Bad Advice From a Mentor?

A few months ago I was talking with a new business owner and he shared a piece of advice with me that he got from one of his mentors.

The advice was this:

“Don’t start selling until you have something to sell.”

The mentor’s thinking was that you shouldn’t start marketing and selling your product or service until you establish a business and are ready for prime time.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, I actually think that’s backwards thinking.

There’s a lot of risk involved with starting a business.

It takes a lot of time and (often) money. And let’s not ignore the huge emotional tool starting a business can take on you, your relationships, your ego, etc. – especially if it fails.

Doesn’t it make sense to test the waters first to see if the demand is there for your product or service BEFORE you jump into the deep end of the pool only to find out you can’t swim?

It’s actually pretty easy to test out a new business idea.

One way is to test it out online.

Let’s say you’ve come up with an idea for a revolutionary new widget. Instead of putting in the time and money to develop a prototype, figuring out manufacturing and distribution, etc., what if Step 1 was to set up a website?

On the website you can:

  • Put a questionnaire to gain better insights into the market and prospect’s potential interest in a widget like yours
  • Offer a whitepaper or report highly related to your widget and see how many people download it (and what kind of feedback you get to it)
  • Even better, have a description of the widget and a Buy Now button on the site and see if people actually click it. If they do, you can send them to a page with a simple “Coming Soon” message on it. You can also let them enter their email address and offer a coupon that they can use if and when your widget is actually available for sale.

Once you have the website set up, simply send some AdWords traffic to the site and see if people respond.

The cost of the AdWords campaign would pale in comparison to the costs of finding out months down the road that the demand is not there for your widget.

(By the way, if you already have a business with a website, this is an ideal way to test our ideas for a new offering. Simply add a button to your website mentioning this new product/service and see how many people click on it.

Get a lot of clicks? Put the resources into making the project a reality.

Don’t get a lot of clicks? Table the idea.)

Don’t want to set up a website? Then interview people who would be your key prospects about the need for, and their interest in, a widget like yours.

This has two benefits.

First, you’ll get feedback that can help you make an even better widget right out of the gate.

Second, the people who’ve given you advice are now warm leads you can go back to if you decide to go forward with your widget.

There are a lot of great ideas out there. And a lot of people who have taken those great ideas to market and failed.

A big reason why is that most people think like the mentor I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

But if you take the opposite approach and try selling and marketing your product before you spend a lot of time and money in development, setting up a business, etc., you can save yourself from a lot of potential heartache.

For a great read on how to reduce your risks of failure, I’d recommend reading Benji Rabhan’s book “Failure is Obsolete”.  He shares his principle of “Test Before You Test” that he’s used to virtually eliminate the chance of failure both in the business world and in his personal life. It’s a very worthwhile read.

So what do you think? Which approach would you recommend taking and why?