Entrepreneurs are natural innovators – even before they earn the title of “entrepreneur”. An entrepreneur is defined by their innate curiosity, desire to push boundaries, and willingness to explore bold ideas: the same traits that led to some of the world’s top companies and inventions. 

If you’re looking to start your own business, you likely already have an idea in mind. But, how do you test your idea to take it from a dream to a reality? With hard work, strategic planning, and the proper knowledge, you’ll be ready to open your doors in no time.

Why is Ideation the Hardest Step in Entrepreneurship?

Out of all the phases of business development, the transition from ideation to action is one of the most challenging and work-intensive. This stage of the process is where you lay the groundwork for your business to grow. Many budding entrepreneurs don’t know where to start simply because they usually haven’t ventured out on their own before or even experienced the entrepreneurial process up close. 

Veteran entrepreneurs have the leg up in the ideation phase because they’ve been through the process before and likely have continued to develop early ideations throughout their careers. However, for newbies, the ideation phase often coincides with new entrepreneurs getting their feet wet and sorting out the basics of business ownership and what that entails. 

That lack of familiarity with the business incubation and startup process also means that many entrepreneurs, especially first-timers, tend to underestimate the importance of testing their ideas before jumping into action. According to some statistics, a high percentage of startups fail – up to 90% of the time. Unfortunately, many businesses fail early in their lifecycles because they lack planning and proper testing.

Figuring out how to test your idea thoroughly and realistically is a crucial indicator of your business’s success in the real world, so early on, investing in the ideation and testing process is a must. 

There are a few main reasons why you need to put your idea to the test before hitting the pavement:

#1: Avoiding the “Echo Chamber” Trap

In the early stages of ideation, it can be easy to get carried away. Once you stumble upon an idea that feels like a winner, it can be hard to take a step back and think objectively – especially when loved ones are showing you support. We call that the “echo chamber” or “mom test” trap. 

While it’s okay to be excited about your ideas and seek support from friends and family, you don’t want to put the blinders on and rule out other ideas prematurely or fail to self-critique. Naturally, the people that support you and love you most will think your ideas are genius. Still, you don’t want to fall into the echo chamber trap without careful objectivity and examination – especially this early in the process.

If you don’t examine your ideas objectively, you could overlook critical flaws in your idea, miss out on opportunities for improvement, or even eventually regret your choices down the line.

#2: To Collect Data Through Collaboration and Lived Experience

One of the main goals of testing your idea is to collect data, and while it may sound intimidating, data is all around us. Data is the fuel that pushes your ideas into motion and allows you to make essential fixes along the way. You’re collecting data when you share your ideas with others and receive feedback. Now is the time to dive into your experiences as a consumer and get curious about how the experiences of others will impact your idea in the market. 

Entrepreneurship, at its core, is all about being able to take yourself back to a state of child-like curiosity. When we’re children, we test and play and share our ideas without restraint. But, as adults, we start to feel weary of sharing ideas and being open to failure because we’ve been shaped by previous negative experiences leading to feelings of rejection, judgment, and shame. 

Push past the fear of criticism and rejection and embrace data collection from the eyes of a child; play around, be open to mistakes, and remember there is no right or wrong answer. Every outcome gives you more data to work with.

Testing your idea creates the blueprint that tells you where to go next – but data gives you the pencil to design with.

#3: To Ensure Your Target Market is Well-Aligned

Many early entrepreneurs wrongly assume that they are the ideal target audience for their idea: after all, many entrepreneurs’ ideas come from their own lived experiences. However, you must explore the market without bias to determine where your best consumer alignment lies. Unless you are 100% positive that you are your target market, you shouldn’t be trying to test something inside your head. 

To give your idea a fair shot in the business world, you need to take your idea out into the open among numerous consumer markets to determine the ideal target audience and how you can best appeal to them. When you make assumptions about what customers want, you’re jumping ahead and spending money with confidence in a way that you don’t have permission to do just yet – fight the temptation to jump ahead and refocus on where you’re at now and not where you would like to be. Once you’re empowered to take action and put your idea to the test, you need to know how to test your idea. So, where do you start when it comes to testing?

Workshop your Idea 

When first starting out, especially if this is your first venture into entrepreneurship, you want to master the art of the elevator pitch so that when you get to the pitching room floor, it’s second nature – that means the more practice, the better. While many hear the word “workshop” and feel intimidated, workshopping your idea is a gradual process you can approach at your own speed. 

Start with the basics and meet yourself where you’re at, pitch to yourself in the mirror while you get ready, or record yourself on video until it feels comfortable and natural. Surround yourself with inspiration, so you know what a confident and concise pitch looks and feels like. There’s nothing wrong with testing your idea on friends and family first. This is a great place to start, as long as you beware of the “mom test” trap we discussed above.

Early workshopping helps you gauge how audiences will react to your idea and how easily you can explain it in layman’s terms – remember the KISS acronym: keep it super simple. From there, you can workshop your idea on acquaintances, connections you might know in relevant industries, and even on polls and networking forums. Keep detailed notes of your interactions and experiences while workshopping, as they will come in handy later as you grow. 

Once you’ve mastered the casual pitch, you might want to take things to the next level and explore what other resources for entrepreneurs exist. At this stage of the process, it’s essential to lean on the community and resources around you. Remember: entrepreneurship is a journey of self-growth as professional growth – the more you learn along the way, the more you’ll have to pour into your business. 
There’s a wealth of resources for ideating entrepreneurs available for free or low cost, from local business incubators to online courses and networking opportunities to connect with other ideators and successful entrepreneurs that have been in your shoes before. Surrounding yourself with ideators and entrepreneurs can help build your confidence and help you learn from the lessons of others.

Get To Know Your Ideal Customer Through Market Research

If everything goes to plan, the workshopping phase should prepare you to either step back to the drawing board and reconsider your target market or help you feel supported to move ahead. Now, it’s time to start setting some early action in motion to gather data from the market response. Aim to paint a clear image in your mind of how your ideal customer looks and thinks. Consider your ideal customer a close friend. You need to know their pain points, likes, dislikes, and motivations. 

A great way to get inside the minds of your ideal customers is to pick their brains. Market validation services can be a great tool to help you paint a more detailed picture of your ideal customer through direct surveys. While it requires an investment in time and assets, you’ll gather invaluable insights into your predicted customer base – from their likes and dislikes, what products and services they would be interested in, and how they spend money. 

At this phase of the journey, you can also begin developing mockups of branding ideas, early website pages, and advertisements with calls to action to further determine your idea’s strength and where your personal skillset lies. For example, if you have a background in website development, you might feel comfortable tackling that in-house but require outside experts for marketing and advertising needs.

The market research phase is a great time to reflect on the insights you’ve gathered thus far. What lessons did you learn from workshopping? Have you noticed any trends concerning your business idea? How can you set yourself up for success early? What will your needs look like as your business idea develops further into fruition?

Keep Your Friends Close… And Your Competition Closer

Before you hit the ground running, you need to know the arena you’re walking into and what you’ll be up against when your “game time” comes around. In many ways, the entrepreneurial journey is similar to the process that professional athletes follow; while you might not be playing the Super Bowl your first season out, you need to learn about the industry “giants” around you and how they play the game. That’s where industry landscape analysis comes in. 

An industry landscape analysis prepares you to put your research and testing to work as you transition from the development phase into launching your business in the real world. Keep three goals in mind as you compile your analysis: understand the pain points that companies in the field face, competitor wins and losses, and what could be coming next in your industry. 

This report can be as straightforward or formal as you like, but it must include a few key components: insights into the current and future state of the industry and your main competitors. Industry analysis can also be a great place for collaboration – leaning on your networking contacts, especially in-industry, can provide you with a fresh perspective. This is especially important if your product or service exists inside a volatile industry with trends that frequently change, such as technology or finance. 

Remember: a little competition is healthy, and almost no entrepreneur enters a market unopposed. This isn’t about seeing competition as a threat – it’s about identifying ways to make your idea even stronger by learning about what your competitors do well (and the weak points they have that your idea can ideally solve). 

Want to test your idea but need help getting started? Clear Function is here to help. Our team of startup development experts has experience working with real entrepreneurs every day, at every phase of the lifecycle – so you can rest easy knowing your business is in good hands. Our goal is to help you minimize risk and get to market quickly. With marketing specialists, business coaches, and top-notch developers, we’re here to increase your chances of success.

Are you ready to start your business? Or do you already have one that is struggling to make a profit? The pandemic has impacted small businesses immensely, but your business can thrive with the right marketing plan and a wise budget. 

With marketing leaders worldwide promising amazing results if you take their classes or use their tools, it can be confusing to navigate the waters. Should you do it all on your own, or should you trust a marketing agency to do the work for you? Whatever decision you make, it’s essential to have a budget before you begin. 

How Much Money Should You Spend on Marketing?

We’ll be honest; you probably won’t like our answer. The truth is…it depends. 

Marketing helps you create new revenue, engage new and old customers, and establish yourself as a player in your industry. Between 8-12% of your income should go to marketing. But what if you don’t have income yet?

It’s important to note that your budget for marketing will be higher before you launch versus after you launch. Your business is unknown, and the money you spend at the forefront of the launch will go towards four unique goals.

  1. Stand out from the competition: Who are your competitors? Are they local or across the world? Once you figure that out, you’ll want to do everything you can to differentiate yourself from them. 
  1. Build your unique voice on the market: The way you talk to your target audience and how you are perceived online is your unique brand voice. Customers build trust with brands when they have consistent positive and engaging interactions with them.
  1. Find your customers: The most crucial part of marketing is finding your customers where they already are. Before you launch, you can grow your email lists, social media followers, and traction through ads to establish a customer group. 
  1. Equip the business with a quality online presence and visual elements: Before you launch, you’ll need a website, an online marketplace, social media accounts, and more. The more professional these look, the better. Graphic design, photos, and videos can help buff up your online presence and build trust with your customers. 

Should You Hire a Marketing Agency or Handle It Internally?

Marketing your small business is definitely something you can do on your own….but we can’t promise you’ll have good results. Many tools exist to let you do it on your own: Canva to create graphics, social media platforms to reach your audience, stock image sites to share photos, the list goes on. These tools are great, but without the right skill set and ability to think about the strategy, the time you put in could be all for nothing. 

What other options do you have? Hire a marketing agency! Marketers each have unique skill sets that make them valuable agency employees. Graphic designers, copywriters, paid media specialists, market researchers, and photographers all come together to work on your account to provide you with the best results possible. 

Clear Function Tip: Don’t underestimate the value of good design. Often taken for granted, graphic design can elevate the professionalism of your marketing collateral. Your visual identity is something that your customers will become familiar with – don’t miss out on a great marketing opportunity with poor design. 

What To Look For When Hiring an Agency

The biggest thing to look at when hiring a marketing agency is their previous work. Visit their website and read their case studies. See if they have worked with industries similar to yours. There are often unspoken rules between industries and if they already know these then you’ll spend less time prepping them on the front end. 

Set up an intro meeting to hear from the agency leadership team. Describe your wants and concerns for marketing and listen to the plan they propose. Agencies vary in size and cost, meeting with several can help you find the perfect fit for your business. 

Invest in Paid Marketing

Paid marketing is a great way to increase your profit margin quickly and effectively. Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, and Google are just a few of the platforms that allow for paid media campaigns. Large ad campaigns can be effective, but the day-to-day ongoing campaigns are also important to invest in. 

Large campaigns can be a great way to make a splash. New videos, graphics, ads with multiple versions of copy all play a part in a large, strategic campaign. They help you to reach new segments of customers but can also be rather expensive

Day-to-day campaigns that focus on one to two ads meant to target your local audience often see better targeting results. The data from long-term campaigns lets you see how your business is performing in different target markets. With that data, you can begin to understand your audience better and easily make changes. 

Are You Ready To Market Your Business?

Whether your business is brand new or you’ve tried out marketing on your own and it hasn’t been successful, Clear Function can help. Our dedicated team of marketing experts can evaluate your business plan and come up with a complete marketing strategy. Contact us today to get started!

Starting your small business and launching your digital product is a huge accomplishment, but the launch buzz will only take you so far. Pretty soon you are going to need to develop an in-depth marketing strategy and stick to it.  A strong marketing strategy will connect you with the right customers, get people talking about your business, and set you up for financial success. 

When you think of marketing what comes to mind? Is it the traditional way of doing things like commercials, billboards, and mailers? Or is it the new way of doing things that involve social media, digital ads, and targeted website landing pages? 

At Clear Function we are digital experts. We stay up to date on current marketing trends so that our clients stand out above the competition. You can also stand out by avoiding these easy marketing mistakes.

Digital Marketing Mistakes To Avoid 

  1. Not Having a Clear Conversion Point On Your Website

The number one goal of your website is to see customers convert. This could be filling out a contact form if you are selling a service or actually buying a product if you sell something tangible. If a customer can’t easily find a button or form where they can take action they will leave your site. 

Experiment with buttons like “Buy Now,” “Shop Now,” or “Get Started.” See which works best for your business and then include that button on multiple pages. 

  1. Not Retargeting Potential Customers

What is retargeting? Using paid advertising to send ads to people who have visited your website but not converted. People who have visited your website are the most likely to make a purchase because they already have an understanding of who you are as a business. 

The first question to ask is why did they not convert? Did your website not have a clear conversion point or do they need a message targeted specifically to them? These are issues you can fix with a targeted ad. Through Google Ads, you can target only customers who have visited your website and increase your chances of converting! 

  1. Not Reengaging Old Customers

Customers who have bought from you and had a good experience are your best target market. When you add new products or service offerings they are more likely to purchase them because they already trust you as a business. Add all previous customers to an email mailing list and continue to build and maintain the relationship you have with them through frequent email communications and sales offerings. 

You can also reach out to them for testimonials to use in marketing material. Reading customer reviews is an easy way for new customers to convert. 

  1. Not Using Social Media Correctly

Social media is a powerful marketing tool, but if you don’t use it correctly you can end up losing money. Advertising is available on almost every large social media platform. If you take one piece of information from this article it should be this: don’t just use the boost button!

Create detailed, strategic social media ad campaigns. Spend time targeting your specific customer group, creating compelling images, and writing copy that helps customers convert. Boosting specific posts will only get you so far, but the other marketing tools available through social media are easy to learn and have the potential to bring many new customers. 

Of course, if tackling social media and ads seems like a daunting task, we recommend hiring an external marketing team. The Clear Function team has years of experience doing just that, and more! Contact us today to learn how we can help you grow. 

  1. Not Understanding What’s Happening On Your Website

Did you create your website years ago and haven’t edited it since? Your website is never really done! You can always make changes based on feedback and analytics on how customers interact with your content. 

Google Analytics is free so you have no reason not to use it! Learning where customers are clicking and how long they are staying on specific pages can help you understand why they aren’t converting. Don’t be afraid to change copy and images, update the style, and get rid of old information. 

  1. Not Leveraging Google My Business 

Another free resource businesses should take advantage of is Google My Business. When a customer searches for your business name or description, your Google listing is the first thing they see. Keeping your business hours updated, including photos or your logo, allowing people to post reviews, and running promotions is a simple but effective marketing tool. Without a Google My Business page, you will be losing to your competitors!

Evaluate Your Current Marketing Strategy or Create One Today! 

Are you making any of these mistakes in your day-to-day business marketing? These are all easy mistakes to fix by you or your trusted marketing team! Remember that digital marketing is a fast-moving and ever-changing field. If you try something new and don’t see results, change your path! 

Are you using social media to its maximum potential to grow your startup?

It’s no secret that social media has changed the world. Even more, it’s completely changed how businesses market themselves. What once was dominated by print advertisements, email campaigns, and phone calls now has a worthy competitor in social media marketing. When done well, a strategic and smart social media presence has the potential to grow your sales, customers, and reach in substantial ways.

To best utilize all of the components social media has to offer, you need to learn how to effectively manage your accounts and make sure you are marketing to the right group of people.

Start With a Clear Plan

Before you jump in and start crafting posts and creating content, you need a solid plan of action. Take a step back and determine who you are trying to reach and what platforms they are currently on. While your biggest group of potential customers may be on Instagram, you could also have a substantial group on Facebook that is being ignored. Without a clear plan, you could be spending time and money targeting customers on platforms they aren’t prominently using.

When you are done researching your customers and platforms, you are ready to create a content calendar that you can update regularly with post ideas, dates of scheduled posts, and copy. A calendar allows you to line up all of your future posts and see how your upcoming content relates to one another. Staying consistent in your voice is what will help you create long-lasting relationships with your customers.

Include All Four Winning Components in Every Post

As you create your social media posts, it’s important to include these four components. They will ensure that customers take action and engage with your brand.

  1. Start With a Hook

If you don’t gain the attention of the reader right away, they are more likely to keep on scrolling. A hook pulls the reader in and makes them want to engage with you and your product. This could be a question, a statement that sparks emotion, or an interesting fact. It can be helpful to see the hook as a way to empathize with the reader about a problem they may be experiencing.

  1. Resolve Your Hook

Once you grab their attention, it’s time to resolve the question the hook asked or the emotion it created. This is where you can mention your product or service and position it as a solution to a problem. Save the bulk of your copy for this section of the post.

  1. End With a Call to Action

The reader won’t make a purchase or visit your website without a call to action prompting them to take the next step. First, determine what that action step should be, and then phrase it in a way that the reader can engage with.

Example: Contact us! – linking to a contact form on your website, Shop Now – linking to your sales page, or Learn More – linking to a landing page on your website.

  1. Add a Photo or Graphic

Photos and graphics grab a reader’s attention and make them stop on the post. You don’t need a photographer to post quality photos, just invest the time in making sure that the photos aren’t blurry and that they always include a subject. For graphics, Canva is your best friend! You can easily create posts that look sharp and creative.

Invest in a Scheduler

Social media schedulers are your friends! Instead of planning out and posting individual posts each day, you can schedule for an entire month of posts with programs like Later or Hootsuite. These programs are subscription-based and are often affordable. You can schedule posts, create ads, see analytics, and manage content. As a new entrepreneur, this is an easy way to free up your time and increase your social presence.

Social Media Management Do’s and Don’ts

While social media is an easy tool to learn, it does come with its own list of dos and don’ts. Following these guidelines can help you more efficiently manage your accounts and connect with potential customers.

Do post positive reviews and highlight customers’ successful journey with your product or service. You made a product that you should be proud of, don’t be afraid to share that with the world!
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Nothing burns the trust of your customers more than when you promise huge results or free products when you can’t guarantee these.

Do be authentic in what you post. Be truthful and honest and real – this is what will connect you to your customers!
Don’t be fake. Never lie or put on a show to your social media followers to portray your business as something that it isn’t.

Do post consistently. If you tend to post Monday and Friday, make it a priority to continue posting on those days. Consistency will help your customers know when to expect to hear from you.
Don’t post sporadically. The social media algorithm only benefits users who consistently post – take advantage of it and don’t be sporadic with your posts.

Do maximize social media’s potential. Advertising, analytics and so much more. Make sure you are utilizing all the potential social media has to offer!
Don’t expect it to be a cure-all for your business. Social media isn’t a one-stop-shop for success. You still need to employ other basic marketing tactics to see success.

When Should You Hire Outside Help?

Now that you know what you should include in each post and the important dos and don’ts, it can be helpful to recognize the signs of needing to hire outside help. Hiring a social media manager or outsourcing social media to an agency can take the burden off your plate and free up time for you to focus on your business. If you find that you can’t keep up with your audience, or the effort far outweighs the return then outsourcing is a smart decision! 

Research potential managers online and ask for a portfolio to view previous campaigns they have run. Look for measurable results before you hire anyone. Whether you decide to outsource or manage your own social media, striving for measurable results that drive profit is your number one goal and can be easily met through a strong plan! 

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