"…what I try to teach is that you don’t have to go big in the world to experience success. You just have to be big in somebody’s world."
Although he doesn’t know it yet, Pat Flynn has become my new BFF (best friend forever). His book Will it Fly? How to Test Your Next Business Idea so you don’t Waste Your Time and Money takes the often overwhelming process of assessing a business concept and breaks it down into simple, actionable and, dare I say, fun activities that help you assess, test and validate your idea before you quit your day job. He utilizes an airplane metaphor to guide readers through the various stages of this process and shares his own developmental work to illustrate both the process and the output. This isn’t the type of book you simply read: this is a hands-on manual that teaches you to fly (if you do the work as you go)!
The Big Idea
Do Your Homework!
"Your earnings are a by-product of how well you serve your audience, and you can only best serve your audience when you know exactly who they are, what they’re going through, and what will get them to take action."
Homework. If you are like me, the word causes you to shudder and conjures up images of dull, dreary and painfully boring exercises supposedly designed to help you master a concept. It took time away from far more interesting and personally rewarding activities and so was to be avoided or rushed through as quickly as possible. That strategy may have worked for you in school, however, it’s a strategy that will likely prove to be a costly mistake in business.
Flynn advises aspiring entrepreneurs to invest the time to do in-depth customer research before investing too much money and energy in launching a new product or service. Surprisingly, the frameworks and strategies he shares are both simple to do and interesting. The result is a Customer PLAN that improves your chances of developing a product or service that customers will actually buy. In a nutshell, PLAN is shorthand for:
Problems – what your potential customer struggles with or is frustrated by and is seeking a solution for
Language – how your customer describes their problems, goals, and aspirations (keywords, phrases)
Anecdotes – real life customer stories that help you ‘stand in their shoes’
Needs – what you believe the customer requires to solve an identified problem (which is different than the product or service you are going to validate or build – that is the mechanism through which you hope to satisfy the identified need).
Aspiring and established business owners alike should take this homework very seriously because a successful business excels at solving customer problems. Failing to intimately understand your customer’s biggest problems and unmet needs, the language they use (and therefore will relate most easily to) and the context within which these problems or aspirations manifest themselves, jeopardizes your chances of delivering a desirable solution that people will pay for.
Before you drop this summary to pull together your customer PLAN, let’s look at some other important research that Flynn believes will help you bring your business idea to market more effectively.
Pan for Gold
"By identifying existing authorities that your target audience already trusts, you can collect massive insight as to how your audience behaves, what they respond to, and what they ignore."
Every business owner dreams of striking it rich. What many often overlook is the painstaking work that goes into finding that nugget of gold buried within the sand and gravel. Once again, Flynn simplifies our prospecting by having us populate a marketing map (actually a multi-tabbed spreadsheet) capturing the places, people and products that currently describe our market niche.
Much of this panning for gold occurs online—in blogs, forums and social media groups—so there really isn’t any excuse for avoiding this type of homework. Especially when Flynn shares a super simple sniper search strategy that is definitely worth its weight in gold (insert keyword: keyword)! Translated, this means honing your Google search to generate targeted results. So if your business idea is related to fly fishing, your searches look like:
Blog: fly fishing
Forum: fly fishing
Podcast: fly fishing
A well-researched market map helps you to identify:
- where your customers hang out online and what makes them tick,
- the key influencers within your identified market niche, and
- the products and services currently being pitched to your potential customers.
This is a goldmine of information that will help you to launch, grow and monetize your business and it is homework that most of your competition has skipped over.
Test the Waters
"The problem that a lot of startups and entrepreneurs run into, even when they do the proper research, is that they don’t validate the research through real-life testing with real-life customers."
Learning about your ideal client—who they are, what problems they are trying to solve, where they look for solutions and who they engage with—is important, yet not sufficient, pre-launch research. Smart entrepreneurs take the time to test the waters with a small sub-set of their targeted customers. The sayings, “Talk is cheap” and “Actions speak louder than words” ring true in the world of business. Flynn emphasizes the importance of having “your target audience validate [your idea] with their actions, not just with their words.” and outlines four critical steps in the validation process:
- Get in front of your target audience.
- Interact and share your solution.
- Ask for the transaction.
The steps are sequential and done on a micro-level to test the usefulness and desirability of your business concept up to this point. You must find and capitalize on ways to be visible to your ideal customer before you can share your solution and invite people to try it. Again, Flynn generously describes both online and offline ways to do this, from targeted click-through advertising and participating in forums and social media groups to attending industry conferences, doing speaking engagements and even offering freebies.
You have probably been on the receiving end of another vendor’s pilot testing—offers of a free webinar, a free download of a tool or white paper, or a survey on what topics the blogger you follow should focus on in the coming year. Testing your concept with a small sample of your customers both validates you are on the right path and generates suggestions to further improve your offering. This saves you time and money in the long-run.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Will It Fly? Pat Flynn is an engaging and inspiring business coach who convinced me market research is not a complicated undertaking. I have scheduled time in my calendar to complete my market map and develop my customer PLAN and I’m actually looking forward to it. This quote, posted in the product notes for the book on Amazon.ca, sums things up perfectly: “Will It Fly? will challenge you to think critically, act deliberately, and dare greatly.” What more could you possibly ask from a book?