This article is an old favorite from 2013. Catch up on my latest stuff here.
The best entrepreneurs don’t care about “ideas”. And neither do their customers.
That’s because they know that it isn’t about hitting the lottery with that one brilliant idea. It’s practically impossible to win the lottery, let alone win it twice in one lifetime. But the best entrepreneurs are able to build successful businesses, then start over and do it again. And again.
Because great entrepreneurs don’t care about ideas. They only care about Value.
That’s what a customer cares about: “Is this valuable to me?” The best entrepreneurs share the key skill of being able to pinpoint why exactly something is valuable to a particular customer, and leverage that understanding to build a strong value proposition.
The way I think about creating a value proposition is by asking, how can I make this a “no brainer” for my customer? Making something they want should be a given. My goal is to see customers assess their options and decide it would be a mistake not to purchase from me.
So how is this done? Unfortunately, it’s not so cut and dry. But I think it’s about two things working together:
1. Knowing Your Customer. It starts by knowing who your customers are. But you must go deeper. Understand what really matters to them, listen to them, empathize with them, and have a genuine urge to do anything in your power to help them do better. That’s one half of the equation.
2. Knowing Your Market. How is your customer currently served within this market? How do they perceive this market? How can the price of your product/service be better than justified (no-brainer) within this market?
When you center everything you do around creating value, and stop focusing so much on coming up with the next great “idea”, then you’ll see everything through the lens of your customer.
You’ll know that the only thing your customers care about is why exactly your [product, service, article, newsletter, webinar… whatever it is] is valuable to them. Your customers are constantly questioning whether they’re doing the right thing or wasting time or money. Your job is to give them something they care about so they can take action on it, and feel good about doing so.
Once you see things through your customer’s perspective, designing your product’s marketing site becomes easier. Everything about your marketing site is intended to connect with your customer and convey your product’s value proposition.
Last week, I joined Dan Norris on his Web Domination podcast, where we exchanged ideas about what makes a product valuable.
I’ll run through and flesh out a few of those ideas here:
I used to dismiss business ideas because I thought they weren’t unique enough. That’s why I held off on the idea for a hosted web design service for so long before actually launching Restaurant Engine. In fact, I was kicking around that idea for almost two years before deciding to do something about it.
During that period, I wasted a lot of time working on a few products that I felt were totally unique. “Nobody has ever done this before!” was my rallying cry. It should have been the red flag that made me question whether or not those ideas had real value to real customers.
Whenever somebody tells you, “the price is too high” or “why would someone want to use this?” or “It doesn’t seem easy to use” you have to ask, is this person your target customer?
If so, then embrace this opportunity! Don’t let them get away without digging into this feedback and getting to the bottom of it. If several other target customers start saying the same things, you know have you some work to do.
But if this person isn’t your target customer, perhaps they’re a fellow entrepreneur, a friend or family member, or someone who is close but not quite in your target customer group, then your job is simple. Ignore them.
Early on with Restaurant Engine, I had a lot of people tell me that $49/month was too high for a website. But I realized most of that feedback came from other web developers, or people who had the technical know-how to piece together web hosting + WordPress + a premium theme + mobile site + the right set of features. Those people obviously are not my customers. My customers are those who don’t have time for all that, and don’t want to pay thousands to a web developer to do it for them.
You will always have competition. Even if you don’t think there are any competitors, there are. Sometimes, just a pen and paper is your competition. People may see writing down their to-do list and crossing things off with a pen is more valuable than using an app like Things or Flow. Other times (most of the time), you will have direct competitors, doing almost the same thing you are, serving the same market.
Your job is to know your key differentiator. Not what you think it is. What your customers see as your differentiator. But not just any one (your competitor uses blue colors, you use red). What is the one thing about your product that pushes customers to choose yours over the competition. Does it solve one specific problem more effectively? Is it simply easier to use? Does it have a better build/design quality? Which of those things matters most to your customer?
That one thing will define your product. Once you know what it is, you can drive it home in your marketing site and everywhere else your product is talked about.
I always try and ask, how can we make this better by taking something away? When confronted with a problem, the solution I value most is the one that eliminates the problem through simplification.
Adding new features, more buttons, more options, more steps, does not necessarily add value. Oftentimes, the lack of complexity is what your customers actually care about most.
Remember what I said about doing anything in your power to help your customers do better? That often comes through in customer service. And I don’t necessarily mean customer support (answering questions about how to use your product). I mean actually providing the service, done by a human, for your customer.
Done For You instead of Do It Yourself (with support).
Not everything in your business needs to be automated, or software-based. Doing things manually, that don’t necessarily scale, can be a great way to establish value and validate your MVP.
But maybe you don’t ever need to build out that automation software. Maybe you can build a business around actual human-to-human service, and deliver it in a way that brings tremendous value.
Look at what they’re doing over at WPCurve. Their SaaS business is completely built around personal on-call service (hear my interview with Dan about how WPCurve attracted paying customers in it’s first week).
Look at how Kelly Azevedo from She’s Got Systems has systemized and is scaling her consultancy (hear my interview with Kelly all about it).
So remember. Value comes in a variety of forms. It’s our job to create that no-brainer value, then communicate that value to the customers who benefit from it most.
Focus on value first, and the “ideas” will fall into place.