The concept of idea validation, popularized by startup culture in recent decades, revolves around the core principle of confirming whether or not there’s a meaningful market demand for your idea—before rushing off to invest precious time and financial resources in actually building the product and launching your business. Simply put, the goal of idea validation is to go through series of focused activities that’ll eliminate as much doubt as possible around the future viability of your business.
Pulling off these activities and successfully validating your idea can be a serious challenge, however. It often takes days, weeks, even months—and because of its level of intensity, that’s one of the reasons startup accelerators (like ours here at Plug and Play) exist. Getting the right guidance, feedback, and direction as you go through the process of validating your idea is crucial to emerging well-positioned on the other side. So, what’s the best way to validate your idea without wasting a ton of time and money?
While having a killer explainer video with the potential to go viral is one way to go about validating your idea, that alone doesn’t place much of the control in your hands. True validation is about so much more than just releasing a video into the wild and hoping your dream customers magically find it (and start excitedly handing over their hard-earned money). Validation is very manual work—and you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Over the past four years, I’ve used my blog as a platform to validate several different ideas. While every idea hasn’t taken off and blossomed into rapidly growing businesses, in the process of sharing my experiments, I’ve grown my blog to more than 2 million yearly readers, 50,000 email subscribers, and a podcast with nearly 20,000 monthly downloads.
Consistently driving traffic (as a vehicle for validating ideas) is something I’ve perfected over the years, and this has also helped me sign high-value consulting deals helping some of the world’s top startups like LinkedIn, Zendesk, CreativeLive, and Adobe to launch successful validation campaigns geared toward generating leads for new projects.
Pulling from my own experience building a blog readership into the millions of readers and using that audience as a platform for validating multiple ideas, here are the most effective strategies I’ve used to get in front of new readers (and get useful feedback).
1. Writing Guest Posts for (Larger) Relevant Blogs.
The ideal customers for the business you want to validate are already out there consuming content online. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to get your idea in front of them, is to publish content where they’re already spending time online.
When I was first learning how to start a blog and build an audience with the goal of validating my first online course concept, I began guest posting very early on with incredibly results. I’d make spreadsheets of the websites that had strong content in my niche (that already ranked well in organic search results), and started to reach out to the editors and blog owners asking if they’d be willing to accept a guest post from me.
In the early days, rejection was the most common reply to my cold outreach emails, but over time as I landed my first handful of reputable guest posts and had more content examples to highlight on my own blog, it became much easier to pitch my offer. After enough guest posting, there will be a tipping point—for me that was landing my first guest post on the Buffer blog, which significantly increased my authority as a writer.
Having that in my portfolio made future guest post pitches much more successful, and over a period of just a couple months, I was able to generate thousands of leads for my first online course idea. Since then, I’ve continued to use deep dive blog posts like my piece on the best freelance jobs websites and freelance contract essentials as the foundation for then going out and writing relevant guest posts with the goal of driving back traffic, collecting leads and testing my way into new product and online course offerings.
It might seem like a lot of work, but what’s key is that you want to look for places where your audience already exists and find a way to make yourself present there.
2. Leveraging Online Groups and Forums
Being an active member in highly relevant online forums and communities can often give you a better return on your time than blasting out your idea on social media, and is definitely a smarter investment if you’re still in the process of developing your idea—especially since building a great product should be collaborative with your users.
Start by looking for a topically relevant group to join. For example, if you're creating a blog about photography, you could consider joining Facebook groups like Nikon Digital Camera & Photo Enthusiasts (26,000+ members), Nikon D750 Users (27,000+ members), and Nikon UK Photography (13,000+ members).
If your product idea is relevant to anyone with a DSLR camera, you're sure to find enough people who'd be interested in learning more about it within those groups. Remember though, these aren’t just places to dump links to your waiting list pages and shamelessly plug your business idea. You need to provide value before asking for anything in return. Start by building relationships and engaging with people individually within these groups. Plus you never know, you might come up with some great ideas, find other entrepreneurs to collaborate with, and pick up more strategies along the way.
3. Utilizing (the Right) Social Channels.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat. Whichever platform best suits your niche and has your audience, is the right one for you. That’s an important caveat to keep in mind. There’s no purpose promoting your content on every single social media channel. Instead, look for the ones that’ll give you the best return in the long run. It’ll take some experimenting in order to see what works for you.
Each social network appeals to a different niche and type of reader. This is a bit of a generalization, but here’s what is (currently) working best on each major social platform:
Facebook: Videos and curated content
Instagram: High-res photos, quotes, and Stories
Twitter: News, blog posts, and GIFs
LinkedIn: Professional content and career news (native video is hot right now)
Pinterest: Infographics, step-by-step photo guides, visual content
Google+: Blog posts you want to rank well in Google search results
Reddit: Comments about topics in your niche
I know, it’s a lot. And on top of that, there are plenty more social channels that have a very specific focus and purpose that you may want to invest time in—YouTube, Tumblr, Periscope, Flickr, Musical.ly, VSCO, to name just a few.
While this can quickly get overwhelming, my advice is to avoid decision deadlock and choose just one social network (maybe two maximum if there’s a compelling reason) to focus all of your attention on, in order to maximize your opportunities for connecting with your ideal readers.
For example, after seeing that my in-depth guide to choosing the right side business idea was picking up a lot of traction on Pinterest, I began investing time and resources into making sure each new article for my blog would get a Pinterest-optimized image. On top of that, I now regularly spend time networking with other pinners to get my content exposed to new audiences on the platform. Find which channel works for starting fruitful conversations with your target customers and double down until you reach a point of diminishing returns.
4. Landing a Publication Column.
Similar to guest posting, getting access to regularly publish your content to a relevant online publication (and readership) gives you priceless access to your target customers. While it’s certainly an unrealistic goal to launch a teaser page for your idea today and hope that you’ll be able get a column writing for Entrepreneur magazine next week, it’s very attainable to start smaller with a more industry or niche-focused publication.
Sticking with our theme of reaching the right potential customers for your idea where they’re already spending time online, begin your niche publication search by asking yourself a few basic questions to determine which ones would be good prospects for taking your content:
Which industry publications do I already enjoy reading? (If you’re building a gadget for men, you’ll want to build relationships with relevant publications like Gear Hungry or Cool Material.)
How many monthly readers do they appear to get? (Use a traffic estimator tool like SimilarWeb or Alexa to get a rough baseline for this, and aim for sites with at least a couple hundred thousand monthly readers and up to the low millions as a range.)
How much engagement does their average article get? (You’ll want to make sure their content gets at least a few dozen social shares and a few comments, otherwise it’s not very likely that you’ll get much of a return for your time investment.)
Choosing to take a polarizing stance on a newsworthy topic like whether or not companies should go down to a four-day workweek, is a great way to spark interest from editors that’ll want to publish your opinion (and attract new readers). Once you’ve built some credibility by writing for a few industry publications in your space, it’s much easier to start writing for more mainstream sites with millions of readers.
In time, having a publication column with high-traffic sites will pay off tenfold once you’re ready to actually launch your product and start generating revenue for your business.
Driving traffic and generating leads isn’t a walk in the park.
However, the more authentic, excited and engaging you are with your content (and community involvement), the more your idea will resonate with others who find value in it—and will make them want to tell their friends about what you’re building. Connect with your target customers where they already spend time online, build meaningful relationships, gather their feedback and share what you’re learning.
Do that well and you’ll build a referral engine for your idea, well before you even launch.
About the Author:
Ryan Robinson is a writer and part-time entrepreneur that teaches more than 2 Million yearly readers how to start and grow a profitable side business on his blog, ryrob.com.