4 Tips for validating your membership site or online course idea
When inspiration strikes and you come up with an idea for a membership website or some other product or service that you’re convinced is a winner, all too often it’s easy to get carried away in trying to make it a reality without every stopping to really examine whether your idea is actually as solid as you’re convinced it is.
Before you invest countless hours and immeasurable quantities of blood, sweat and tears into your new project, it’s highly worth taking the time to validate your big idea.
Here are my top tips for doing just that…
Don’t rely on the opinions of your friends and family
I’ve lost count how many people have approached me with absolutely terrible ideas that they’ve been convinced are utter genius by their friends and family. While it’s completely understandable why most people run their ideas past their loved ones first, very rarely are they the right people to get feedback from.
First and foremost, they care about you, so even the bluntest of best friends and significant others will temper their feedback so as to not offend you if they actually think your idea is rubbish. There’s also a chance that if they don’t actually understand your idea or concept that they may try to hide this to avoid appearing dumb.
Usually your friends and family won’t be the best indicator of your target audience, nor will they have any real understanding or appreciation of the market you’re going to be targeting, what works and doesn’t work, and what’s already out there.
I’m not telling you not to run things past your family and friends at all, just to maintain perspective on the credibility of their input in terms of helping you to validate your idea.
Far too often people go down the wrong route filled with confidence from having everyone close to them tell them how amazing their idea is in an effort to be supportive and positive.
Look at what’s already out there
There’s no better way to prove that you have a valid and viable idea than if someone is already doing something similar within the same market. Now this is something which does put some people off as they immediately see pre-existing competition as a reason to avoid entering a market, but instead you should see it as a good sign that your idea is one worth pursuing.
The flip-side of this, of course, is coming up with a concept for which there’s literally no competition. There’s a far greater chance that this means the market and the demand simply do not exist, as opposed to you being the first person in existence to come up with your idea. That’s not to say the latter is impossible, just improbable, and so a great deal of further research and idea validation would be needed to really establish whether you’re onto a winner or chasing a lost cause.
Look to existing online courses, books, blogs, podcasts and the like for any patterns relating to the subjects being discussed, the level of community engagement and so on; look for what others are doing well, and more importantly what they’re doing poorly. Read through blog comments and book reviews for constructive criticism, particularly as it relates to subjects that people feel aren’t being covered, or could be covered better. Get a good idea of what’s going on within the market, what is and isn’t working and where the opportunities lie, and this will give you a good basis for validating your own idea and adapting it so that you can come in with a fresh approach on a topic that there’s clearly an established market for.
Start Collecting Leads Early
The main thing we’re looking to validate is that there are people out there who will be interested in what you have to say and what knowledge you have to impart on a particular subject. The actual specifics aren’t important yet – it doesn’t matter at this stage whether you’re thinking of a full blown membership site, ebook or video course; if your basic idea sucks, the “delivery method” won’t make a difference.
So what better way of validating that people are interested than actually capturing their interest – specifically their email address, submitted as an indication that they want more information.
Using a service such as Leadpages or Unbounce you can get a basic landing page set up within minutes, and then hook it up to an email marketing service such as Aweber in order to start collecting email addresses. You can choose whether to “bribe” interested parties with a free giveaway (such as an ebook, infographic or short video), or you could go with a “coming soon” approach whereby you give a rough outline of the sort of thing you’ll eventually be offering and allow people to “register their interest” by submitting their email address in order to be sent future updates.
Then it’s simply a case of pushing traffic to your landing page – either organically by promoting it on social media or to an existing email list – or by using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
Assuming your call to action and the landing page itself are half decent you should be able to get an initial read on whether there’s any interest in your idea or not.
Test the market with a ‘minimum viable product’
One step up on simply collecting leads to establish that there’s a potential market out there interested in what you’re going to offer is to actually try to get people to buy something that’s in the same ballpark, by offering them a minimum viable product.
A “minimum viable product” – or “MVP” to use the ever-so trendy lingo – is an offering in the same vein as your intended final product, targeting the same audience, but done in such a way that doesn’t require as much upfront work, time and financial investment to get going.
Note that this doesn’t mean a “rushed” version of your final product – more something that will achieve the same objectives for your customer as you hope to achieve with your final product, but in a manner that doesn’t require too much input to “go to market”.
So, for example:
- If you’re planning on developing a course teaching people how to play the trumpet, you could test the viability of this by offering a set amount of 1-2-1 Skype lessons
- If you want to build a paid coaching community online, then you could do a trial run with an MVP consisting of a series of group coaching calls supplemented by a private Facebook group.
- Or if your idea is to create a series of lessons teaching someone how to use a particular piece of software, you could first try an MVP of a brief ebook that focuses on one specific area of that software.
These are just some basic examples, but hopefully you’ll see the pattern emerging – your MVP would be something that requires very little effort to get it to a stage where you can try to get some customers, rather than spending hours creating a product only to find out nobody wants to buy.
Testing the market with a minimum viable product is a great way to establish that the demand for what you’re offering exists, and to save you a lot of time, effort and disappointment in the long run.
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