Get Real: When Testing Your Ideas, Listen to Feedback

  •    Freelance journalist covering women, business, policy and social good.

When you're creating — or revising — a website or online store, it can be difficult to know whether you're on the right track. Whether you're considering a new site design, marketing approach or product release, careful research and planning are just the first steps: It's also a good idea to test — and retest — your ideas and innovations to ensure long-term success.

Keep Your Feet On The Ground

It's easy to get carried away by inspiration. Testing your ideas helps you stay grounded and understand the realistic pros and cons of how well your ideas will work in the current market. “Successful entrepreneurs excel at testing what works, what doesn't and the realities they face," writes Steven J. Stein, CEO of Multi-Health Systems. “You need to be able to look at situations or opportunities and see them as they truly are."

While research shows a strong connection between optimism and business growth, overestimating your market opportunity and your ability to execute your ideas can hurt your business. When it comes to testing your products and designs, it's important to be realistic and listen to feedback, explains Jerry Jao, CEO and co-founder of Retention Science. “Ask yourself if your product truly is making an impact," he advises. “Actively look for flaws and holes, then iterate accordingly."

By realistically assessing both your market opportunity and your resources, you can effectively problem solve to make sure that your new product or design can succeed.

Ask For Feedback

There are many ways to get feedback on your new product or design without breaking the bank. You can test some minor changes on your own, such as changing a price point or creating a new header for your marketing email. But most times you'll need to ask for outside help.

One great source for testing new products and ideas is to reach out to your customers, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. Whether you create an online poll or send an email survey, ask customers what they think of your idea, how you can improve it and how much they would be willing to pay for it. As an incentive for sharing feedback, you can also offer a small discount off a future purchase.

Another helpful source for feedback is friends and family. Ask them whether they see a need for your product or idea and if they would be willing to spend money on it. Find out what questions or concerns they may have about how your product or idea works and how they envision using it. Remember that the people you are closest to are also the most likely to give you positive feedback, but can be a good starting point for testing your ideas.

When you're ready to branch out, you can approach someone you know in your target market and ask them to invite friends to a small group meeting to evaluate your idea and provide feedback. You can offer a small thank you gift for their time. Groups of five to eight people work best, according to Marketing Donut. You can ask about all aspects of your product or idea, including your marketing approach, distribution strategy, price and packaging. It's also a good idea to have someone else ask the questions for you so you can get more objective replies.

Avoid Mistakes

While data is certainly more objective than relying on personal bias, it's important to collect the right data the right way when gathering feedback. Start with a large enough sample group to ensure that reviews would accurately represent a group 100 times their size, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. It's also critical to collect the data that is relevant to your product or design. Also, be sure to ask for feedback from groups that reflect your actual customers.

Another testing mistake to avoid is ignoring your competition. If what you're testing already exists, take advantage of the opportunity to test your products and designs against your competitors' offerings, Entrepreneur reports. Understanding your competitive advantages can be critical for ensuring future success.

Optimism is a helpful trait for entrepreneurs and small business owners. But when it comes to testing your products and designs, opt for a healthy dose of realism. Understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of your ideas can help you to maximize your market opportunity and achieve long-term success.