your product without spending a dime?
How can you market your product without spending a dime?
1. Use your email list
From personal experience, this has proven to be one of the most effective ways to get people to buy your products without spending one naira.
You can get massive sales from your email list. All you have to do is write a convincing email copy and that’s all.
Here at RenegadeCommerce, there have been countless times we have used emails to launch a new product, relaunch a new product, run a promo, etc. without spending a dime. And the sales we get are mind-blowing.
But to do this, you need to first have an email marketing strategy in place. That means that you already have a list of people subscribed to your emails.
How do you get people subscribing to your email list? Through lead generation.
Once you have their contact information in place, you keep reaching out to them and engaging them, and when you think it is right, you push in your sales content.
More often than not, you are guaranteed to make sales.
To learn more about email marketing and how you can build your own email list, please read this article: How to Use Email Marketing to Grow Your Business
2. Encourage customer referrals
Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to get those products off your shelves.
Imagine a daughter telling her mum about this new hair product that worked wonders for her hair and you putting up an ad about that product.
Which do you think will be more effective? The daughter’s testimony about your product.
This is why you need to encourage customers to refer their friends to your product or service. You can offer incentives to your customers for every new customer they bring in.
This could be in the form of a discount on their next purchase or free access to something valuable to them.
Anything you think will encourage them to talk about your product will do just fine.
3. Increase engagement across all platforms
You need to increase engagement across all online platforms you have signed up on – whether it is email services, websites, social media, etc.
Engaging your audience helps your prospective customers to know more about your business and it helps you to know more about your audience.
This, in the long run, can translate to sales.
You need to get your audience talking. What problems do they have? How can you help with a solution? How well is your product providing the solution that they need?
Getting these answers will help you tailor your product to suit their needs.
But you do not stop there.
Engagement helps you to be in their faces as much as possible.
Every day they wake up and log in to that platform, you are there waiting for them, showing care, providing value, and more importantly, showing them a million and one ways your product can make their lives better.
Over time, if you are consistent with this, you can get these people interested in your product enough to want to try it out. Even people who have already purchased your products will come back for more.
4. Create creative and valuable content
If you want people hooked on your brand and interested in your products, create valuable content.
Your product is supposed to help solve a problem that your prospect has. Create content that puts them a step further to getting that solution.
This will keep them coming back for more.
Not only that, you can position your product or service as the ultimate solution to their problems through their content.
On social media, you have to make sure that your content is not just valuable but also creative. The idea is to make your audience stop scrolling for a second and read, watch or listen to the content you have created.
How do you do that? by making sure your content is one that grabs attention, one uniquely different from loads of content they have to go through each day.
So, your content game has to be on point.
Play with the different types of content and see which your audience engages with the most.
Good content does not only engage your audience, but it also helps to increase your following which in turn increases your chances of sales.
5. Let the testimonials do the talking
The power of testimonials cannot be overemphasized.
People do not just want to hear what you have to say, but what other people who have used your product have to say.
You should encourage reviews and when they come in, paste them boldly on your social media platforms, Vlogs, blogpost – whatever platform you are on.
Let your audience know that this is real and other people like them are experiencing life in a new and improved way because of your product or service.
Reviews show your audience that your product or service works and they often trigger conversations that eventually lead to sales.
You can market your product without spending a dime.
One thing you need at the base of everything is to get people to know that your product is the best for them.
If you already have a community on different online platforms, it makes your work easier. All you need to do is create amazing content that will convince them that your product is the real deal.
If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will answer as soon as I can.
Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links from which we receive a compensation (like Amazon for example). But they do not affect the opinions and recommendations of the authors.
Wise Bread is an independent, award-winning consumer publication established in 2006. Our finance columns have been reprinted on MSN, Yahoo Finance, US News, Business Insider, Money Magazine, and Time Magazine.
Like many news outlets our publication is supported by ad revenue from companies whose products appear on our site. This revenue may affect the location and order in which products appear. But revenue considerations do not impact the objectivity of our content. While our team has dedicated thousands of hours to research, we aren’t able to cover every product in the marketplace.
For example, Wise Bread has partnerships with brands including, but not limited to, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Discover, and Amazon.
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Becoming a small business owner or freelancer is a great way to regain control of your schedule while having limitless potential for income and locational flexibility. The only problem is that starting a new business venture usually comes with a big price tag.
It may be difficult to fund a new business without using loans or credit cards, but it’s not impossible. Here are some tried-and-true ways to avoid taking on debt when becoming your own boss. (See also: 6 Simple Ways to Market Your Side Business)
Bootstrap Your Business
Bootstrapping is essentially the DIY version for business owners. It’s the process of streamlining your expenses while spending as little as possible in order to grow your business in the long term. It’s not just about being cheap, but more importantly about spending money on the right areas of business while being conscious of your bottom line.
A few bootstrapping techniques include outsourcing small projects to contractors using paid gig sites, such as Fiverr or Upwork versus hiring regular employees, or paying for a course to learn a bit of copywriting, versus hiring a professional copywriter.
But don’t stop there. Are there existing sources of funding you can use for your new venture? Can you use the cash value of your life insurance policy, sell a little-used second vehicle, or downsize your home? Bootstrapping takes many forms, and if you’re serious about avoiding debt, you should also be serious about locating funding.
Seek Out an Investor
This is not a new idea by any means, but it’s one that should nonetheless be considered. If you need capital for inventory or equipment, seek out an investor who believes in your idea and is willing to become part owner. This will give you the added cash flow your business needs without going to the bank.
You can choose to be as informal as you want, by asking friends and family to invest in your idea, or be more formal by seeking out someone like an angel investor, either through local professional networks, or on websites such as Gust.
You have to be willing to take on a partner of course, but working with someone who has deeper pockets than you do could be a real advantage.
Leverage a Day Job
Consider leveraging your current day job while starting your business on the side as a means of generating revenue for your new venture. This is a very smart way to vet out your idea before having the added pressure of making it produce revenue to support itself. Many entrepreneurs choose this route before starting an online business, and essentially use their day job to fund their dream job.
This method may take a bit longer to build up, and you’ll have to juggle multiple priorities at the same time, but you will be the sole owner of your business and able to build a solid foundation from the beginning.
If your business venture is an idea for something that people will buy, such as a physical product or a smartphone app, consider crowdfunding as a way to infuse your new idea with the cash it needs to get off the ground. Sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are perfect platforms for bringing your new idea to the masses.
There have been quite a few ideas brought into the market this way, including everything from video games to watches and beer, that have grossed more than $1 million dollars from crowdfunded pledges.
Give your new business the fighting chance it deserves by avoiding taking on debt in the beginning stages. You will learn to streamline your work process and focus on the true priorities while the business grows. Then you can later expand and build upon the foundation you’ve created.
Have you launched a business or side business? How’d you pay for it?
Let’s face it: starting your own business is not a stress-free endeavor. In fact, if you can’t handle stress well, you might not succeed as an entrepreneur.
But before you throw in the towel, try these 5 techniques that can bring down your blood pressure.
Best of all, they’re totally free.
1. Find a Better Breath
When you’re uptight, pay attention to your breathing. I’m willing to bet it’s tight and shallow. But deeper breaths from your diaphragm can not only reduce stress almost instantly but also lower your blood pressure and help you calm down.
Try it now: sit up straight and inhale slowly and deeply. Pause at the top of that breath. Then let it out slowly. After a few of these, you’ll forget that your supplier sent you the wrong product.
2. Drink a Cuppa
So many of us rely on coffee to get us through our day, but tea is where it’s at. Rather than sending us jittering through our day, certain teas like chamomile and lavender can calm us down and help us focus on the task at hand.
Keep an electric kettle, teacup, honey, and selection of tea near your desk so you always have a cup of calm within reach.
3. Try Desk Yoga
No, you don’t have to take an hour out of your day and bucks out of your wallet to reap the benefits of yoga. You can even try yoga at your desk, just a few minutes a day, to see results.
Here’s a favorite of mine: pull away from your desk in your chair with your arms on the edge of your desk, shoulder-width apart. Stretch as far as you can until it feels good, with your back flat. This helps loosen up those tight shoulders and neck. Reading about yoga also makes me feel good, so take two minutes to read a great article.
4. Go for a Walk
It’s amazing what a change of environment can do for you. It’s all too easy to feel trapped in your office, which does nothing positive for your stress level. Instead, take a walk. It doesn’t have to be long or go very far. Even a five-minute stroll around the parking lot can help you unwind.
Pack your walking shoes and keep them handy so you never have the excuse of wearing the wrong shoes to walk!
5. Leverage the Break Room
There’s a reason that room at the end of the hall is called the “break room!” Schedule a couple of time-outs each day and enjoy that cup of tea there. Bonus points if you find a co-worker to chat with. Casual conversation is also a great stress reliever.
No matter how you decide to manage your stress, the key is being aware of your levels and knowing when you need relief. Unchecked, high stress levels can cause you to crack, explode at your staff, or even cause health problems, so take care of them before you get to that point.
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Sleeping on the Streets
in just over 1 month, I’ll be spending the night on the streets of Dallas in order to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness in the MetroPlex. With your help, we can make a difference in the lives of … Ещё young people. Whatever you can spare makes a difference, so if it’s $5 or $500, give what you can, to people who truly need it:
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Last night in the shower, you had an ingenious idea for a new business. You rushed to the desk to write it down, with water still dripping down your back. Your [insert the brilliant thing] is going to change the universe! It’s time to call up investors, assemble a team and . . . stop! Stop right there!
Before plunging into execution, you should confirm you’re solving a problem and/or meeting a need that people want to pay for. (Unless you’re Beyoncé. Then you can make money selling the air you breathe.)
Idea validation should be done on both macro and micro levels. And if you do it right, you won’t need to spend your PayPal balance on any of that. Here are some extremely cheap (read: free) ways that I and other entrepreneurs I know have used to test ideas.
The macro test
Before testing the specifics of your new venture, validate the big picture first. How large is the market? Who are your potential competitors? Are you differentiated enough? Google will answer all of those questions for you.
Start by searching the keywords related to your idea in both Google search and Google Trends. For example, when I had the idea for starting Soundwise, a mobile platform for audio courses, I researched around keywords such as podcast, audiobook and e-learning. Need more keyword ideas? Sign up for Google AdWords and use the Keyword Planner tool for inspiration.
You should also Google “XYZ industry report” or “XYZ market analysis” to get stats and data about your market. Pay attention to the related search terms Google shows you at the bottom of your search result page. For more updated information, filter the search to only include results from the past year.
Think of at least one company that offers a similar product to yours. Do research on that company and on its competitors. How do you know who its competitors are? Just Google “product X versus.” The competitors’ names will pop up, as there are legions of articles written online comparing every minute detail of every product: Pepsi vs. Coke, Target vs. Amazon, chihuahua vs. chow chow . . . . How do people find time to write those? I don’t know. Ask Google.
What you want to find at this stage is not necessarily a large market size, which often comes with the side effect of competitors galore. Ideally, what you want is to be able to say yes to all of the following:
Is there an upward trend in search volume and industry growth related to your idea?
Can you find existing players in your market that are already doing well to demonstrate there’s indeed market demand?
Are there meaningful differences between what’s in the market and what you’re thinking of offering? (We don’t know that for sure yet. “Seem to be” is good enough for now).
The micro test
Once you familiarize yourself with the macro picture, it’s time to, as Steve Blank put it, “get out of the building.”
Go to a few Starbucks in your area (or any other coffee shop, except an empty one) and talk to 20 people about your idea. I’d open with “Hi, I’m a researcher doing a project on XYZ. Can I ask you a few questions?” Don’t mention you’re in marketing or business. Most folks close up faster than you can say Jack Robinson once they have the remote suspicion that a stranger wants to sell something.
If they say yes, the next question you ask is their consumption habit in your product category. Do they use XYZ product (your competitor)? Why or why not? When do they use XYZ? Is there anything frustrating about using XYZ? Their answers will tell you what kind of consumer you are talking to, whether they’d be your target customer and if there is anything missing in the market that you can offer.
When V. Orban, a guest on my podcast, started Goûter, an organic tonic brand, she did the Starbucks test wherever she went. She asked strangers what they drank throughout the day, where they bought their beverages from, what they disliked about juices or green smoothies and whether they knew what alkaline water (an ingredient in her tonic) was. That helped her realize there was indeed room for a new product like hers and what the message of her brand should be.
Once you understand who you are talking to, explain your idea to them succinctly, ask “what do you think of this” and then shut up and listen.
Be very suspicious when people tell you “that’s a great idea” — most likely their mama taught them good manners. What you really want to get to is why and how people see your product fit into their daily life. If they give you the “sandwich compliment,” i.e. “Oh, that’s a great idea! It’s not for me though. But I can see lots of other people using it . . . ,” you just got thumb-downed. Find out why. But keep in mind that at this stage you shouldn’t be hard selling your idea. As soon as you find yourself doing that, move on.
If the person likes your idea and says they’d use your product themselves, don’t be too excited yet. Your idea is not validated until people are willing to invest some resources to demonstrate their interest. Ask if they’d be willing to sign up as a beta user, or give you their email address so that you can let them know when the product comes out in three months. If they say yes, congratulations! You’ve just validated your idea on one person, and got a hot customer lead as well.
Idea validation is iterative. The workflow of your project should be: idea, validation, modified idea, execution, repeat. A similar process applies whenever you’re thinking of adding a new feature to an existing product or pivoting your offering to something else. The bottom line: Do your research and never stop taking feedback on your ideas.