5 mistakes to avoid if you’ve got a new business idea

Article by Julia Shalet

Whatever your work/life balance is, no one wants to waste time, money or effort. We all want to direct our energy and resources into ventures that are going to bear fruit. So here are five really common mistakes that I see being made and what you can do to overcome each of them. 

  1. Unable to move off the starting block

Have you been sitting on an idea for a while and not done anything with it? Perhaps nagging doubts are stopping you from moving forward? I meet so many people who tell me that they came up with an idea and then someone else made a success of it and if only they had done something with it. No more! You can quickly, easily and cheaply test out an idea by carrying out your own early market research. Armed with a carefully constructed research script you can start by talking with just five potential customers. You don’t need to have developed your idea at all to move it forward. 

2. Your idea is based on solving your own problem

The biggest reason why new ideas fail is that the innovator fails to truly understand what their customer needs and wants. It is very common for the innovator to build up a business idea based on what they need and would like. But this is a target customer of only one! So the questions in your research script need to be carefully constructed to get you answers that evidence the following:

  1. the problem, need or desire that you think exists really does 
  2. enough other people also have that problem, need or desire
  3. there is room to improve upon any existing solutions

If you just assume you know the answers to these you will be basing your business on some very risky assumptions. 

3. Thinking you need to build something before you can test it out

It is so easy for this to happen. Swept away with the excitement of a new business idea, I have seen many innovators put months into designing and building their offering before they prove that the problem even exists. Of course some naturally intuitive and lucky innovators launch very successful new businesses without talking to any customers first. It does happen, but not very often, so this can be a very expensive oversight. 

I recall the shaking head of many people with ideas when I tell them that they can go into research without having anything to show. If you reflect on the above points of evidence that we need at this early idea stage, you will see that they are all about how people feel today, what they do today and what other options they are aware of. This is certainly not about steaming in there with an idea and asking respondents what they think of it. Your respondents could love what you show them, but you won’t know if it actually responds to a genuine problem, need or desire. I hear so many innovators say that it went down really well in research and when I see the questions that they asked I can see that they actually did a sales job instead of a research interview. 

4. Selling rather than researching

As I have described above, innovators default position is to sell. They are excited about their idea and want everyone else to be, but this can be very dangerous in that it creates a false sense of security and all that wonderful positive energy can turn to dust. 

Neutrality is the most important stance when carrying out market research conversations  For example at the start of the interview, you need to hear and believe yourself when you tell each respondent that you are researching a new idea, that you have lots of options so these interviews are helping you to work out which ones are worth going for. You need to “put on your research face” and imagine that you are not invested in the idea. You seek only honesty and openness. 

5. Only hearing what you want to hear

We all know what it feels like when other people are not as enthusiastic about something as we are, particularly if it is something we have put effort into. It is easy to hear what we want to hear and not what is really being said. But sticking your fingers in your ears can be really dangerous and can lead to a  terrible waste of time and money. There is no point throwing good money after bad, so listen carefully and be prepared to make necessary changes and in some cases even stop what you are doing and move onto something more fruitful. 

I have created a 7 step process to help people with ideas carry out their own early idea research. With tips throughout on how to maintain neutrality, it helps you to create your own research script, recruit the right people to talk with and analyse their answers. So spring into action and find out how people really feel, think and are going to behave. 

Julia Shalet is author of new book, The Really Good Idea Test, published by Pearson, £16.99. She also offers highly commended practical hands-on workshops & training to move ideas forward. Find out more at productdoctor.co.uk.

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