Everybody's been there. You're standing around the water cooler talking with your coworkers, talking with friends over drinks, or maybe just taking a shower. Then it hits you -- a brilliant business idea.
Everybody will want this!
This will sell like hotcakes!
I can't believe nobody thought of this before!
Then you start talking about it with your friends and family. No surprise -- everybody has an opinion. Your mom thinks it's a great idea. Your brother-in-law sees lots of problems. Your best friend isn't so sure. Who's right? Who actually knows if the idea is going to work?
None of them -- and neither do you.
If you've ever watched ABC's Shark Tank, you've noticed that one of the first questions the sharks ask contestants after their initial pitch is: "How many have you sold?"
The "Sharks" know that the only people who can tell you if a business idea is going to work is the customers. The people who actually pull out their wallets and give you money are the only ones who can answer the elusive question: "Will it work?"
Here's how to find out if your business idea will work. The great news is that you don't have to go on Shark Tank or bump into Mark Cuban at the grocery store. You can figure this out yourself.
1. Get really good at explaining it
Sometimes an idea makes great sense in your mind, but it may not make sense to other people. People may not think your business idea is good, but that may be because they don't understand it. Everyone has a different view of the world and different filters through which they understand and process things. Maybe you aren't getting through their filters. Maybe they assign different meaning to the words you use. Maybe they have a fundamental belief that is different than yours -- which you may take for granted.
Or maybe you just suck at explaining it. That's OK. You just have to practice until you get it right. It won't happen right away and it will be clunky as you figure it out. Put yourself into your customer's brain and think like they do. Think about how they would think about it. What would it do for them? How would it make their life better? What problem do they have that it would solve? How would they feel if that problem was solved?
Watch infomercials. Whether you find them annoying or addicting, they know how to do this well. Watch an infomercial for a product you don't care about and would never buy. Then you can watch it unemotionally and observe how they connect with their customer as they pitch their product.
2. Listen to what people say when you explain it
First off, accept the fact that at least half (probably more) of your initial conversations about your product idea will be awkward, clunky and you'll be face-to-face with an either confused or uninterested person. Be cool with that. It's part of the process and embrace the fact that these initial, awkward conversations are not only part of the process; they are also crucial to learning enough about your customer to create a product they can't wait to give you money for.
Business ideas developed in this way start with the customer, instead of starting in the aspiring entrepreneurs' mind. Since the customer is the one who is ultimately going to make the decision of whether or not to buy (and whether or not the product is going to be successful), it ought to start with them.
3. Identify who really wants it
I recently talked to the inventor of a children's learning game. He was working to get it into toy stores and websites that sell educational products. But as he was having conversations with potential customers (using this very process), he learned that senior centers were very interested in the product because it allowed older folks to remain active with their hands and it challenged them mentally. Now he has another market for his product.
Human beings are complicated creatures and there are a lot of us. Get out and talk to as many people as possible, so you can understand who is interested in this brilliant idea you have. People of various walks of life have different problems, needs and are seeking all different sorts of solutions. Keep your ears and your mind open for possibilities that you never would have thought of.
The great thing about following a simple process like this is that if you approach it right, it makes failure nearly impossible. If you listen to your market closely enough and evolve and change your business idea enough, you'll eventually find that million-dollar product.
It won't happen overnight, but persistence will get you there every time.
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