You have a great idea for a small business. Or for a workshop or a book or a website.
Contrary to what you might think, the next step isn’t to dive into the deep end of the pool.
After all, there’s a reason why I named my business ChangingCourse.com and not Jump-Off-a-Cliff.com.
Fear aside, jumping in without adequate information is just… well… dumb.
Especially when there are simple ways to test the waters. Here are four ways to do just that.
Do small product tests
Sometimes the thing you need to test is the idea itself.
Which is exactly what cycling enthusiast Robin Bylenga did – to great success.
When the single mother of three was laid off from her job at L’Oreal she took a job at a local bike shop.
It was there Robin got the idea to create a bike shopping experience aimed at the female market.
To test the concept, she bought $5oo of women’s biking apparel to sell at a local race.
When she turned that into $1,500 in sales Robin knew she was on to something.
Today Robin is the owner of Pedal Chic with stores in Nashville, Tennessee and Greenville, South Carolina.
The same advice applies in other markets. For instance, want to go into import export?
Experienced importers will tell you not to invest in a cargo container full of inventory before you know how it will sell.
Instead return home with just enough to fill a couple of suitcases to test both products and price.
Take advantage of free market research
Even when you know a specific business is viable, you still need to test it in the marketplace.
And you can do it without spending a dime.
For example, in the late 70s I launched a line of humorous greeting cards.
In addition to selling locally, I got them into bookstores in New York City, San Francisco, Hartford, Conn., and Provincetown, Mass.
But before I invested thousands in printing, I created a feedback form and had friends rank each idea on a scale of 1-5.
Even if someone loved a given card, I always asked the question: How can I make it even better?
Social media didn’t exist back then. Today you can easily poll your Facebook pals.
You don’t have scores of available friends on or off-line to get free input. I do it all the time!
Say you want to run workshops or write a book…
Or you’re can’t decide on a domain name.
Just do what I do and turn to the person sitting next to you on a plane, train, bus, café – wherever – and ask them.
When I do this, it sounds like this:
Excuse me, can I get a quick opinion on something?
(Who doesn’t want to give their opinion! Especially when it’s quick!)
If you saw these three headlines/book titles/business names on a magazine cover or online – which would you pick/click on?
If a majority of people choose one over the other – go with it.
Work for someone else in a similar business
You could start a sports camp or launch a clothing line and figure it out as you go.
Or you could first get a job working at a sports camp or for a clothing designer.
Working in a similar business offers an invaluable insiders perspective.
Best of all, if you do decide to go out on your own, you just got paid to learn!
That’s what long time Changing Course reader Kristi Kelley did.
Here’s how Kristi says working for someone else rapidly accelerated her entrepreneurial journey:
In 2013 I quit my corporate job and went to work for a local, very well respected floral and events company here in Dallas.
I started as a contract employee helping on a “as needed” basis in their wedding and events department.
After about 3 months, I got accepted into their floral design apprentice program which was supposed to last 12 weeks.
Then after 7 weeks they said I was ready and sent me to their retail shop as a designer there.
I worked at the shop for about 9 months before I quit on good terms to start my own business.
Kristi was not asked to sign a non-compete clause. However, depending on the business, you may be asked to do so.
Today Kristi is the proud owner of Stem and Style.
She’s working from home, already has several regular corporate clients, and Kristi says she couldn’t be happier!
A few years ago I had a chance encounter Steve Curwood.
Steve is the host of an engaging environmental news and information program called Living on Earth heard on over 300 Public Radio International (PRI) stations.
(Right now they show is featuring fascinating research on when wolves howl.)
I immediately had the same question you should have when you meet someone doing something unique or interesting– namely:
What does it take to [fill in the blank]?
Obviously, in this case I wanted to know how a person goes about getting a show on PRI?
Steve’s advice was simple:
Before you try to pitch an idea, first volunteer at your local station to learn first-hand how public radio works.
This same advice holds true for many situations.
You may not be able to volunteer full time.
But you can find time to volunteer if even for a few days or weeks – enough to understand how things really work from the inside.
Testing out your idea helps you answer all sorts of burning questions – like:
- Will it work?
- Will people pay me for it — and if so, how much?
- If it does work, will I like doing it?
- If so, what will it take to get where I want to go?
So, what are you waiting for? Test!
Add Your Two Cents With the Changing Course Tribe
Your thoughts mean a lot to me.
More importantly, what you have to say can help inspire the other 27,000 change seekers who’ve received this article.
So, what did you just learn or re-learn?
What thoughts, ideas, or experiences on this topic can you share with your fellow change seekers?
What’s one way you can use what you just learned to help you change course?
We’d love to hear from you!