5 ways to validate your idea — Start Here! (Part 1 on Surveys, Feedback and Validation)

We’ve all seen bad ideas.  Sometimes we say or think, “What were they thinking?  They should have asked me first.”

Just moments before signing on to my blog, I responded to a friend request on Facebook. The request came from a business woman I don’t know personally, but it looks like she networks with some of the same people I do.  I accepted the request, then viewed her info.  She had a link to her business site so I clicked.  I landed at a very low budget, amateur website where the woman sells her books.  I wanted to see her books, but the awkward site actually made me close the tab.  The logo was small and blurry, the images of the books were super small, and the text looked more like a filled in comment box than an introduction to the site.  Nothing on the homepage made me want to stay.  Nothing.  It looked amateur and even a bit annoying.

If the site is lousy, might this mean the books are amateur too?  Ok, so she’s not a web designer.  But, if you love your product, wouldn’t you want to invest a little to sell it?  My point here is not to promote web designers, it’s to say feedback is valuable.  This woman probably has no idea that I visited, that I left right from the homepage without shopping, or that I don’t like her site.  She may be thinking people aren’t buying because prices are too high.  I didn’t even get to the prices.  She may think there is low interest in her products.  Maybe, maybe not.

Ideas, new products, websites, branding – they all need market validation, or at least a little outside feedback.  So how do you get it?

#1.  Ask.  First, ask friends and family what they think of your idea.  If you have a new product idea, find out if people like the idea.  Ask good questions like what they currently use to solve the problem that your product solves, how much they would spend to solve the problem, whether or not they understand your solution, etc.  After you ask friends and family, you need to take it a step further.  Our loved ones tend to tell us what we want to hear.  They think we are brilliant.  They will encourage us.  We need that, but we also need honest, unbiased feedback.

#2. You can take your idea to an industry expert – usually a successful business person who knows your market or coaches inventors.  Watch out for scams and get references.  A good consultant may charge $200-$1000 to evaluate your idea, give you feedback and next steps.  This knowledge is worth every penny if it helps you cultivate your idea and learn how to profit from it.  However, beware of experts who tell you your idea is great because they want to bring you on as a client, sell you tapes and books about how to license your product, start a business or make instant millions.  An evaluation should be just an evaluation, not a bait and switch.

#3. Your other option is to get market feedback.  You can formulate a questionnaire, take copies to a mall or park and ask your target market.  This can be time consuming and you still need to beware of bias.  Some people are uncomfortable giving constructive criticism — especially in person.

#4. A DIY (do it yourself) online survey.  There are lots of great “free” online survey builders.  You create an account, write your questions, then send the link out to YOUR contacts.  Most free survey sites allow you to capture up to 100 responses for free.  But, remember, they do NOT provide the panel (people) to respond.    I’ve done several this way, and it becomes a begging fest.  I post the link on all the social network sites, offer prizes, and wait for responses.  Those who actually respond are usually my friends and family and, again, they tell me what I want to hear.

#5.  A better way is a professional online survey through a marketing research company.  Effective research requires two elements: a well-written survey and the proper panel of people to answer it.  Your questions need to be formed in a manner that does not sway your respondents to answer a certain way.  Your panel needs to be comprised of your target market.  Ideally, they should not know you and you should be able to cross reference their responses with their demographics (age, income level, area they live in, etc.).

There are many companies offering free software for writing your survey, but fewer companies that provide market panels.  Some do both.  To find them, search the words “online market research companies”.  Expect to pay $10-20 per person/respondent for a brief questionnaire.  There may be minimum charges.  I now a couple of the top ones have a $2000 minimum.

So how much is it worth to know if you have a good idea?  If you ASSUME you do, how much will you spend before you KNOW you have a good idea?  Thousands on trademarks and patents, tens of thousands on prototyping and manufacturing, a few hundred on a website, or ?  Sometimes it is about the money saved.  I’ve seen plenty of entrepreneurs who have spent their life savings on a bad idea.  Some were unsafe items for children, some were unknowingly offensive, some just didn’t know their market, and some were “solutions” that created more hassle than the original problem it was trying to solve.  But no one told them the truth, or maybe they never asked.

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