I had the good fortune to present a workshop at Laid Off Camp Phoenix this weekend, the free all-volunteer workshop put on for laid off folk in the Phoenix metro area. It was pretty overwhelming to see a room filled with 300 smart, eager professionals and realize that all of them were looking for work to support their families. The job market here in Phoenix has been really bleak, which is why I think it is even more important today to help people develop alternative ways to generate income (such as a strong side hustle).
After my session, I had a long talk with a woman who has a huge body of knowledge in a particular subject, who is dying to put it to use and begin to build a business around it.
Listening to her story, I had all kinds of ideas about how she could create products and services using today’s technology.
But she was understandably overwhelmed with knowing where to start.
So my best advice in that limited time was to draw a rough picture of all the things she wanted to do, then to pick one small thing that she could test out in the real world, which we jointly decided would be a live workshop for children.
By zooming between the big picture and small little tests, I firmly believe that she will figure out how to share her knowledge with the world, and grow a small side hustle into a full-fledged business.
Here is a bit more background on how to move between huge goals and small tests.
1. Look for models
The first place I send clients who are trying to do something totally new is in search of business models that are already working.
So if you are a world-class tuba teacher and have always delivered your lessons in person, but want to deliver all your lessons over Skype, look for evidence of someone who has done something similar.
To prove my point, after writing the above sentence, I googled “teaching music lessons over skype” and found this excellent YouTube tutorial:
Since this tutorial contains technical information but not much about the business model, you may want to dig further and find music teachers who sell virtual music lessons successfully.
Or you might find someone in a related subject area, like an art teacher, who sells e-books and video training programs to supplement live art lessons.
The key is to find someone who is doing business in an innovative AND effective way, and to pull back the curtain so that you understand the key parts of their business model.
(If you want to get lots of ideas for business models, you will love Business Model Generation, edited by my friend Alexander Osterwalder)
2. Define the phases
You may not know every last thing about building a business, but with some input from experienced colleagues or business mentors and your business model research, you should be able to define the overall phases you need to go through to reach your goal.
For example, in the case of the Laid Off Camp participant who wanted to create a mixture of live classes and high quality information products, she could:
- Define the target market
- Identify the key desires, problems or challenges they have in her area of expertise
- Create an initial offering of a product or service that solves their problem
- Test the offering with a set number of ideal participants (at this stage, it can be free)
- Debrief test and determine how it could be replicated
- Identify partners with access to ideal target market
- Develop more offerings, perhaps with partners and test again
- Flesh out business plan with lessons learned, identifying a ripe offering that can grow
- Accelerate marketing machine which includes building her mailing list, utilizing social media and PR effectively and participating in live events
- When list grows, develop online product to sell to market
- Test, debrief, and continue building products and services
These steps may change based on your specific goals and objectives, but at least you can get clear as to what to build in what order.
3. Choose a specific small test related to the big goal, and define the desired outcome
Once you have a sense of the major phases involved in reaching your big goal, you want to quickly look for a small test that will bring you into the real world, with real customers.
Time and time again, I see new entrepreneurs get stuck in the planning stage and think things have to be perfect in order to bring them to market. This will kill both your momentum and your spirit.
To nip this momentum killer in the bud, choose a small thing to do that will get you moving in the real world. It should be:
- Short — never do your first test for a 6-week program. Start with an hour class.
- Relatively easy — if you need subjects to test your program, tap into people who already know, like and trust you. There is a reason chefs test their recipes with their own family first!
Testing will give you two kinds of data:
- Enjoyment factor – How does it feel to do the “thing” that you have been aching to do? If you have always wanted to be a coach, how does it actually feel to coach? If you have never done it before, it is normal to have a bit of anxiety, but still, it should feel like you are moving in the right direction. (Martha Beck uses a quick assessment — does it feel “shackles on” or “shackles off” when you think about or do something? Terror is often involved when doing new things, but it can still taste and feel like freedom).
- Reality factor – How easy or difficult was it to execute this small test? Did things turn out as planned? What did you learn from the experience that you will apply to future tests?
In the example of my Laid Off Camp friend, I suggested a test of a one hour workshop with a maximum of 10 children, testing one small lesson from her vast library of lesson plans. If all the children come from her neighborhood, church or local school, great! I volunteered my own kids as test subjects, which meant she only had to get 8 more. 🙂
Once you define the test, then define specific elements to measure such as:
- How many calls or emails did it take to fill the event?
- Which marketing strategies worked the best? (Facebook, flyer in coffee shops, call to a Connector, Twitter, email, etc.)
- What time was involved in preparation?
- How much did materials cost?
- What was the reaction of your test participants? (ALWAYS get feedback after a test! If you are live with people, you could get a video testimonial on your phone, or pass out written evaluation forms, or follow up with an email survey)
- How did it feel to do it? What about it made it so fantastic, or so terrible?
4. Execute your small test
When you get one very specific task to test, give it your full attention. Don’t worry about the bigger goals at this point, they will just distract you.
You will move quickly when you choose a specific date to execute.
So choose your date, identify your test subjects, and go do the thing.
It may not be ideal. It won’t be perfect. But it will be done!
5. Review results
I have written before about how important it is to be a scientist in your entrepreneurial journey.
Since you have defined your metrics from the outset, it will not be hard to measure your results vs. your plan.
Once you review results, you ask yourself:
- What would I do differently next time?
- How could I streamline the steps involved in this activity?
- Is this something that could scale?
- If so, who are other people or where are other markets who might be interested in this?
- Do I want to continue doing it?
When you get in the practice of executing small tests of your products and services, real progress happens.
A test coaching session leads to a 3-month coaching service which leads to a busy blog and a robust mix of digital courses, live retreats, a book and speaking engagements. Just ask me, that’s how I started!
Testing baking recipes at a law office (while still a lawyer) leads to custom cake orders leads to 7 retail stores, 3 cookbooks and an appearance on Oprah. Just ask Warren Brown.
Test of graphic design services lead to software application development which leads to a family of applications, a best-selling book, killer blog and juicy speaking engagements. Just ask 37 Signals.
The longest journey begins with the first test. What will yours be?