Before launching a new business, an entrepreneur has many steps to work through to ensure they are heading to market with a one-of-a-kind, truly magnificent product. You not only want your product to be great, but you want consumers to believe in it and trust your new brand enough to invest in it. No matter how many successful businesses you’ve run in the past, launching a new product is an entirely different ball game. To ensure you kick your business off on the right foot, here are 10 product development tips every entrepreneur needs to know before heading to market.
1. You Should Bounce Your Ideas Off Friends and Colleagues
No matter how objective of a person you may consider yourself to be, you cannot possibly look at your own product – your baby – and see the same flaws as someone who has no vested interested in the success or failure of your product. Your idea may seem great to you, but before you can adequately judge whether or not it’s actually a product of value to enough consumers, you have to start with some small-scale feedback. If everyone around you is not sure your product or idea is something they would invest in, it may be time to make adjustments to the idea – even if only slight adjustments – to ensure the product you end up releasing is the best it can possibly be.
2. Create a Working Prototype
In theory, many things can work well, but the real challenge is to make sure it works in reality – at a price consumers can afford. You may need to sample different materials and test out several different combinations before you hit the right combination to head to market with. In the end, it’s much less time consuming and even more cost-effective to sort out your problems as early on as possible. The last thing an entrepreneur needs is to invest time and money into a product that cannot possibly work for whatever reason. Take the time to test out all of your options and conduct your market research with a fully functional prototype to get the most accurate information you need to proceed with your launch. You will almost certainly find bugs and the time to correct them is at the prototype stage, not the launch stage.
3. Invest in Customer Analyses and Focus Groups
Customer feedback will be invaluable to you as an entrepreneur. In fact, it’s also extremely valuable to well-established businesses with well-known products for sale. At the end of the day, the idea is to satisfy a need for consumers. Their feedback – good or bad – can be extremely valuable. An entrepreneur need not give up on something if customer feedback is bad, but rather, take that negative information and apply it to help improve their existing idea or product. Nothing is impossible. Travis Lubinsky tells Forbes.com entrepreneurs must invest the time in analyzing the market before heading to work on a product. “There is nothing worse than spending your time and resources on developing a product that has no demand," Lubinsky says.
4. Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan
No matter how amazing your product is, most businesses fail if there isn’t a good marketing plan in place to propel that product forward. A successful marketing campaign is able to narrow down who your customer is, what they want to hear, what they need to hear, and show them where to get it. Targeting the right consumers in the way that best suits their profiles is not only advisable but necessary. For example, if your target customer is aged 70 or older, social media advertising may not be the best area to emphasize your focus. Study the marketing plans of competitors and evaluate what’s working and what isn’t from the point of view of a consumer. A well thought out marketing plan and serious strategy can make all the difference in how well your product is received once you head to market. The biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make is putting all of their efforts into the actual product and omitting the importance of the marketing plan behind said product. If an element of your product is difficult to market clearly, it's an indication you need to simplify something, somewhere.
5. Prepare for Setbacks
It’s nearly impossible to find a successful company that hasn’t experienced failure – or even multiple failures – at some point along the line. Failure is a part of entrepreneurship, however, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Failure doesn’t mean the end. It can actually mean the beginning of something even better. There is much to be learned from each individual failure in a company’s history and if you’re alert, you’ll learn from yours. Just be sure to expect setbacks. There’s nothing worse for your morale than the total shock and surprise of finding out something you were confident was perfect as is, actually wasn’t. Every setback is an opportunity to improve and continue building. If you look at setbacks as motivators, they can actually help you modify your product into something even better than you had initially expected. No one reaches success by remaining inflexible.
6. Study Your Predecessors
Unless you’ve completely reinvented the wheel with your product, chances are there are some similar businesses to yours who have existed in the past or still exist today. Study the road they traveled to get to market and the path they followed afterward. Are there any mistakes they made you can find? Learn from them. Did they do anything really well? Learn from that, too, and apply it to your own business model. Time after time, entrepreneurs fail in the same way their predecessors did simply because they didn’t truly analyze the causes for certain errors and the effects. Experts like Jon Brody, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ladder, agree entrepreneurs must “learn the lessons of others.” Before you invest your life savings into your business, do the research to avoid common pitfalls those before you fell into.
7. Educate Your Buyers
No one wants to feel as though they’re being pitched to. Buyers want to know why they need something. Instead of focusing on selling, focus on educating your buyers and helping them discover a need for your product. This is something to keep in mind as you develop your product, as well. Are you filling a void in the market? Fulfilling a consumer need? Ensure your product is not only functional and revolutionary but also needed and easy to explain to consumers. If there is an element of your idea that is difficult to explain, it may be time to consider changing something before you complete your product development phase.
8. Think Like a Buyer, Not Like an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are born, not made, so it’s safe to say they often think as a businessperson all the time. It’s a way of life for many entrepreneurial men and women. But when it comes to product development, you have to think like your consumer and not yourself. Put aside the pride you have for your idea and the realization of it and think about how your buyer would perceive this every single step of the way. Any time you make a modification to the product or the idea behind it, you have to ask yourself if a consumer wants or needs this and determine whether or not as a buyer yourself, you’d buy this product as is from someone else.
9. Apply the Skyscraper Technique
Entrepreneur Brian Dean recommends to Business.com that product developers apply the skyscraper technique. Dean advises entrepreneurs to evaluate their competitors and identify their best products. Then go back to your product and see how you can make it better than theirs. Does it do something extra? Does it fill more needs than your competitor’s product can? If not, keep working at it. To release a product someone else is already selling and marketing well is a never-ending, uphill battle. You have to improve on that idea and offer consumers not only another option, but a better option. Don’t stick to the status quo. Instead, remember the sky is the limit.
10. Get to Know Your Competitors Inside Out
Competition can seem like a challenge to some but in reality, it’s a tool for success. Your competitors may create similar or better products than you are currently working on. This should encourage you to go back to the drawing board and improve. Without the competitive nudge from your counterparts around the world, you would not be forced to think outside the box or work harder at creating a top quality product. Without the constant threat of competition, nothing improves. Study your competition and evaluate everything they are doing from product development to marketing. In almost every situation you will be able to find brands doing things both right and wrong. Analyze these issues and improve on them. This can only stand to make your product even better than you had originally imagined. You want to hit the market with something consumers will buy and you only have one chance to make a first impression. So do the research beforehand and ensure you launch with something that is nothing short of spectacular.