Four cheap ways to test your business idea

Validating your business ideas is always tricky. Is it a case of ‘screw it, just do it’ as Richard Branson encourages, or maybe a little more cautious as we do not all have Branson’s balance sheet? While there certainly is merit in banishing fear and ploughing in head first, it does make sense to test your idea if the options are freely available.

Luckily, technology and the web give us plenty of options to do just that: test and validate an idea before investing big money and resources into development and launching, allowing you to cut your losses very early on, or steam ahead.

Here are a few ways you can validate your ideas:

1. Prototype with 3D printing

3D printing is going mainstream and becoming more affordable. A 3D printing option should exist close to you, or if you plan to do plenty of prototyping you can purchase a home printer easily enough.

So now, instead of going through the very expensive process of developing a working prototype with which you wish to test interest from the market or investors, you can print prototypes.

Of course it will not be functional. But in many cases it can be, and at least it will serve as an initial tangible product to use during your sales pitches.

Once you have backing or more confidence in the validity of the product, you can move to the cost of real manufacturing, tooling and material specs.

2. Sales pitch websites

When it comes to driving sales through websites it becomes even cheaper. There is no reason you need to build or create your product first and then see if it sells.

Build the sales pitch first and test the interest, before creating the product.

That is what I did with many of my websites. I wrote the sales copy first and tested to see if people will actually take out a credit card and pay for my product before I created it. I wrote the sales page as if the product existed already. If they took out a card and paid, I knew I had a winner, and I went ahead and created the product.

If they did not, well, then I limited my investment cost and time to a few dollars and a couple of days.

(Note: I did not take any money – there are ways to stop the transaction before the card is charged. But the only way to know if someone will pay for something is not by asking them, but rather by getting them to take cash out of their pockets.)

3. Prodding your mailing list

If you sell anything, you need a mailing list. If you do not have one, start building it and come back here later.

If you do have one, through which you connect with your subscribers in a meaningful way, then you can poll them on what they want that could make their lives better or solve their problems.

Many creatives with mailing lists do this; involving their fans in the product creation process from the start and then taking them on every step along the way. This way you do not just assume you know what your followers will enjoy, but rather know for sure because they told you.

I know many bloggers who wrote books or put courses or products together because their fans asked them to. It’s the best of both worlds when fans sustain the work of the person they admire. However, this is only possible if you nurtured a close connection with your mailing list readers.

4. Building apps in PowerPoint

If you have an app idea but you are not a coder or have a coder partner, then build it in PowerPoint with hyperlinks, stock photos and snippets from other sites. (In fact, do it in PowerPoint first even if you do have a coder partner.)

Creating an app in PowerPoint with links is a cheap way to show other people what your app or website is supposed to do. Use this to pitch to investors or test interest with friends, family and strangers.

Investors, partners or potential clients are not interested in your code; they are interested in what problem the app solves. You do not need hard coding to demonstrate this. Don’t spend money and time on this when you have no idea yet if the idea is feasible or profitable.

This also shows you that you can develop apps without being technical. And it has the added advantage of (if you have established interest or investment) you outsourcing the technical help and not giving away shares in the idea to a technical partner.

As always, you still need great execution. Getting good results from testing does not guarantee success, but at least with these methods you can reduce your risk and test cheaply and quickly which ideas to develop and execute.

Menno Gazendam blogs his thoughts about business at You can also subscribe to his newsletter