Have a business idea that’s been nagging at you for a while?
I mean really nagging.
I mean the kind of nagging that inspires you to go out and buy a domain name or two for your new idea. The kind of idea that has you tinkering with websites that teach you to master the arts of coding, designing and copy-writing for free. The kind of business idea that had you go out and lock down all the social media profile names and @-handles you could think to secure. The kind of idea that you’ve been talking about and “planning” to do for a few months (up to years) now.
It’s the kind of idea that energizes you and exhausts you all at the same time which means - you’ve done literally nothing or almost nothing to date. Unless, you count the friends and family that obligatorily “Liked” your Facebook Business Page because you sent them an invite that one time.
If this is you and you’re tired of being in this space then you are in the right place. In this post I’m going to help you find and launch your Minimum Viable Business.
First a definition.
I am defining a Minimum Viable Business as a business that provides just enough of a specific value so that you can identify who your customers are, sell to them, support them and learn from them to figure out if your business has legs to grow - with as few moving parts in the process as possible. It’s a process that will help you best communicate the specific and measurable value your business delivers.
For those of you that are already reading all things entrepreneur I can already hear your retorts.
You might be thinking that this sounds an awful lot like getting to some kind of minimum viable product. Well, if you’re thinking that, you’re partially correct. The minimum viable product life of sitting through Steve Blank like presentations, LEAN Launchpad Accelerators and the waves of endless build-learn-iterate spreadsheets is not something I’ll be subjecting you to. With the Minimum Viable Business process it’s not only about the gathering validated learning, it’s also about getting clear about why you’re building this business, identifying the real benefits your customers will receive and building the systems to keep doing it.
So, here is an easy to follow outline of the Minimum Viable Business process that you can start using today to help bring to life what’s been swimming in your brain for a while.
1. I hate to do this but I am going to start by referencing Simon Sinek’s work about getting to your why.
I know, every business blog does this but it’s because his work is so on the nose. Your core beliefs are going to guide and influence every decision you make. Your motivation for building this business is also going to seep through every conversation you have about your business. If you aren’t authentic about your purpose and what you believe in then it’ll be really hard to convince people to trust you enough to give you money to solve their problems. It sounds super cliche but people really don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. You need to as honestly as possible get to these why’s:
Why are you starting this business?
Why is this problem worth solving?
Why are you best suited to solve your customer’s problem?
Why should anyone care about what you’re doing?
Why is what you believe in important? (For you and your business.)
If you answer these honestly (I recommend going a few why’s deep on each answer) you can start to see that you have the beginnings of a pitch for your business. The kind of pitch that people would be willing to listen to because it’s compelling and honest - not just a list of features.
2. Getting really clear on your target market is next on the list.
What does the ideal customer look like for your Minimum Viable Business? The more specific the better. There are lots of resources that go to great lengths to help you identify your target market but to keep you from spinning off into days/weeks/months of more stuff to learn and keep you distracted I want you to just answer this one question:
What is the smallest and most narrow group of people that exist that would get the most amount of value out of you and your business?
Let’s say you’re thinking about being a real estate professional and have just passed your licensing exam. You’re thinking about targeting brand new parents. If your description of your ideal customer stops there then it’s time to roll up your sleeves. I want you to go deep on “new parent” ideas. How new? Do they have any other kids? What kind of places are they coming from? Is this a first home purchase for them? Are they Millenials? If I were thinking about the market for new parents and real estate I would going until I have something like this:
I specialize in helping Millennial first time parents get out of the rentals (or parent’s basements) their new families have out grown and into their perfect first homes, not necessarily their forever homes. These first time parents are 30-something professionals that care more about the school system than they do about their morning commute and are looking to move out of a city/metro neighborhood and into a suburb. As a 30-something professional they probably have student loans they’re dealing with and are earning somewhere between $60,000 - $85,000/yr with possibly less than stellar credit.
Of course you can keep going and I encourage you to. The more specific you can be about who you serve best the better you can fit your why to them. When you’re doing this you’re also not spending time “researching” all the ways you can reach the Millennial market. That means you can allocate that extra time to getting in front of the people you most want to serve and (because of your why) delivering more value than any other real estate professional can for them.
3. What is the real value you’re delivering?
For this step we are skipping clean over the part about the mechanism by which you deliver value and going straight into what life looks like for your customer after they buy your stuff. The reason for the skip is that everyone’s delivery is going to be a little different depending on the types of products and services you are selling. You should be able to not only imagine but describe the value your business brings to people. Are you saving them time? Helping them land their dream job? Allowing them to do their work faster? Giving them confidence in their style? Your Minimum Viable Business should be focusing in on one really specific problem that your business solves in a specific way. Think about any home DIY project that requires a hole in the wall. If I have to go to the hardware store to buy a drill, it’s not because I need a drill (want maybe) it’s because I need a hole in the wall. What’s the “hole in the wall” your business leaves people with after they buy from you? Do your best to quantify this value as well.
4. What’s your secret sauce?
Secret sauce is also known as competitive advantage. The heart of this questions lies in getting to what it is that you do that is better or that matters more than any of your potential competitors. No, having great customer service or “working harder than the competition” are NOT competitive advantages. We are looking for the specific stuff that makes you better.
Odds are that if you’ve been thinking about your business for a while then you’ll have thought of a few other businesses that might do what you do. Now that you’re so close to going out in the world and serving your market we need to work on what makes you, your business or your process unique. What is special about how you deliver value? Is your secret sauce in your process? Is it the fact that you understand your market better than anyone in a specific way? Is it that you created a system that gets to some kind of result faster than your competition? Are you making life easier for your customers in a certain way by granting them access to a resource that you can get cheaper than anyone else? Thinking about these questions and questions like this will help you get to identifying and ultimately communicating your secret sauce.
5. Get selling!
This is where the rubber meets the road. Up to this point you’ve worked on getting clear about why the world needs your business, what you’re delivering and how to communicate why your customers need you. Now you need to start the sales process. Selling doesn’t have to be scary but it does have to be consistent. The best way to make it consistent is to follow some kind of process. If you’re struggling with where to start I have a simple sales process for you:
Prospect - You have your description of your ideal customer/target market. Now start putting together a list of people or businesses that can benefit from using what you have built.
Connect - This is the part where people get stuck the most. Working in your business is easy when all of your focus is on internal development, plans and processes. Connecting via email, social or even a call is one of the first times you are putting yourself out there and it can be intimidating. This is where the conversations start and value get’s exchanged.
Present - Presenting doesn’t have to mean that for every new client or customer you have a brand new slideshow to present. It can be the routine you use to describe how you bring value to your target market. It’s in the presentation that you’ll be able to better interact with your potential client or customer and address their specific concerns and needs.
Propose - Make sure that you clearly outline how what you do will specifically benefit your prospect. This can be a formal written proposal created for your prospect or even a verbal agreement that is then followed up with some kind of short form terms or receipt.
Close - Ask for the sale. The Minimum Viable Business model only works if you can take a prospect through your sales process so that you can get to an ask. Getting a “no” is not a bad thing, it’s a measurable outcome that you can use to help shape your business. Use the feedback you get from the ask to better inform how you are proposing to deliver value and to the types of prospects you’re asking.
Deliver and Support - Might seem a little obvious but at this point if you have successfully gone from prospect to client or customer you have to do your best to deliver what you promised. Your solution doesn’t have to be perfect and if you were honest with your prospects through this process they will know that but they will expect that you can deliver on what you said you can deliver. After that make sure that you check in with them to ask about their experiences, continued needs, areas from improvement, etc. The people that do business with you are going to be your best source of information as you grow out of your Minimum Viable Business and into a sustainable one.
6. Keep it simple and keep track!
I have talked and worked with business owners who drag their feet when it comes to selling their stuff because they think their solution and brand isn’t perfect enough yet. In the Minimum Viable Business process you should worry less about your branding, your letterhead, the fonts you chose for your homepage and more on the actual work. Can you sell your idea and your solution with the current level of tools you have available.
At this point you’ve been introduced to all the concepts you need to take your idea, your passion really, off the back of the napkin and bring it to life. It’s not scary! You must be deliberate about the early choices you make though. There are lots of little cracks that can swallow your time, money and energy so you have to be careful. You can’t allow yourself to lose chunks of time to working in the business - just get it good enough so that you can communicate your why, your value and why your customer should care. Then ask!
The last little bit is to do your best to keep track of the work that you’re doing. Especially in the sales process. Your early “closing ratio” shouldn’t matter much, that’s not the point of keeping track. The point of keeping track is to help you better identify patterns. Patterns that you can use to better iterate on your product or service, patterns to help you better serve your ideal customers and patterns to help you better deliver on the heart of why you thought your business was a good idea in the first place.
My call to action for you, a challenge really, is to stop tinkering and waiting for the “right” time to start. You’ve got more going for you than you think when you frame your business as a Minimum Viable Business so just get going!
Keep it simple, keep it valuable and keep it moving!