So you’ve got a great idea for a product. In fact it’s an awesome idea. You’ve been thinking about it for weeks. Every time you do you get more excited. You’ve even done some research and no one else is doing it. Or if they are, then you would do it far better than them and steal their market and then some. Or so you tell yourself. But have completed product testing on your idea, and in doing so saved your time and money just in case your product can’t reach the potential you imagined?
I’ll be honest. I’ve done it plenty of times. Come up with an idea off of a whim. I’ve then gone and thrown a lot of my cash into building it, only to realise once I’d blown my money it was never going to work or there was never a market for it in the first place.
Often we talk ourselves and our ideas up. It’s only natural. Our next product idea is going to be just amazing because we are in all probability hanging out for that killer idea to make us money and keep us busy. We might even be obsessed about making it happen.
But the reality may actually be different. In fact someone else may already have your idea, tried it out and failed at it. Or you could actually have something that could work that no one else has tried before. But how can you be sure, or at least make sure, you aren’t repeating the same mistakes as someone else who has tried and failed at it?
Well – it’s easy. You do product testing, but why do so many of us avoid it and launch straight into the idea?
1. We are over confident. We know what our potential customers want and we are going to get it for them.
2. We just want to get started on something because you read somewhere that action is better than inaction.
3. We really don’t know what we are doing or how to ask people to validate our idea.
But wouldn’t it far better that instead of racing ahead or making assumptions, that you take a step back (and a deep breath) to validate your idea? You could save time and money, particularly if it’s not viable. But on the flip side – if it actually is that awesome idea the World has been waiting for, you’ll know in advance and you can throw everything at it to make it a success. Then when it comes to launching, you can devote more energy to peripheral things like marketing, sales, customer fulfillment etc…and sleep well knowing that your core product is in demand.
So tell me more about product testing, you ask?
Well product testing is about creating a prototype version, in its most simplest and cheapest form, and getting it in front of potential customers to get feedback as quickly as possible. It follows a lean approach to doing things. If you are interested in understanding more about the lean approach and ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) then check out this book by Eric Ries: The Lean Startup
But I’m sure you already know something about product testing, so I’m not going too spend too much time on the concept. Instead in this post I want to focus on your path to getting product testing done really well. A path where freelancers provide invaluable input and where you can leverage a range of existing resources (tools, software and content) that can get you to where you want to be.
If you are like me, then you might hate sharing your ideas. You worry that they will get stolen so you guard them preciously like Gollum guarding the ring from The Lord of the Rings. Well I’ve realised over the years that ideas are a ‘dime a dozen’. There are probably billions of ideas created every day, some good and some terrible.
But I’m going to let you in on something you may already know. What makes (or will make) your ideas successful (apart from product testing) is execution and delivery. If you can’t commit to spending a sizeable amount of time every day to achieving your goals, and push through the pain barrier when things get tough (which I guarantee they will), then you won’t succeed. Period.
The reality is most people don’t have it in them to be entrepreneurs or pursue startups. When they look beyond the honeymoon phase of coming up with an idea and see the months and even years ahead of struggle, they prefer to return to the comfort zone of their life and perhaps their current 9-5 existence. So don’t worry about sharing your ideas.
To be truly successful when it comes to product testing you must get your idea out there. There’s no point being ambiguous to the point that when you do talk about it you end up confusing your friends, family and would be customers.
Why share your idea? Because when you share it you get people’s reaction. You get the – “that’s great” or the “hmmm….interesting concept but have you thought about…” type of reactions.
In fact you should actually aim for 2 types of responses:
Options to get your idea out there…
Estimated cost: $50-$100 USD per hour
Estimated cost: Free
So what to go for? A Freelancer or Other resources?
My Recommendation: It depends on your budget and your market. I would personally go with the option of taking the idea to forums because you get real time feedback from people who are involved in your market. However you may also end up with the anxiety that someone may like your idea and develop it themselves. If you want a bit more product idea security and you want more structure around the analysis to be completed, then a suitably qualified freelancer is another viable option.
I think improving on products that currently exist is a really awesome way of doing things. But it’s not for everyone. There’s the perception (I’d call it misconception) that because someone has already developed a product then in theory they own that market. The reality is far from that.
Look at Facebook for example. Before Facebook there was Myspace. At the time Myspace was it and a lot more. No one else compared to them. It even surpassed Google as the most visited site in 2006. It was worth $12bn. But then a certain individual called Mark Zuckerberg came along, a college student at the time, and created a social networking site from his college dorm room.
It didn’t start out as Facebook but it eventually became Facebook. Zuckerberg showed Myspace how it could (and should be done) and a $12bn company turned into a $35 million company.
Do you think that Mark Zuckerberg had a few doubts when he was coding up Facebook? Probably. But I’m guessing they were more about the functionality working rather than whether could he compete with the monster that Myspace was at the time.People that have gone before you to prove an idea are actually doing you a huge favour by taking away all the hassle of demonstrating a need for a product. Instead, you get to focus on what you can do much better than them. Find out what their current customers are saying, both good and bad, and therein lies your opportunity.
Options to see if you can improve someone else’s product….
Estimated cost: $50-$100 USD per hour or $15-$50 USD per hour
You have 2 options. You could hire a product development expert via Upwork, Freelancer, People per Hour and Guru. But it will be expensive and there’s a lot more work involved with this type of analysis compared to just hiring someone to bounce a product idea off, of.
Or you could hire a research analyst/assistant. Research analysts, as their name suggests, are experts at finding answers and there’s plenty of them on freelancer marketplaces. So for example you pose the question: “I have an idea for a product, I want you to go away and find out what competitor products exist and what the gaps are in this product?”
A research analyst/assistant would then go away and use a range leading, specialist resources to find this out and present this back to you in a detailed report. You should expect to spend a minimum of 4 hours -6 hours of time to get analysis done – depending on how complex and niche your product idea is.
Estimated cost: Free through to $99.95 USD per month
You search on the keywords associated with their product, then find out the niche keywords associated with their product that they aren’t using in their marketing but has a relatively high search volume. Take advantage of the potential market with those keywords by looking at how you can both develop your product to meet the need of those keywords, and equally market your product to those keywords.
You could combine this with any feedback insights you get through Google or social media by seeing what people say relating to those keywords (check out Buzzsumo – a great tool for finding out content marketing combined with SEO opportunities) and work out if there’s an opportunity to create a niche feature in your potential product to meet that opportunity.
SEMrush starts at $99.95 USD per month once you finish your free trial, which is on the expensive side of things. But you can cancel at any time, and it will come in very handy for doing keyword analysis when you advertise your product through Google AdWords (which I’ll talk about in a moment).
An alternative (and free option) is to open up a Google AdWords account – and use their Keyword Planner tool. It doesn’t give you the same functionality as SEMrush or other SEM tools (like the ability to deep dive on keywords and obtain metrics around keyword competition (outside of a Google AdWords advertising context)), or the ability to see which of your potential competitors are using specific keywords. But it’s a starting point.
So which should I go for? Freelancer or Other resources?
My Recommendation: How much time do you have and do you think you’ll be looking at other product ideas? If you’re only wanting to spend time and effort on one product idea, regardless of whether it succeeds or not then your best bet is hiring a research analyst to do the analysis for you. They’ll know how to navigate through a wide range of resources and information sources to get the answers you need. However make sure you agree the scope of work upfront and set up a fixed price for the work.
If on the other hand this is just the start of your journey into becoming an entrepreneur and there are plenty of other ideas to come, then you definitely need to invest in a keyword analysis tool. As mentioned, I use SEMrush and I love it. There are other tools available with similar pricing, like: Moz (who also provide some free SEO tools) and also Long Tail Pro. Check them out. I personally find SEMrush to just have everything I need in one place, rather than bouncing between different tools to put the jigsaw puzzle together.
Regardless, by investing in an SEM tool you’ll have the flexibility to do your product and competitor research. You’ll also get access to great keyword insights that will be invaluable when it comes time to running your AdWords campaign for product ideas.
You might have already had a product idea, but after following my suggestions discovered it wasn’t a viable product. Well firstly – congratulations! You’ve just saved yourself a heap of pain.
But this initial failure hasn’t deterred you. Well congratulations again. Looks like you have the makings of an entrepreneur by treating failure as a stepping stone to success. But now your problem is you are suffering from product creation block. The ideas aren’t flowing and you are getting frustrated.
Options to find a product idea…
Estimated cost: $15-$50 USD per hour
Hire a research analyst/assistant. As I mentioned earlier, you specify what you want researched, what questions you have, and then they go away and dutifully find the answers for you. So if you are facing into a dearth of product ideas then a research assistant may just be to help you. You would need to provide specifics around what industries and markets you are interested in (otherwise they’ll be spending months trying to get you product ideas), as well as any specific features that you would expect of any product you create – for example a web business vs a retail shop.
They’ll then go away and utilise their network of content and insights to figure out a list of business ideas for you which are likely to be unqualified. This means you would still need to do further research and product testing on any ideas generated. Bear in mind depending on how many industries and markets you’ve specified, as well as how many ideas you’ve asked to be generated, this may take 1-2 days minimum.
Estimated cost: Free through to $99.95 USD per month
Look for opportunities! There’s no magic formula to it apart from keeping your eyes and ears open and tuning into the everyday conversations people are having about friction points in their life. A bit of introspection can also help because you are bound to have plenty of friction points in your own life – for example getting up at 5:30am to walk the dogs like I do! So check out forums, follow Facebook groups, listen to conversations on buses, observe your own day to day frustrations and take note of them.
Alternatively in Point 2 – “See if someone else has the idea but make it way better” I made mention of using an SEM tool like SEMrush. The same concept applies to discovering new ideas as much as it does to improving existing products. Look for niche keywords with high search volumes where there are no corresponding products to service those keywords and you may just discover that opportunity for a great product idea.
My Recommendation: If you really want to be spoon fed ideas, then a research analyst is the way to go. But be warned! They’re unlikely to provide you with any revolutionary or game changing business ideas. Finding good product ideas is kind of like panning for gold – it takes time, you need to churn through a lot of rock (i.e. data), and there are really no guarantees around what you may find. It can also get expensive pretty quickly when you’re hiring someone.
If on the other hand this is just the start of your journey into becoming an entrepreneur and you want to contemplate a portfolio of business ideas, then you definitely need to invest in a keyword analysis tool. As mentioned, I use SEMrush and it’s really addictive because I find I get inspired with so many business ideas when I use it.
This works really well in my opinion for web/mobile apps as much as it does for physical products (and I’ll explain why in a moment).
The concept is straightforward. You have a product idea, and hopefully you’ve done some pre-work around getting people to give you their feedback on the concept. The feedback has been positive. Now it is time to build it. Except you build a basic version of your idea. In other words you build a shell of your idea and then ‘talk’ to how it works.
So I’ll explain this further by using a real life example applied by a startup called Buffer. If you haven’t checked them out before, you should definitely pay them a visit. They provide a great social media scheduling tool that I’m planning on using shortly – will let you know how it goes.
Anyway, back to Buffer’s story. Their founder – Joel Gascoine decided he wanted to test out the original idea for Buffer. So he did it through a landing page…and this is how he did it:
Phase 1 – initial landing page:
Phase 2 – iterate the landing page: After 2 weeks of trying out the initial landing page, Joel then launched an enhanced version of his landing page and this time it involved introducing how much it would cost:
Makes sense, right? So if you were starting out with a web idea and wanted to test it – what would you do?
Well I’ll show you what I do and continue to apply.
I’m going to leverage a similar concept that Tim Ferriss applies in his book The 4-Hour Working Week around product testing– but with my own slant on how to make it work.
1. You’ve got an idea and now you want to validate it.
2. You need to develop a clear view of what your MVP – Minimum Viable Product is.
This is true whether you are creating a website, mobile app, physical product or even writing a book. You need to have a view of the minimum you would be willing to provide and you believe your customers would expect.
3. You build it. You would typically:
4. You then need to attract potential customers. This is where there is real value in doing a web version of your product.
With physical products it can be hit and miss showing physical prototypes to potential customers. You are generally limited to a local audience and even then finding potential customers can be tough. If you are familiar with statistics, you need a reasonable sample to get meaningful results from any type of survey. By doing a physical prototype and only having a small number of customers to engage with, you could skew your feedback.
With the Web you are guaranteed to get a wider reach of potential customers. The perceived limitations of a web version of your product can be offset through great content, images and even video. This means that even with a physical product, you can still do an MVP prototype. Instead of knocking on doors you can feature it through a website instead with a real focus on interactivity (using a variety of media formats – for example video) with customers.
So how would you attract customers?
Through a cleverly planned Google AdWords campaign. You would focus on ‘long tail keywords‘ to access customers that have a specific interest in the niche that your product falls into. You may even use social media as well as any existing email contacts you may have.
5. As mentioned you want to ensure you are capturing, where possible, the contact details of anyone who has landed on your site.
This becomes important because you should maximise all opportunities to source feedback from your potential customers – both good and bad. An automated response (or if time permits a direct response from you) thanking them for visiting and requesting further feedback in the form of a structured questionnaire or survey demonstrates great relationship building skills. It also ensures you leverage the opportunity to better shape your product to meet customer needs.
All it takes is a few weeks of advertising, responding and following up on feedback and queries and you’ve got your answer ready for the final step.
6. You analyse the results – taking the good with the bad. What did your customers say about your idea? Did they indicate they would buy it? If not, what would stop them from buying it and are you able to fix your product so that you can turn it into a winning formula? Did they ask about pricing – if so, did you share with them. What was their reaction?
Options to prototype it…
Estimated cost: $300 – $500 USD
Although you need to make sure you have a clear view of what you want the landing page to do and the preferred layout.
Two key features you MUST ensure you have are:
If you’d prefer to spend less, have the freedom to play around with your landing page designs and create other landing pages in the future, then I’d recommend ‘Doing it Yourself’ (DIY).
Estimated cost: $220 USD
(note: this includes a licence for a landing page wordpress plugin that can be used across multiple websites. So if you get a web host that allows unlimited websites, then you have your own product testing laboratory you can use to test out all your product ideas across multiple domain names).
If you’ve got the time and know how to navigate your way around some simple tools, as well as create you own Google AdWords account and start advertising then this option is for you. You’ll save a fair whack of money and develop skills that you can use repeatedly to validate other product ideas you have.
1. Find a good web host – most simple web hosting packages start off $2-$3 USD per month. You also need to ensure that your web host supports WordPress sites. I use Hostgator for all my sites including when I’m prototyping products using WordPress plugins.
If you want tips on how to install WordPress on your web host account, then check out this video from Hostgator:
2. Once you are setup on your webhost you need to get a dedicated lead page creation – wordpress plugin. A landing page is going to be the first page anyone seeing your product idea is going to end up on. It needs to blow them away. Don’t waste time trying to build your own landing page.
You’ll be there for days and you won’t have the skills to make it work really well. Replicating someone else’s beautifully designed product page is a lot harder than you think. With a plugin you can access on average 100+ templates to choose from as well as have the ability to customise them yourself using really easy-to-use interfaces. Best of all they help you also include critical components like sign up forms, thank you pages, email confirmation pages etc… So what you get with a plugin is most of the hard work done for you. You just setup the layout and the options you want.
Whatever you end up choosing (there are plenty of options available to you) – keep in mind the following features:
So which should I go for? Freelancer or the DIY option?
It ultimately comes down to 3 questions:
DIY – Landing Page:
My Recommendation: DIY. It teaches you a heap of things that you can use over and over again and gives you the flexibility to design your landing pages easily through a user friendly interface. The time spent writing requirements, hiring freelancers and then working with the freelancer can instead be immediately invested in creating your own landing page.
Another benefit of product validation is funding. If you take a look on Kickstarter for example you will see this concept in action all the time. Someone comes up with a product and then they validate the product by putting it in the public domain for crowd funding. It’s a brilliant way of proving three things:
But most importantly if you are bootstrapping and you want some certainty around the commercial viability of your product before you invest your time and limited funds, you can obtain funding in the form of ‘pre-production purchases’.
Obviously crowd funding provides this really efficiently, but if you chose not to use a crowd funding platform you could look at options to get potential customers to actually fund you directly. How? By offering discounts if they purchase in advance knowing that delivery of your product might be weeks away.
If you find people willing to purchase well in advance of delivery then you know you are onto something.
Options to figure out how to fund it…
Estimated cost: $20 – $75 USD per hour
Hire a marketing expert.
So how would you use them? Marketing experts are about creating demand for your product and demonstrating how your product can fulfill that demand. So any good marketing expert will look at your product, look at the pricing you’ve created (and if you haven’t created your pricing yet – then check out this great article by Elizabeth Wasserman: Pricing Your Products) and then figure out a workable strategy to get your product bought.
As I mentioned discounting is one of the primary ways to do it, by offering an early buyers discount. But there are a gazillion of other ways you can motivate customers to buy. Be clear about what you are wanting to achieve – for example the number of customers you want to buy from you, the expected lead time between paying and delivery and the finer details around your product. Then let your marketing expert figure out the strategy for you. Also be clear about whether you are heading down the Crowdfunding route or trying to sell directly to your customers. It might take them a day or 2 to figure it out for you, but having a solid marketing strategy in place to get your customers to buy prior to delivery can mean you get valuable cash inflow to make your product idea a reality.
Estimated cost: Free
From this point onwards, the number 1 resource you’ve got is: You. If you’ve arrived at a point where you are ready to crowd fund your product idea or you’ve tested it enough that you think you can actually start selling it to people in advance of production, then that in itself is an outstanding achievement.
There are a wealth of crowdfunding platforms available to you and I’m going to name the usual suspects, most of which you would be familiar with. These should be on your shortlist for crowdfunding by default:
When it comes to pricing , the Buffer approach executed by Joel Gascoigne mentioned above really encapsulates how you need to approach pricing – through testing your price points. In addition it gives you a channel to integrate the ability for potential customers to pre-order.
My Recommendation: If you’re in the fortunate position of moving towards funding your product idea then you’re in a reasonably mature state and you’ve got something that sounds viable. Whether you choose crowdfunding or selling directly to your customers to pre-purchase is a decision for you. Regardless, you need to have a very tight strategy in place on how you will sell and what you will sell it for. Unless you are a marketing guru, my recommendation is get someone to help you with this. It might cost you a few hundred dollars, but when compared the likely revenue you are now going to make, it’s a small price to pay for a successful product. Right?
Creating a product takes time, dedication and a bit of good luck. It’s not easy – that’s why not many people do it.
But the one thing you MUST do is test, test and test your product. Then test it again.
Not like I used to do with the ‘I’ve got it figured out’ attitude. You have to get your product out there and visibly see with responses, feedback and real stats that people are interested AND they will spend money on it. There’s a wide range of opportunities to make the process easier – whether it’s freelancers or other resources. Use them, save yourself time and effort and focus on the one thing you do best – creating the ideas!
What do you think of these tips on product testing? Do you have any other techniques, ways you hire freelancers or use other resources that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments below.
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