Are you wondering if now is the right time to vet your business idea, even in these unprecedented times we’re experiencing? If your offering solves real problems that people need solving now, it may be the perfect moment. Check out these tips for when to start a business and what to do to get your venture off the ground.
The best way to know if your timing is right and if your business idea is a good one in any environment is if someone is willing to pay hard-earned cash for your product or service.
I know this sounds obvious and you’re trying to get to that first paying customer, but the reason I mention this is because often, new entrepreneurs start out so in love with their own idea that they spend a lot of energy trying to convince others how great it is and they don’t spend enough time listening to potential customers who could be saying, “Where have you been all my life? I’d love to pay you for that!”
So, how do you get there? What should you do when starting your business?
Creating a Prototype
To start, what is your offering and what does it look like? To answer this question, create a prototype of what your service or product is. By going through the motions of creating the actual offering, you’ll learn from the experience and build upon the concept, improving it right away.
Your prototype could be a hand-drawn home page of a website, a picture of a model of what you’ll make, or a sample of something you plan to sell, such as a T-shirt.
Make the Pitch
Once you have something that helps you communicate the offer, make a list of all the people you imagine would benefit or have an opinion. If your list is short, don’t worry; you can ask for referrals from the short list.
Next, invite these folks to a virtual meeting, during which you’ll conduct informational interviews to discuss your offering and ask their opinion. You put these folks on your list because you know they’d appreciate what you’re up to. They either have the problem you’re trying to solve or an expertise in the solution you’re offering because of some prior experience.
You want to have a minimum of 10 meetings, but if you’re an overachiever, 30 meetings may not be too many; just don’t go into analysis paralysis.
As you gather feedback, you can incorporate it into your prototype and make improvements to your offering and your interview questions between meetings.
Informational Interview Questions
Here’s a sample list of questions to get you started. Let the conversation flow, and perhaps ask if you can record the session, to help make note-taking easier.
Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me. I invited you because I’m starting a new business involving ___________ and given your (expertise, experience, etc. in _________), I highly value your opinion. Here are a few questions I have:
- How would you describe people who need a solution such as the one I’m offering?
- How are people solving this problem now?
- How well are the current solutions working? What are the biggest drawbacks?
- Based on my prototype, if this were available today, how would it change people’s lives? What would make my offering better than what I have now?
- Who would buy this if it were available today and how much would they pay?
- Do you know anyone else that would be great for me to speak to? Would you please make an introduction?
If the person you’re interviewing is the target customer — in other words, they have this problem and are solving it with another solution right now — don’t turn this interview into a sales pitch unless they invite you to do so.
In other words, if they say something like, “Wow! I would buy this tomorrow!” that’s an invitation to sell to them. If they don’t give off that vibe, keep the meeting to the context of an informational interview.
Implement Any Necessary Changes
Once you do enough of these, and you evolve your solution to the point where people are wanting to buy it and you start making sales, you know your business idea has legs and your timing is right. If you keep talking about this idea and over time no one wants to buy it, you may be missing the mark in terms of creating an offer that someone wants bad enough to pay for.
If you figure out that you need to pivot, don’t feel like you’ve wasted time.
Instead, celebrate that you’ve saved a ton of time and money by not making a full version of an offer no one wants. Second, review all the feedback from the interviews and see what you can glean from what the participants told you. If you find commonalities among the ideas your interviewees shared that lead to an aha moment of a new idea, you can then decide how you want to shift course.
When to Start a Business and What to Do: The Bottom Line
Coming up with a business idea that’s a winner takes time and effort to evolve. In fact, it has taken me a few years to evolve my current offering into services I now realize are sought after by my target client.
Don’t get discouraged if your initial idea is not what you end up offering; realize that your willingness to pivot means you’re listening to the client, which sets you apart from others and will lead to your success.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught entrepreneurs anything, it is to be very choosy with your category. The more relevant your offering is to the basic needs of your customers, the more likely your timing is right, and your business can survive no matter what happens.
Belinda DiGiambattista is a serial entrepreneur and can be found at belindadi.com