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Leaving your corporate 9-5 to launch a creative business is amazing, empowering, fulfilling…and terrifying. What if it doesn’t work? What if I screw it up? What if my idea isn’t as great as I think it is? 

It’s totally normal to have thoughts like this. It’s also totally overwhelming. If you’re having these thoughts and can’t seem to take any action because of them, I’d recommend you check out this article dedicated to managing through fear and the underlying question “Can I make money doing this?” But suppose you’ve worked past the paralysis stage of the fear and are ready and able to move towards building your creative business venture. In that case, there is one actionable task that can prevent you from wondering ‘Is this a good idea?’ and swapping it out for ‘People will want what I’m selling!

So, what is the biggest mistake creative entrepreneurs make when building their businesses?

They don’t validate the market.

It sounds obvious that you need to dig into your idea and see if it’s a viable service or product offering for people, but believe it or not, many aspiring creative entrepreneurs don’t. It’s more common than not that people make assumptions based on their experience alone and go full steam ahead on their sole judgment, or they gloss over their idea because they figure it’s too outrageous or outlandish and won’t be able to gain any traction because of it. How could they have addressed both concerns and built a product or service that meets people’s needs? By validating the market.

So, what does validating the market really mean and how do you do it? It’s simple really. Validating the market means you are confirming that there is an interest or need for what you plan to offer. There are a few ways to do this. 

Look for existing competitors.

Believe it or not, existing competitors are a good sign. It means there is an existing need in the market and businesses are working to fill it. 

Start with a Google search to see what is out there. Put yourself in the position of your ideal customer and search as though you are looking for a solution. Take me for example. As a Business Coach for Creatives and Founder of the Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs, I searched topics such as ‘how do I start a creative business?’ or ‘what do I need to be a creative entrepreneur?’ This will give you an idea of what already exists there, who your competitors are, and how they position themselves in the market. It will also start to uncover trends and existing gaps that present opportunities to you as an emerging business. 

The whole point of looking for competitors is that you want to confirm that there is (1) a need for your product or service and (2) a way that you can stand out from the crowd to make you the obvious choice for your ideal customer. If you want to take it a step further, do some mystery shopping and visit your competition directly. Gain a sense of their customer service, their touchpoints, and their unique identifier. Getting up close and personal with your competition helps you understand what they offer, but more importantly, what they don’t offer that you can build into your business model.  

Remember, your challenge is to build something that uniquely identifies you to your target customers and fills a gap in the market, not to recreate what others are already doing. But it doesn’t have to be a canyon-sized gap. Even filling a crevice that meets your customers in a way they haven’t experienced before uplevels your offering just enough to make you the go-to for them.

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Make sure people are already looking for something aligned with what you are building. 

Join online spaces where your ideal customer hangs out and dig into the conversations they are having with one another. Top priority spaces include up-to-date online forums, discussion boards, and social media groups that relate to your idea. Read the comments and responses to see what people’s pain points are and any recommendations or referrals they receive. What are they looking for? What problem are they trying to solve? What are the top options currently available for them to try? This will add to your arsenal of what is already out there and where the gaps exist for you to fill. It will also help you understand exactly what your ideal customer says they are looking for so you can talk directly to them through your marketing tactics and build compelling messages to attract them to you.

Blogs and articles are also great ways to familiarize yourself with what people are looking for. The content of the original piece may offer a little insight, but the real meat will be in the comments and responses. This is where you’ll get honest reactions, feedback, and questions from people looking for a solution to their problems. You’ll get a front-row view of what people are asking about, what they are thankful for, and what they feel is lacking in relation to their needs or the problem they are hoping to solve. 

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Interview people who fit the profile of your target customers and use their feedback to refine your product or service. 

This is where the gold is. One-to-one conversations with your ideal customers are vital to the validation process and can not be overlooked. This is your chance to get personal with your target customers and let them have the floor to tell you directly what they’re looking for, what their obstacles have been, and any frustrations they’ve had with other offerings in the marketplace. 

I would hazard a guess that at one point in time, you fit the profile of your ideal customer. I’d also take it a step further and assume you have friends or acquaintances that align with who you’re targeting. Use your own experience and reach out to the people who fit your target customer to ask them questions that inform your research. Do not make assumptions that because you were once your ideal customer you don’t need to hear from anyone else. You are only one person with one experience, and while it is valid and important, basing your research on solely your perspective makes for a pretty narrow viewpoint. 

Speak with others to learn what they are looking for and have them tell you what matters most to them. Everyone will have a different response, but in my experience, trends will emerge that help you build your particular product or service in a way that meets a need and fills a current gap in the market. 

If you don’t have anyone in your network who fits your ideal customer profile, reach out to your network anyway and ask for referrals. You never know who might be able to introduce you to someone who fits your target profile and would be willing to have a conversation with you. Another option is to find connection points that build bridges and help people identify with who you are to make them more willing to give you a hand. For example, reach out to past colleagues, or members of your alumni association. Let them know what you are doing and who you are looking to chat with. 

And remember this is not a sales pitch. Nothing will turn someone off faster than if they think they’re going to get on a call with someone who has an ulterior motive. Make sure you are clear that you want to have a conversation with them to help you develop your idea, nothing more nothing less. After the conversation, genuinely thank them for their time and, if possible, offer a small token of your gratitude. 

Be authentic and genuinely curious. Welcome their feedback and ideas. And more than anything, listen to their pain points and frustration related to their needs and the existing market landscape. This is where the gems are.

Don’t talk yourself out of it before you’ve even begun.

I’ve covered how to approach your idea if you have similar offerings to other existing businesses out there but, to be honest, the same approach goes for those of you who have completely new ideas. The truth is if you follow the same steps above, those of you who think your idea is too far-fetched might realize it’s not so crazy after all. Sure, maybe it’s a totally new approach and has never been done before, but if it solves a problem in a way that meets your target customer’s needs and bypasses your competitor’s approach, you might just have the next big thing on your hands. 

Do not dismiss your idea because you think it might be too eccentric or unconventional.

Validate the market, confirm the need for your offering, and create your vision accordingly.

Seeing a solution that others haven’t seen before is just one more defining aspect of your creative approach. And sometimes the ‘out there’ idea is just what people never knew they needed to solve their problem and fill the gap in the existing market. 

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