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You have ideas. Things that cross your mind that you should do as you build your career as a photographer. They all seem like good ideas but how do you actually know for sure? You’ll need to make decisions on these ideas as you grow as a professional. This can be how you set your prices, your packages or even the look and feel of your website. The problem is most of us try to validate these ideas in our own head.
Your audience and potential customers are real people, not imaginary. So it doesn’t make much sense to be validating ideas in your head? You need real, hands-on feedback. This feedback helps you make better decisions.
In this article, I’m going to share an easy-to-follow, 5-step process for idea validation. We’ll talk about how to keep it simple, how to get your idea out there, and how to get feedback. This straightforward approach will help you ensure you are putting out things that people like and that actually work for you instead of against you. I know because I personally tried what I’m about to share with you many times in my own business. On of those times was back in June 2013, when my partner, Nicole, and I needed to validate Business Republic’s new tagline. We used this exact process and it worked brilliantly. More about our experience later.
First, let’s get a broader idea of what idea validation actually is.
Idea validation is the process of testing and validating your idea prior to launching it in the real world. This is like the research and development process big companies use to test product ideas before they’re released to the general public.
Idea validation can involve anything from information-gathering interviews to electronic surveys. The entire purpose is to expose the idea to your target audience before you build and release it to them.
I personally think the best way to conduct the idea validation process is face-to-face, in person or over a Skype video call. The advantages will be highlighted below.
In short, it will save you a ton of time and money, as well as generate interest in your idea and interest in you as a photographer offering professional services. Since you’re testing your idea, you will be exposing it to “the marketplace” or people that would be interested in your services.
Don’t make the rookie mistake of working on an idea that no one is really interested in. Idea validation can save you time by giving you a good feel as to whether your idea appeals to your audience. It can also save you a lot of money. For instance, you can spend thousands of dollars on a website design that may look amazing to you but be confusing to the typical client.
Idea validation is fairly easy but it will require some hustle on your part. In order to best demonstrate how to do this, I’ll be using a running example. Say hello to our running example:
All new businesses need a good set of professional photos to display on their website and social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest. You have a few ideas for what your photography packages for new businesses should include and what they should be priced at, but you are not sure what they actually need and what they will pay for.
You need to have some starting ideas to present to your potential clients. You probably have thousands of ideas about what you want to do but you need to present only four or five at a time. In our example we will need to come up with 4-5 different photo packages at different price points.
Any more than five is too confusing. Trust me. Plus, you do not want to take too much of the potential customer’s time. Ten minutes max. You may want to contact them later for more info so you want to keep it light.
In this step, your goal is to offer your best solutions or versions of your idea, not all the versions that you may have.
Yes, in step 2 you are required to NOT do something. Why did I include this step? Because it’s so hard to skip. We all want to feel good about what we are doing so sometimes we ask our loved ones about our ideas knowing that it will feel good.
I’m not saying that your family and friends are liars. I’m saying that they are biased and in most cases not one of your potential customers. They also might feel forced to give feedback for feedback’s sake. They might even make up a point they don’t really believe in so you feel like they’re being unbiased. Do you see how tricky asking family and friends about this can get?
Unless your mom is a new business owner and needs photos for her new website, please save sharing with your friends and family until after you finish this process.
Next, make a list of 15 potential clients you can reach out to and interview for ten minutes in person, or over a Skype video call. Think about your ideal customers. In our example, we would contact new small business owners. They can be local businesses or online businesses.
After reaching out to them you will likely end up with around ten who say “yes”, a few “I’m sorry, I can’t” and a couple that don’t reply.
Make sure you can secure ten minutes of their time in person, or over Skype. A natural back and forth conversation is essential. It’s hard to see or feel hesitation, excitement or a “wow” expression over the phone. This is essential when we cover the actual discourse you’ll be having.
The first thing you want to do when conducting your informal interview is thank them for their time and tell them how their time will help you offer something that your customers will actually want.
Second, explain plainly that you are not selling anything to them and what you are going to be talking about is actually not even available yet. Put them at ease and remind them of how much their feedback is valued and will influence your business. People like knowing that their opinion matters.
Third, take a minute to explain what you do and the nature of your business before explaining what you need their opinion on. Remember to explain things with their perspective in mind. Don’t use jargon that they wouldn’t understand.
Fourth, tell them you are going to present four to five versions of your idea. And that you will show all of them first, then go over each one asking for their thoughts on each one at a time. Let them know you might be jotting down some notes during the process to remember their advice later on.
Fifth, after going through all the options, ask them for their initial thoughts on each one individually. Ask them how the idea makes them feel as well as think. Look at their body language and how quickly they answer. Compare their reaction to the reactions of other ideas you present to gauge what is a brilliant offer to them and what is a dud. Not everyone wears their emotions on their sleeve.
Lastly, after you have received their feedback on each idea, thank them again. Ask them if they would mind if you contacted them again if you need to later on.
The last step is to review all your feedback and decide what worked best for your potential clients. Look at what the majority of your potential clients have said. What is worth noting? What is worth omitting immediately?
When you decide based on the feedback you received, remember that it’s about the customer, not you. Sometimes you will have to give up what you think is best for your business based on what you learned. After all, your customers are the reason why you exist.
As I mentioned before, I used this exact 5 step idea validation process when we were trying to validate our new tagline for our business. We came up with four versions of what we thought was the best tagline for our business. One of the taglines on the list was our existing headline at the time, “ Build a Brand That Matters. Share it Effectively.” Before our idea validation process, we thought this was the best tagline of the four.
We spoke to 10 potential clients of ours, in person, at local businesses around town . We collected their honest feedback, noticed their body language and took plenty of notes. When it was all said and the feedback told us somethings we really needed to hear.
For starters, what we thought was the best tagline was the worst one of the four. We got feedback like:
We got an overwhelmingly positive response to one of our taglines. People immediately raised their eyebrows and said, “That’s what I’m talking about!” That tagline became our tagline as it is now: Build a Business That Can’t Be Ignored. We realized all new businesses share one common fear: being ignored. By tapping into a huge fear or pain our customers are having and telling them we will help elevate that pain or fear was a huge game changer for us. The change to that tagline has attracted more interested clients to us than anything else we’ve ever done on our website. This process works!
A month ago, we surveyed our members in The $100 MBA asking what are some areas of business they wanted/ needed to learn. The answers we got back greatly differed from the courses we had planned to plan, create and rollout for the next 6 months. We had to put our customers first and put the courses they wanted at the top of the to-do list and put most our planned courses off for the time being. At the end of the day, we created our community for them not for us. so when we got the feedback and we knew we had to shift gears.
This doesn’t have to be painful. Don’t be afraid to have fun with it.
This is your passion, your livelihood, your baby. Show your love and care for it and for your customers. Your interviewees take cues from you, so if you are relaxed and casual about it they will loosen up and give you more than you ask for.
This isn’t a sales exercise. It’s a great conversation with someone you respect. It’s not win or lose. It’s a win-win! And it’s the best way to take your idea and career as a professional photographer to the next level.
Wow! You made it to the end of this post! You’re obviously serious about nailing your idea and creating something your customers want. I don’t want your learning to end here, so as a dPS reader you get access to our free course and workbook on idea validation here.
Have more tips or strategies to share about idea validation? Have you tried doing any real-world idea validation yourself? Share in the comments! We’d love to chat about your experience.