“How do you know which projects to go with and which to leave behind?”
This is a question I’ve been asked almost every time I’ve spoken at events recently so I thought I’d jot down a few thought on the process that I find myself going through when looking at opportunities to expand my business with new projects.
Of course I’m over simplifying it a little with this diagram – but it’ll illustrate the basics of how I work.
I should also say that this isn’t really a process that I specifically take myself through each time I launch a new project – rather its something I’ve noticed myself doing naturally as I look back on previous projects. Let me say a little about each step.
Idea – For me – idea generation is the easiest part of the process. I have them every day and have a long list of potential projects that I’d one day like to take through this process fully and explore.
I find that the more I start things the more ideas come naturally as you see how readers are using your site, as they ask for advice, as you observe trends in your industry and as you receive and answer questions from others exploring your topic.
The other thing that I find is that as your blog grows you start to get pitched ideas from others. As you become seen as a credible and authoritative source of information and as someone with influence – people want to align themselves with you and explore partnerships.
The keys with this stage is to have a way of capturing the ideas, to not rush in to do every idea that comes along but to be willing to take the best ideas and explore them.
Test – The temptation when you get what you think is a great idea is to just go out and do it. I’ve seen a number of friends move from having a great idea into investing (sometimes quite a bit of money) in developing that idea within hours. In some cases this might pay off – but in my experience most ‘ideas’ could do with some testing before moving into the development stage.
There are many ways to test an idea – here are some that I’ve done:
- Ask someone – whether it be a trusted friend, your partner, a reader, another blogger – bouncing your ideas off others can be very valuable. Getting another person’s perspective will often help you filter out the crazy ideas and add depth to the good ones.
- Write a Blog Post – it may not always be appropriate to completely spell out your idea publicly (once they’re out there you never know who might take your idea) but a blog post can be used to test whether there is a need for your idea to fulfil, can be used to gather data from readers responses on how your idea could help them most or could just be a good place for you to think out loud and get a little perspective.
- Tweet it – I often test ideas with my Twitter followers. Again, you probably don’t want to spell out your idea in too much detail but use your social networks to test the things you’re thinking about.
- Do a Survey or Poll – this is one of my favourite things to do and something I’ve done regularly over the years. If you’re not sure whether your current readership or network will respond to your idea – test it by running a survey with a small group of them. For example I recently released a travel photography eBook with my photography site. Before commissioning it I did a quick survey with 1000 of my readers to see what topics they’d like more written about. One of the topics I suggested was Travel Photography – the response was that over half my readers said that they wanted more information on that topic – I then went ahead with it.
Testing need not be a long or involved process. A blog post, tweet or survey could all be put together in 24 hours. For us entrepreneurial types 24 hours might seem like an eternity – however the information you gain by doing it could either improve your idea significantly or show you when your idea is not something worth pursuing (which could save you a lot of time and money).
Tweak – Once you’ve done a little testing you’re in a position to tweak your idea. This might actually be culling it all together or it could be about making big or small improvements.
Ultimately your ‘testing’ is about putting your idea ‘out there’ to some degree and your ‘tweaking’ is about taking on board the feedback that you get and making improvements to the idea so that if you do take it to a full launch that it is the best it can be.
Sometimes the ‘test’ to ‘tweak’ stage can be a bit of a cycle before you launch and something that you need to do numerous times to get to launch. In fact sometimes the ‘test’ and ‘tweak’ approach continues after launch as well as you continue to try new ideas and gather feedback to continue to improve what you’re doing.
Launch – With a mixture of fear and excitement you gradually move your idea forward towards launch.
I can’t tell you exactly how to launch a product or service because it’ll vary hugely from situation to situation – however what I have found is that if you’ve gone through the test and tweak process well that you’ll end up launching something that is not only a better quality product or service – but you’ll hopefully have ended up with some ideas on how to market and launch that product.
For example as part of the launch of the travel photography ebook I mentioned earlier a survey I did found that many readers had regrets around previous photography that they’d done when traveling. This gave us a hint as to how to market it (which you’ll see on the sales page).
You’ll also find that if some of your testing/tweaking has been done in public (ie your readers know you’re developing an idea towards launching something) you’ll hopefully have also created some nice pre-launch buzz to assist with your launch.
As mentioned earlier – I’m certainly over simplifying things a little here – nothing is quite as simple or easy as I’m making it sound. However I do find that this cycle is pretty typical of the things I’ve done. Let me give some examples.
31 Days to Build a Better Blog
The 31 Days to Build a Better Blog workbook that I currently sell from ProBlogger did not start out as an eBook. In fact it started 3 (or was it 4?) years ago as a series of 31 blog posts. The initial idea was to take my readers through a month of activities to improve their blogs. The first year was very basic.
That first ‘test’ of the idea revealed that people loved the idea of doing a project like this together. It also showed me that some of the activities that I did connected better than others.
I then ran it again two years later with improvements. I added a forum area, started an autoresponder email list to help participants keep on track and changed around some of the activities. Again I learned a lot. I also began to gather feedback from participants that they wanted it as a workbook.
I tested that idea with a survey and found that a good percentage of my readers would be willing to pay for such an eBook so I had it developed (with extra content, design etc).
WIth all this testing and tweaking done I was pretty much certain that I’d not only cover the costs I put into the development of the eBook but make a healthy profit from it on launch (which is how it has happened).
In essences 31DBBB has been through 3-4 different ‘test’ and ‘tweak’ cycles to get it to its current form (and I’m currently testing and tweaking it again and hope to offer a live version of the course later this year).
ProBlogger Live Event
The 31DBBB example above is one that has taken years to go through. Another more recent example is the ProBlogger live training day that I’m running in Melbourne. This is an example of a much speedier process.
The idea came 2 weeks ago.
I tested it with a quick email to two friends (Chris and Shayne) who both added their own ideas into the mix but reacted very positively.
I then tested it with a blog post asking for expressions of interest by inviting people to sign up for more information.
I then followed up those who responded to that call by inviting them to do a survey on their situation and needs as bloggers. Around 50% of people did the survey which gave me some amazing data. The survey revealed the topics we should cover on the day, helped us work out what styles of presentation we should do in the event and also told us that there was much more interest in the event than we’d previously thought (ie we needed a bigger venue).
All of this was before we’d booked a venue, decided on a schedule for the day or even committed to running the event.
Then came the launch – we knew approximately how many would come, what they wanted from such a day and how to cater for them. As a result we’ve had no problem pretty much selling it out.
This same process was how I launched TwiTip (my twitter tips blog).
The idea for a blog about Twitter had been something I’d pondered for a while before launching it. I decided to test whether people would be interested in reading tutorials about Twitter before launching by posting some posts here on ProBlogger – Twitter Tips for Bloggers.
These posts were very popular and got a lot of interaction.
As I began to plan the blog I started surveying my Twitter followers on the type of needs that they had and the questions that they’d asked themselves when they first started. In doing so I began to gather ideas for future posts but also began to see what categories I should have on the new blog.
I launched Twitip with a fairly ‘soft launch’. It was on basic hosting and on a fairly simple theme (I used Thesis). I could have invested into a custom design from day 1 but wanted to test the topic before spending too much on it – so went with a solid premium theme but one that wasn’t going to break the bank.
It was actually around a year before I fully launched the site with a full custom theme.
I could go on and on giving personal examples
The more I think about it the more I realize that virtually every time I’ve launched a new blog, product or service that I’ve been through this type of process. Perhaps it’s partly because I’m something of a cautious person and like to test before I fully commit – but I think it’s also a fairly solid approach.
I’ve seen so many people launch businesses that have not been thought through enough that I just think a little extra time to do some testing would be well spent.
What about you – do you go through similar processes? What would you add or subtract from the process above?