“Testing will be your ultimate salvation, allowing you to understand the market and keep up with its changes.” – Michael Masterson

Just last month at ETR’s 5 Days in July Internet Business-Building Conference in Denver, nearly 75 entrepreneurs gathered together to start their own online businesses. If you’ve ever launched your own business – Internet or otherwise – you already know that it isn’t easy. Building a business from scratch takes hard work and lots of problem solving. While at the conference, I noticed that many of the attendees butted heads with one problem in particular – a problem that can seem insurmountable but is, in fact, quite simple to overcome.

This problem – and its solution – is common to many new experiences, including building a business, starting a new job, and working toward almost any goal. In fact, the solution is one that Michael Masterson advocates in his goal-setting program. It’s also a well-known direct-marketing technique. I like to call it the “break-it-down” approach. In the direct-marketing world, it’s known as “testing.”

Here’s how it works…

When you start a new business (or any new venture), you will have mixed emotions. You’ll probably be excited because you’re finally doing something that you’ve wanted to do, so you’ll be energized and full of ideas. And you might also feel completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the project in front of you. To make the project more manageable, you need to break it down into small, individual, manageable steps.

I felt completely overwhelmed when I first took up playing the drums. Watching a video of my drumming hero, the late John Bonham, enthralled me – but when I sat down at my new drum kit, I could not even play a simple beat. And attempting anything more complex made me feel like an octopus in a pan of spaghetti – uncoordinated arms and legs flailing everywhere.

“Let’s break it down,” said my teacher. “Start with your bass drum, one foot.” Once I got that right, I introduced my right hand on the snare drum, and so on. I’m still mesmerized by all the great drummers, but I know now how not to get overwhelmed after learning how to break it down.

The Challenge of a New Business

The same process that helped me learn how to play the drums can help you turn your business idea from a concept into an actual functioning business.

Take, for example, two of the attendees at our July Internet conference. Thomas had an idea for a business that will help pet owners find pet-friendly hotels across the U.S. And Clarence had an idea for a business that helps people develop their full potential. (Over 40 years of training and coaching people, Clarence had developed a unique approach to doing just that.)

The strength of both Thomas’s and Clarence’s business ideas are also in some way their biggest challenges… even weaknesses.

In Thomas’s case, finding a pet-friendly hotel anywhere in the U.S. is great for any pet owner who travels with a pet. That’s what makes the idea so strong. But it’s also a gargantuan task to manage the massive amounts of information he’ll need to serve his customers.

So I suggested that he use the break-it-down approach. Instead of tackling the whole country, I recommended that he start small with a city that already attracts families that travel with their pets: Orlando.

Once he researches that single city’s pet-friendly hotels, Thomas should create a free report that people can download straight from the Internet. The report might have 10 tips for people traveling with their pets, and list three pet-friendly hotels in Orlando.

Then, Thomas should advertise this free report by using pay-per-click (PPC) ads on Google or Yahoo. Once he has a list of people who have downloaded the report, he should offer them an e-book for, say, $14.95 that lists all the best pet-friendly hotels in Orlando, perhaps along with some other tourist information about the city and surrounding areas. (He could contact Orlando’s Tourist Information Bureau to collect the details.) And then he should do the same thing with another city.

The advantage of the break-it-down approach is that Thomas can test his idea at a very low cost, and he can get his business up and running in a short period of time.

Now, let’s look at Clarence’s idea – a complete personal-development program that is applicable to many aspects of life (emotional, career, health, relationships, financial, etc.).

The problem with the idea is that only a small number of people want such a comprehensive program. Far more people want an immediate solution to an immediate, pressing problem, and they’ll search for that “quick fix” instead of trying to tackle the larger issues. Only after gaining relief from their current problem will they be interested in a longer-term approach.

Instead of trying to market his complete personal-development program, my suggestion was for Clarence to break it down. He should pick one specific problem – say, a common relationship problem – and offer a free report on improving that relationship. He would then develop a PPC campaign around that topic so his ad would pop up when someone searches Google or Yahoo for help with that specific problem. Once people download his free report, he could direct them to an offer for the part of his personal-development program that specifically addresses that problem in depth. Clarence could offer the complete program to people who have downloaded the free report or offer it as an upsell when they purchase the smaller section of the program.

You can use the break-it-down method to get your own new business off the ground or to turn a big idea for a new product or marketing promotion into something you are able to test.

Start small and tackle one manageable task at a time. As you complete each of these tasks, you’ll discover what works and what doesn’t. You’ll figure out what your target audience is looking for… and you’ll figure out early on if your idea will fly in the marketplace. You’ll master ways of creating new products and promotions more efficiently and easily, and you may even come up with ideas for more new products and promotions. And as you learn the details, you will make your business much better, stronger, and more successful.

Business owners and entrepreneurs often feel overwhelmed at the start of a new venture. But breaking down that new venture into manageable chunks does more than just help diminish the feeling of being overwhelmed. A core principle of classic direct-response marketing is always to test ideas and concepts on a small scale before rolling out to the entire market. Sometimes, new ideas are just too unwieldy to test in their entirety. But by breaking an idea down into smaller, more “testable” chunks, you can quickly discover the best way to fully take it to market.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant for Agora Inc. in Baltimore. If you couldn’t make it to our 5 Days in July conference, where David and ETR’s team of Internet marketers taught dozens of ETR readers how to build their own online businesses from scratch, you can still learn how to start your own money-making Internet business at this fall’s Info-Marketing Bootcamp.]

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies. David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen! He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.

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