When I started my stationery shop back in 2012, there weren’t a lot of options for creative children’s party designs. I was planning my daughter’s first birthday party and it was a farm theme. Everything seemed too “cutesy”. It was mostly a party for our adult friends – we were the first of our friend’s group to have kids – and I wanted a more sophisticated feel.
So, I designed the invitation and matching party stationery. I mean why not. There wasn’t anything that worked quite right.
Then, about a month later, a friend called having the same problem. She wanted to know if I would make her a more sophisticated girl explorer theme party. It turned out that girl explorers were non-existent on the party market except for Dora. Then, her friend called. And soon another of our family friends contacted me.
Suddenly, I was designing and selling stationery. And that is how I created my first 5 stationery themes. In the end, I validated my product idea without really trying. It was our friends and family that told me I had created something worth buying.
Fast forward to today and I’ve sold over 10,000 designs and products. There was a need and desire for more unique stationery designs beyond even the requests of my family and friends. It turns out a whole audience of moms wanted other choices.
Before investing a lot of time, energy and financial resources, you need to validate your product idea. That simply means making sure that there is a demand for what you make.
Is your audience interested in your thingamajig? And, more importantly, will they spend their hard earned money on it?
But, how do I figure these things out?
That’s where the tricky part comes in. Especially if you are just starting a business.
I read a lot of advice suggesting that you figure out what your audience is interested in. And they are exactly right. But, how do you find out your audience’s needs when you don’t have an audience yet?
There are lots of other ways to validate your product idea if you are still growing your audience. Here are some things that I’ve done over the years to make sure that I am designing things that my audience is interested in and will want to buy.
Be Ready for Trial and Error
Not everything is perfect the first time around. Most products take a few rounds of revisions before they take their final shape.
When developing your product idea, you will go through a process of trial and error. Some things might work and other things won’t. This process is completely normal.
Just be mentally prepared for it and don’t let it get you down. It can be a frustrating feeling when nothing seems to work. Eventually, you will figure it out. And the product that results from the trial and error process will be better than the one before. Promise.
Use your Current Circle
One of the best ways to validate your product idea is to ask your audience what they think about it.
This method works great if you have an audience. It can be hard when you’re just starting out to find the right people to ask.
If you are friends with your ideal audience, you can just ask them. Many will be happy to help and give feedback on your product.
But if your friends are not your target audience, look elsewhere. I’ve met many would be entrepreneurs who were saddened when their product idea flopped in front of family and friends. Much to their surprise, they came to realize later on that these weren’t the people they were trying to sell to in the first place.
This also can go the other way. If you have a really nice and supportive inner circle, they may not give you the most honest feedback.
When in doubt, find an outside group that is similar to your target audience. My favorite is joining a Facebook Group with a similar make up to your ideal audience.
Before posting something requesting feedback, check with the group’s admin to make sure it’s okay. Then, you can create a survey, hand out samples or let them try it in some way.
Most importantly – don’t be sneaky. People see right through that and won’t want to participate.
Find Something Similar
I used to think if my idea had flooded the marketplace already, then it was a bad idea. It turns out just the opposite is true.
When you find your product idea “around”, it means that people are interested in purchasing it. The idea has already been tested and now it’s your turn to put a unique spin on it.
Once you have a product idea, check the current marketplace and find something similar. This is a good indication that your version can be successful.
Just keep in mind that you aren’t copying exactly what’s already out there. Make sure your product idea is unique and special to you.
What’s your Value Add
Although there are lots of products that you could create, not all of them add value to what is already out there. When you validate a product idea, ask yourself the following question.
What is its value add?
Your value add is how your product makes the world and your customer’s lives better.
Does your product make it easier to do something? More efficient? Prettier? More pleasant? Or just simply enjoyable?
Figure out what value your product adds to the world before you bring it to market. When I started my stationery shop, there were very few people selling both digital and handmade party designs. I wanted to give my customers a choice based on the type of party they were planning and their skill level. So, my value add was to offer both kinds of designs.
Today, with the addition of drop shipping print shops, that value add is less important. Everyone offers both these days. So, recently I started working out my shop’s new value add.
Your product’s value add will shift as the market’s needs change. So, be sure to revisit this question often. It will help guide your marketing and new product ideas.
I think in a dream world I would create products without talking to anyone. The truth is that I don’t really want to get feedback on my idea. I’m not a huge fan about hearing what my audience really thinks of something.
But, I’ll admit having tried it, avoiding feedback isn’t the best way to develop an idea that someone will buy. Many times it results in wasting time creating something that your audience wasn’t really interested in or has too many of.
Instead, you need to step out into the world and ask questions that help validate your product idea. Find out more information about the products currently on the market and what those products don’t do.
But who do you ask questions to? Unfortunately, you can’t ask questions to just anyone or your data might become skewed.
Instead, find people who are your target audience. Ask them about things that bother them, daily habits and problems they want to solve.
I’m always asking other parents about the celebrations they plan for their kids. I love to hear about the current themes their kids are requesting, where they host the parties and if guests RSVP or just show up.
I also like to ask experts their thoughts. During my day, I speak with other creatives and designers and listen to trends they are seeing in the marketplace. Talking to small business owners is also fun. They have huge insight into the items that their customers are buying.
So, ask questions. Speak to everyone that you meet. Don’t be shy. You never know who might hold the key to your next great idea.
Solve a Need
I recently heard about a new camera tripod that will be coming to the market. It is specifically aimed at YouTube videographers and can go anywhere. When you collapse it down, the tripod will fit in your bag.
This product was developed because Pat Flynn saw a need in the marketplace. After attending a recent conference, he watched many solo videographers struggling with their tripods. They were carrying around these clumsy things that wouldn’t fit in their bag.
After researching the marketplace, he discovered that it was the only tripod currently on the market. So, he decided to fix the problem. He designed the SwitchPod using feedback from the current tripod users. Because of the work he did to validate his product idea, Pat Flynn now has a researched and tested product to add to the technology marketplace.
When thinking about your product, figure out how you can create something that fixes a problem.
A fellow crafter loves making angels. Linda creates beautiful angel decorations for her handmade business Destiny’s Darlings. As she started to bring her angels to the market, Linda discovered that the Christmas market is a bit oversaturated. And she wanted to make her angels for more than just the holidays so they would sell all year long.
When discussing the problem, I suggested that she think about a need her angels could fill beyond the holidays. Although many people have plenty of Christmas decorations, there is a need for First Communion and Baptism gifts all year long. Customers are always looking for unique options and, as I discovered last year, there aren’t a lot of choices in stores.
So, she took out the Christmas colors and added a little poem to transform the angels into a religious celebration gift. They’ve started to sell and she is receiving really positive feedback. She just needed to figure out how to position her product to meet a need in the community.
When considering your product idea, think about a need that it can solve.
How can you help your audience or make their lives easier? These are the products that will sell and make your business successful.
Sell Before you Commit
Another successful way to validate your product idea is to make samples or create a pre-order. With a product in hand, you can gauge your audience’s interest before your invest a lot of time and money into your idea.
I see these pre-sales a lot when someone is making a course. Instead of creating the whole course, they sell the idea for the course. Once they’ve reached a certain number of sales, they proceed to creating the course.
Although you could pre-sell a product, I think it would be harder to create marketing materials – specifically pictures – of something that doesn’t yet exist.
For a product idea, it might be better to make a sample of your product. You could design that special pair of earrings or crochet that baby hat you’ve been dreaming of. Just one.
Make a product listing and see how it fares in your shop. Specifically, pay attention to how quickly the product sells (if it does at all) and questions potential customers have about the product (these will help you improve your listing description later on if you decide to proceed with adding the product permanently).
If you make print on demand products, this can be really simple with little upfront costs to you.
Load the image onto the print on demand product. When someone orders the product, it goes straight to production. No upfront costs to you. When you think about it, you can experiment with any designs you want without ending up with a lot of inventory left over. The cost really is just the $.20 listing fee if you’re using Etsy (or free if your platform is Shopify or WooCommerce).
Research the Current Trends
When you are creating a new product, you want to make sure that it is on target with the current trends. It’s never a good idea to create something that is behind or ahead of the times.
One of the best ways to search for trending ideas is to look at current keyword searches. I just discovered this new tool Google Trends. You can type in any keywords related to the product that you’re creating and see how popular those search terms are. Google Trends will tell you when people are most likely to search for those words, other related terms and what categories they are searching under.
This information can help you decide the direction of the product your creating, when to release the product to your shop and the keywords to use to help others search for the product.
You can also search current trends using the Google Keyword Planner. You can type in keywords and see the search volume and competition. When creating a product, you want to make sure that others are searching for it too. If no one is searching for those keywords, either the product won’t have enough interest to sell or you need to select other keywords.
Another place to research trends is using eRank. Although I love eRank, they did just start only allowing four keyword searches a day. Their service does offer some of the best insight into trending keywords on Etsy, though, so it might be worth investing in a subscription.
Listen for Social Chatter
A lot of things are discussed in social media. Whether it’s the color of someone’s new shoes or the flowers their husband sent them for their birthday. You can learn a lot about people and how your product idea can help them just by listening to the social chatter.
As much as research shows that being on social media can be bad for souls, it is all part of a day’s work. Tune in to your Facebook feed, Facebook Groups, Twitter or other social media. See what others are sharing, discussing and gushing over.
It’s amazing what you can discover. Most of which might not be that relevant. Sift carefully. You never know when seeing what ornaments adorn your friend’s Christmas tree or the color of scarf they are wearing might validate your product idea.
Find some time every day (or two) to scan your social media accounts. In order to not become overly obsessed, though, stick to a time limit. I usually give myself about 20 minutes to scroll through my Facebook feed. I comment on a couple of posts and make a few notes.
Then, I’m done. Finished. And I won’t return until tomorrow. Remember, you are trying to validate your product idea, not be popular.
Open a Test Shop
I got an idea about two years ago to try a different kind of shop. After reading about other sellers’ success is print on demand products, I decided to open a shop selling nature inspired designs for kids.
Since I wasn’t sure what the result would be, I created about ten designs and made some listings. I opened the shop in May of 2016. And then I waited. And waited and waited some more.
It turns out that no one was really interested in my nature products. At least they didn’t show interest by purchasing them. So, I closed the shop down.
Total amount of money lost – $120. And that’s only because I was experimenting with opening the shop on Shopify. If I chosen Etsy, it wouldn’t even had been that much.
Overall, though, not too bad for an idea that sank. Can you imagine how much money would have been lost if I had invested in building a full shop concept?
If you have an idea that you truly believe in and seems to have some attention in the marketplace, open a test shop. Try your idea in real life.
Add ten products to an Etsy shop and see how they do over a month or two. If they start to sell, then you might be onto something. If not, no worries. Maybe this idea just wasn’t meant to be.
No matter what, don’t get discouraged. Not every idea is meant to be a success.
The benefit of opening a test shop is that you can get you honest feedback and help validate your product idea in real time. Analyze which of your products is being favorited or added to people’s carts. These might be the product ideas that you develop further in the future.
Although it may seem easier to develop products as you desire, validating your product idea before bringing it to the market is an important step of the business process. It saves you time, money and the trouble of going down the wrong rabbit hole.
Many entrepreneurs tend to shift from idea to idea often. That’s one of the traits that makes us entrepreneurs.
But time is limited and not every idea can be developed. Only spend your time on the good ones. The ideas that you know your audience are interested in and will buy.
Start running your creative business with the mantra to validate your product ideas BEFORE developing them. Make sure that they solve a need and fit into the current market trends.
When you take the time to do the proper research first, you’ll find that you will be more focused when you actually develop your product idea. Instead of spending hours trying to figure out what to make, your audience will give you many of the answers.
Have a new product idea you’ve been thinking about? Create a validation process for yourself. Choose two or three things that you can do to validate your product idea and try them. You might be surprised the direction that your idea takes off in.