Business
RYAN ROBINSON
CONTRIBUTOR

Don’t let your day job or lack of capital stop you from finding and testing a business idea. Here’s how.

5 Ways to Validate a Business Idea, Right Now

Last year, I embarked upon a personal challenge to validate a business idea in 30 days.

To make it even more difficult, it was a random idea chosen by my readers. They asked me to do it without using my existing website, traffic and business connections and without spending more than 20 hours per week on the project. On top of that, I limited myself to spending no more than $500 validating this idea.

The experiment was a success.

In just two weeks, I built an email list of 565 subscribers without having an actual website. Then, I reached out to a handful of those subscribers and pre-sold 12 copies of a book that didn’t even exist yet, all in less than 30 days. I wrote about the experiment in real-time with in-depth weekly updates, successes, failures and lessons learned along the way, right here in my validation challenge.

Today, I want to share with you the five most effective ways to validate a business idea — quickly and without breaking the bank, based on what I learned through this experiment and from building several other businesses over the years.

1. Join an online community.

All great business ideas come from solving your biggest frustrations; the ones are also facing with similar obstacles. Want to uncover which problems you could get paid to help people solve? Join a topically relevant group on Facebook, LinkedIn or Slack, where members all have a shared interest.

Start asking genuine questions. Determine what their biggest challenges are in your topic area. Through these conversations, you’ll hear first-hand from your target customers exactly what they want. This gives you an incredible opportunity to create something more valuable, effective and unique to satisfy their needs in ways that others currently are not.

2. Guest posting.

The logic behind guest posting is simple. Get a preview of your upcoming solution, the idea you want to validate, published and highlighted on a more popular website that already has your existing audience built-in. Within your guest post on the same topic as the idea you want to validate, include links back to where readers can have the opportunity to learn more about what you’re building.

When I wanted to validate the idea for my first online course teaching people how to build a side business, I spent countless hours landing my first guest posts on blogs like Buffer, CreativeLive, The Daily Muse and other destinations, where I knew my audience was already reading.

Shortly after sending a cold email pitch to a writer at Buffer, my first guest post about finding meaningful work went live and in less than a week I’d amassed a couple hundred email subscribers that wanted updates on my course. The phone, email and Skype conversations I had with those early subscribers laid the foundation for the community I’ve grown and the products I’ve built.

3. Facebook ads.

If you’re willing to allocate a budget of $100 to $200 for driving paid traffic to your landing page through Facebook Ads, you can expect to get upwards of a couple hundred highly targeted visitors to come check out the idea you’re working on.

With a previous business, my partner and I were able to validate a brand new product line before investing in it. We spent $100 on Facebook Ads, collecting leads by offering a free downloadable guide. Then we transitioned into phone conversations with those potential customers, before landing our first $5,000 sale in less than two weeks. If you’re ready to try out your first Facebook Ads, get started and do it right.

4. Giveaways.

Choosing to run a contest or giveaway to help validate your idea can be massively successful in terms of growing your list of prospective customers, if you choose the right incentives to include in your giveaway. One of the most common mistake entrepreneurs make with hosting a giveaway, is awarding prizes that everybody would want to win.

If you run a giveaway, the prize needs to be very closely related to the solution you’re planning on building. That means no Amazon gift cards or iPhones. If you want to host a giveaway to validate your photography-related website idea, start by asking what photographers want most, which could be a free subscription to Adobe Lightroom, a new lens kit or a coaching session with a well-known photographer in their space.

Then, make sure you’re using the right giveaway platform to help incentivize entrants to share with their communities. If you can get each giveaway entrant to refer five of their friends, you can quickly go viral and build a large interest list. The Kingsumo Giveaways plugin for WordPress has this incentivized sharing feature built-in.

5. Amazon reviewers.

Want to validate your product idea? Start by combing through reviews of related products on Amazon to see what existing customers like, dislike and complain about most. Focus on identifying the two and three star reviews, where the customers are somewhere between ecstatic and wildly unhappy with their purchase.

Then, click through to the reviewers profile and click the button that says show more; the vast majority of Amazon reviewers that don’t edit their default profile settings, so you’ll likely see an option to send them an email. Reference their review, briefly mention you’re building something similar that’s designed to improve upon the product they reviewed, and ask whether they’d be up for answering a few questions.

At the end of the day, to succeed in business you need to be helping real people solve real problems. More importantly, as serial entrepreneur and TED speaker Derek Sivers shared with me in a recent interview, “Start now, you don’t need funding. For an idea to get big, it has to be useful—and being useful doesn’t need funding.”

The psychological trap of needing more time, money, experience or other resources before starting to build a business holds many aspiring entrepreneurs back from ever achieving their dreams. You have to work with what you’ve got. Start by simply validating your idea. The goal of validation is to give you relative certainty about the viability of your idea; it’s not a guarantee of success.

Validating your idea today will help prove that you’ll have a growing, paying audience of customers for the solution you plan on building, before you go out and create a finished product or service. Without validation, you run the risk of creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. Begin without grandiose expectations and just endeavor to be useful to people today. Help them overcome their challenges, document what works and see where it takes you.

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Wealth & Well-Being

How many millionaires does the U.S. have? Do you even know the order of magnitude? 100,000? 1 million? 10 million?

The answer, according to Credit Suisse’s “Global Wealth in 2015” report, is 15.7 million. Compared to the U.K., the country with the next most millionaires, the U.S. has 6.5 times as many millionaires.
Infographic: The Countries With The Most Millionaires | Statista

Of course, the U.S. also has around five times the population of the U.K., so the millionaires per capita aren’t too different—around 4.9% of the U.S. population is a millionaire and 3.7% of the U.K.

Looking at Statista’s chart, which visualized the Credit Suisse data, there is a serious exponential curve down from the U.S. to Turkey, which makes its number 15 slot look like a slap in the face rather than an accomplishment, which it is—there are 196 or 195 countries, depending on how you count. Clearly, there’s some serious global inequality in addition to what Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders has been trumpeting at home

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Women Empowerment

Shama Hyder, founder and CEO of Marketing Zen Group, tells all.

Named the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by Fast Company in 2013, Shama Hyder leverages social media in a big way. When she founded the Marketing Zen Group, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Dallas in 2009, she began to show the corporate world that it was time to take the new form of networking seriously. Starting with just $1,500—pulled from her own bank account—the company grew 400% in its first year into a full-fledged competitive brand with a global footprint.

The Skill Set: 5 Ways to Grow Your Personal Brand

Now a keynote speaker (she’s shared the stage with President Obama and the Dalai Lama) and star of her web show Shama TV, she has been listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was honored at the White House and the U.N. as one of the top young entrepreneurs in the country. If that’s not enough, she authored The Zen of Social Media Marketing and just launched her second book, Momentum: How to Propel Your Marketing and Transform Your Brand in the Digital Age, in May. In it, she outlines how businesses can achieve new momentum in their marketing efforts by following five simple principles.

Here, Shama shows how these same principles can be applied to marketing your own personal brand, as well.
 
LET ANALYTICS LEND YOU AGILITY

You don’t need a sophisticated online presence to take advantage of online analytics for your career goals. Even something as simple as keeping tabs on who’s viewing your LinkedIn profile can mean the difference between getting the job and not. Analytics allow you to respond in real-time to current trends or events. If someone relevant to your career goals views your profile, send them a quick message asking how you can help or if they’d like to connect. If you tweak your profile and get a boost in views, continue to make similar changes. Take full advantage of any and every kind of analytics you have access to, whether that means detailed Google Analytics data on visitors to your personal website or just information on who has liked and retweeted your tweets, in order to make informed, strategic moves aimed at reaching your goals.

 
FOCUS ON YOUR AUDIENCE

Think of your employer—or your potential employer—as the customer you’re trying to reach. Understanding your audience (and making your message all about them) is the key to making your marketing effective. What does your boss value? What does your dream workplace value? Tailor your message to those exact characteristics and skills, and you’ll be speaking their language.

 
INTEGRATE YOUR APPROACH

In today’s world, ‘either-or’ just isn’t an option anymore. ‘Both-and’ is the name of the game. Relying solely on online connections to help you land that dream job isn’t realistic—but neither is only connecting with people offline. An integrated approach to networking is vital to reaching the right people that can help you get where you want to be.

 

 
 
 
BECOME A CONTENT CURATOR

One of the biggest buzzwords in marketing and business today is ‘thought leader’—and with good reason. People who are not only experts in their field, but lead the way and blaze new trails with their dedicated followings online, command a great deal of respect and are highly sought after. But how can you become a thought leader in your field without adding more work to your plate? Rather than spending time creating your own content, become a content curator. Seek out relevant content online, share it with your network and add a quick comment or note to showcase your connection to it. You’ll soon become known for your smart and valuable contributions to your network’s conversations.

 
CROSS-POLLINATE
Cross-pollination is all about using every single resource at your disposal to reach your marketing goals. Why not do lunch with someone who works in the department where you’d like to be? Connect with a vendor your dream workplace uses, such as their website designer or marketing agency, to get introduced to whoever their contact at that company is. Creativity and the willingness to go that extra mile will always make you look good to an employer—and personal connections give you a significant leg up on your competition.
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Wealth & Well-Being

Think you have ten minutes to make a first impression?

Think again.

The first seven seconds in which you meet somebody, according to science, is when you’ll make a “first impression.”

So, whether it’s for an event, a business development meeting, or any other professional setting, you have to act very quickly in order to make the proper first impression.

In order to have a great meeting and be remembered in the right way — while cementing your reputation — here are some important tips:

1. Smile

Facial expressions are very important when it comes to making a good first impression. Who doesn’t want their personal brand to be associated with positivity?

Smiling’s at the start of this list for a good reason. Forty-eight percent of all Americans feel that a smile is the most memorable feature after first meeting someone.

While smiling is important, you probably don’t want to have a cheesy and inauthentic grin plastered across your face. Smile too widely and it’s going to look like you’re covering up nervousness. Or you might come across as arrogant. Even a small grin can go a long way.

Not only does smiling make others feel more comfortable around you, but it also decreases stress hormones that can negatively impact your health. This isn’t according to just one or two studies; smiling is highly correlated with longevity.

Since the need to make a positive first impression can increase your stress level, smiling is a way to take the edge off.

2. The right handshake

The handshake is accepted internationally as a professional sign of politeness. A proper handshake can convey confidence.

You might be rolling your eyes at this, but the handshake is a fine art. You want to walk the line between a squeeze that comes across as incredibly tight and the dreaded limp fish.

When you’re meeting with people whom you trust and have known for years, ask them how they feel after shaking hands, and how your handshake feels in relation to others they’ve experienced.

3. Introductions

You want your first seven seconds with somebody to be productive, so it’s great to throw in a verbal introduction as you meet with people.

Even something as basic as “great to meet you” after they greet you can break the tension, and stop you from getting off into a tangent. If you have a hard time remembering names, the intro is a great place to reinforce the name of the person you just met.

It doesn’t have to be too involved: when your contact says, “Hi, I’m Amelia,” reply with a simple, “Great to meet you, Amelia. I’m Jonah,” instead of just saying, “Hi, I’m Jonah,” in response.

4. Speak clearly

Many people have wonderful things to say but don’t speak with any confidence.

Unfortunately, that’s a great way to wind up getting overlooked. You want to be able to portray yourself in a positive light and give whomever you’re meeting a reason to listen to you.

Don’t overcorrect and get too loud, either: Studies have indicated that those who talk in a deeper voice, and more calmly, are taken more seriously.

5. Make eye contact

Looking someone in the eye conveys that you are confident and interested in what they have to say.

In Western countries like the U.S., eye contact shows respect to the person you’re meeting with. It also conveys a sense of interest in the conversation; likewise, looking away too much will make you appear distracted.

Like with most things, it’s a good idea to not overdo it; if you don’t take breaks now and again, your eye contact could be viewed as staring, which has negative connotations.

6. Use body language

One interesting thing about human psychology: most of us instinctively mirror each other’s body language.

Think about how infectious a yawn is in a group of people. A smile between friends is contagious, too. In fact, there’s a neuron that affects the part of the brain responsible for recognizing faces and reading facial expressions. This neuron causes the “mirroring” reaction.

So when another person sees you smiling, the neuron fires and causes them to smile in response. Mirroring goes both ways; if you pick up on and reflect back the non-verbal cues of the person you’re speaking with, it sends a non-verbal message that you feel what they feel.

Research shows that people who experience the same emotions are likely to experience mutual trust, connection and understanding.

Mirroring body language is a non-verbal way of saying “we have something in common.” When people say that someone gives off good energy, they’re not just indulging in some New Age beliefs; they’re describing mirroring and other synchronous behaviors they’re not consciously aware of.

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