Countless entrepreneurs have made this mistake. They have an awesome idea for a new product or service and immediately start researching online to find all of the pieces to put their idea together.
They spend days, or even months asking themselves, “How do I build this product?” only to find out when they launch that no one wants to purchase their awesome idea.
If this is something that you’ve done, stop now! You’re setting yourself up to lose time and money.
I’ve worked with 100’s of entrepreneurs, startups, and Fortune 500 accelerator programs and innovation labs at Citrix, Redhat, Deckers Brands, and Cisco to help them avoid this common mistake.
The truth is, you can take your idea and sell that idea to customers for real cash money without writing a single line of code or starting to building your product.
All you need are a couple of mockups, a quick explanation video, a landing page, and a deep understanding of who your customers are.
In this post, I’ll take you through the steps of pre-selling your idea in just a few weeks to earn tens of thousands of dollars.
I own and run a software company called Action Wins. Our motto is, “It’s the doing that builds a company”. With that in mind, this article is geared towards taking ACTION. My goal is to give you specific steps and strategies that you can use to take action.
Once you’re done reading this article, STOP researching how to build. Get away from your desk, go talk to customers, and start selling.
You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in such a short period of time. Even better, you can use this exact strategy to bootstrap (Take ZERO outside funding) your idea.
I’ve broken this post down into three weeks. In my opinion, this is plenty of time for someone with a full-time job to get their first paying customers. If you’re working on your product full time, you’ll move even faster.
Grab a pen–we’re going to do some brainstorming and you’ll want to write your ideas down.
I’m going to use a specific idea as an example. We’re going to try to pre-sell an inventory management system for screen printers (people who make custom t-shirts mugs etc). This is a real idea that I took through this process a year ago.
Challenge: Talk to 5-10 Early Adopters
Before we start building your landing page, we want to first make sure we have a deep understanding of our target customer. The goal here is for us to validate that we’re solving a real pain point for them.
We’re not looking for just any customer. We want early adopters.
Here’s the profile of what an early adopter looks like.
Steve Blank’s early adopter profile
More often than not, our target audience might have a problem but aren’t aware of what it is nor care what it is.. They’re satisfied with the status quo and may never want to buy your solution.
If this turns out to be the case THAT’S great. You just saved yourself thousands of dollars and months of your life. You are now free to start at the beginning of this process with a new idea.
BUT, if you speak with your customers about their big pain points and their eyes light up, then you’re on the right step.
So how do you find and talk to customers?
Put yourself in their shoes. Where do they spend time? Can you look them up on Google easily? Are their phone numbers listed for you to call? Do they hangout online somewhere?
Are your customers accessible?
If the answer to this question is no, it’s probably time to pick a new idea.
To be successful in this process, you need to pick a target customer that you can easily find online or in real life. If they aren’t easy to get to, then you will have a tough time selling your product.
Here’s a quick google search for LA screen printers.
Okay, our target customer passes test for accessibility–there is no shortage of screen printing shops in LA.
From here, I can easily look up their phone numbers and email addresses, or better yet, walk directly into their store and speak with the owner or manager.
If you’re able to just walk up to your customer here’s what you should say. This could also be used as an email script.
My name’s (your name). I’m an entrepreneur from [Your Town] and am working on a product for screen printers. I’m not trying to sell you anything, I’d just like to speak with the manager or owner here so I can understand if I’m solving a real problem.
What are your thoughts on taking 15 minutes to talk?
The worst thing they can say is NO. since there are tons of screen printing shops, I’m pretty sure I can get enough conversations to get an idea if they have a problem I should solve.
What if my customers are only accessible online?
That’s great! As long as you think you can convince them to hop on a Google Hangouts or Skype call, you’re all set to do your interviews.
Maybe your customers are in a Facebook group. Just make a post in the group and ask if anyone is interested in hopping on a call using the same script as above. If you have to, you can even offer them a $10 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks. If you have to spend $50 to get your interviews, it could save you $10,000 later.
Once you get in front of your customer, you want to understand if they are an early adopter. After that, you need to dig deeper to understand how the problem you are solving impacts them and exactly how they describe this problem.
This will be critically important for Week 2 when identifying the right channels to test and for Week 3 when you’re building your landing page. The landing page will use the exact same words that your customers use to describe their problem.
This way, customers will resonate with your copy, build trust, and buy.
How to talk to customers.
Avoid pitching your idea first. You have to have patience. The last thing you want to do is botch your interview.
Even if they ask to hear more about your idea say “That’s awesome. I’m going to share my idea with you but first I’d like to ask you a couple of questions to see if I’m on the right track.”
Here’s the exact line of questioning I use to understand their pain and learn my customer’s language. Under each section, I write down every word that comes out of the customer’s mouth. If you can, take a partner with you on your interview so they can take notes too.
Now it’s time to take action: Go setup 5-10 meetings or just walk up to your customers and ask for 15 minutes of their time.
It can seem daunting, but it’s actually easier than you think.
If you talk to 5-10 customers and feel like they meet the early adopter profile, then move on to Week 2.
If they don’t see the problem you thought they did, ask them a simple question such as, “What challenges do you face?”
Maybe they have some other problem you can solve. The point is, you’re searching for pain points that may be an opportunity to start a business!
Hopefully, you’ve talked to 5-10 customers and have tons of notes using their language to describe the problem you’re solving.
You’re now ready to start building the landing page that will generate your first pre-sales.
Aside from pre-selling your product, you can also use this stage to deliver your product or service manually.
For now, we’ll assume that we’re just going to pre-sell.
Good pre-sale tactics build trust by showing your customers that you speak their language.
The best recent example I’ve seen of this was by an entrepreneur named Travis.
He pre sold $28,000 dollars worth of his niche SEO software in just one week with a simple landing page.
Travis is building an SEO tool for online 7t-shirt sellers that takes the laborious and fragmented process of doing SEO/keywords for products. His product streamlines it into an effortless and concise process through a dashboard and helps them rank their t-shirts within Amazon and Google to increase their sales.
Travis leveraged Facebook groups for all of his customer discovery. Even better, Travis has experience with the problem he’s solving because he sells T-shirts online. He’s scratching his own itch.
Throughout the first week or so of validating his idea, he interacted with his target audience through simple Facebook posts.
He even did this before building his landing page.
On his landing page he included screenshots from groups that demonstrate he understands the problem he’s solving.
Video is one of the most engaging platforms I’ve used to attract customers and get their attention.
Travis created a short YouTube video to pitch his idea.
This adds to the level of trust you can build with your audience as they see that you’re a real person.
You don’t need fancy equipment or a nice microphone to do this. All you need is some free screen recording software (Loom is my favorite). Copy and paste the embed code onto your site and you’re good to go.
Keep it simple
Travis leverages his understanding of his customers to write compelling copy that speaks directly to them.
Note that he’s not using too many buzzwords and speaks plain English that even someone who isn’t familiar with selling tee-shirts online would understand.
A mockup goes a long way to helping your customers visualize your product. If you’ve used PowerPoint, you can make a decent mockup. Believe it or not, the simple mockup below earned Travis $28,000 dollars in pre-sells.
You can use services like InvisionApp, Balsamic, PowerPoint, and Keynote to create your mockups. If you want something more robust, you can drop a couple hundred dollars on 99designs or UpWork. However as you can see by the mockups above, it’s probably overkill to spend that kind of money on a design at this stage.
If the problem you’re solving is big enough for your target customer, the above should generate sales!
Create a sense of urgency
Travis made over 100 pre-sales of his product. He did this by creating a sense of scarcity and urgency. Below, you can see that he’s offering a limited time steep discount and life-time memberships.
You can easily connect any landing page to PayPal, Stripe, or any other payment processing service to make sales. Travis used PayPal, but it doesn’t matter what you choose as long as it works for your business. Just make it easy for customers to give you money.
Finally, he added a bit more social-proof by showing how many people were making pre-orders.
Travis absolutely crushes it when it comes to pre-selling software. I suggest you follow his progress at WordCandy.io.
In just 3 weeks, Travis went from 0 to $28,000 in the bank. He’s used a simple landing page, screenshots, a short video, and a good understanding of how to talk to his customers–That’s it!
Your Challenge: Spend no more than a week putting your landing page together. If you have questions hit me up on twitter and I’ll take a look. @afkehaya
Now comes the really fun part. Driving traffic and making sales. By now, you should have a landing page and be ready to drive traffic to your site.
My favorite book on this topic is called Traction by Justin Mares and Gabriel Weinberg. They break down 19 different channels you can use and leverage their “Bull’s Eye” strategy to narrow your experiments down to 3 channels you think will move the needle (get you paying customers).
Your challenge this week is to design and execute 3 tests to drive traffic to your site.
You need to make sure you’ve setup your landing page to track conversions. If you’re using PageWiz, chances are that you’ve already got this covered.
When designing your experiments, break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. If you had to run your experiment tomorrow, what would you do?
The point is to break your experiment down to something that you can execute quickly and learn from.
Many people end up spending more time building their experiments than actually performing them!
Don’t fall into that trap. Push your landing page out there, send a few hundred people to your site, and see if you make some sales.
If you do make sales, great! You nailed it and it’s time to keep selling until you have enough funding or start building your product immediately.
Don’t stop testing traction channels when you start building your product. You should be spending half of your time building and half of your time focusing on traction.