New business owners do a lot of work behind the scenes before they first open their doors to the public. If you are in charge of the operation, you must design the product or service so that it will appeal to your customers, set up the business and invest quite heavily, then reach out to potential customers and begin making sales. This can be an extended process and all of the upfront work is a lost cause if the last task—making sales—is unsuccessful.
Securing your first few sales is one of the most crucial steps in the process of launching your business, but it can also be one of the most difficult. How can you find out if a consumer will buy—preferably, before putting a lot of your money into a business idea? Whether you are still in the testing stage or ready to begin courting customers, here are a few suggestions.
1. Ask your friends
Simply ask friends and acquaintances whether they would buy your product or service. These people who you already know are easy to reach and usually willing to test out whatever it is you are selling.
Knowing whether your friends are being straightforward with you can be a challenge. They may want to avoid hurting your feelings, but this is a time where you need them to be brutally frank. Only use friends whom you can trust to be 100 per cent honest with you as testers. Try to get the opinions, as well, of some friends who are known to play the role of “devil’s advocate” in order to gain new insight on your product or service.
2. Market research with strangers
Although strangers are more difficult to reach out to than friends, they can be more honest since they have no personal connection to you. Finding strangers to test your product or service is mainly reliant on your own outgoing nature. You must be willing face rejection from people who have no interest in being surveyed or in sampling your product or service.
People have busy lives, so keep the survey or sample to a low time commitment in order to get a wider range of respondents and more genuine responses. Online surveys are very easy to create and can be easily forwarded to the correct target market. SurveyMonkey.com allows free questionnaires for up to 100 online respondents.
3. Test through a virtual selling portal
With e-commerce firmly established in the mainstream, the Internet is a great resource for testing the willingness of potential customers to make purchases from you. Creating a web portal is becoming easier every day. You just have to set up a simple website (many standard software programs are available to facilitate this), buy a URL and have it hosted ($20 to $40 per month). Should you also choose to conduct sales online, there are numerous easy-to-use payment widgets such as PayPal.
Another option which requires even less set-up effort is to get an account on an already established online marketplace, like eBay® or Yahoo!®, and post your product, service or business there. The development, administration, and payment tools are all included.
4. Test market or beta testers
Instead of launching a product everywhere and to everyone, you can mitigate risk by starting with one target market or one area. Focus on a smaller target, and see whether it makes sense to expand before you decide whether to invest further into the idea.
Beta testers are potential customers who get low-cost or free access to the tool. Since they were involved in the development of the product or service, they are more inclined to become consumers once the business is fully up and running!
Of course, no matter how many tests or trials you undergo, there will be some questions you cannot answer completely until after you launch the business. There is no foolproof method other than jumping in with both feet, but checking the temperature of the water before jumping will prevent you from getting burned.
Principal, Make it Fly