What Can Small Business Owners Learn from the Lean Startup Concept?
The Lean Startup methodology is not a new concept in the startup world, but it just might be for some small businesses. The idea was first introduced by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup, and now these methods are taught in entrepreneurship courses at universities and startup mentorship programs nationwide.
So what's the Lean Startup all about? According to the Harvard Business Review, at its core, Lean Startup methodology favors experimentation over elaborate planning. It values customer feedback over intuition. And it focuses on iterative design (changing and refining a design over time) rather than traditional “big design up front” development. The goal of applying Lean Startup methodology to your business is to eliminate waste and learn whether your idea will work in the real world with customers before spending all of your money on it.
At ezClocker, they’ve benefited tremendously from implementing Lean Startup concepts, like focusing on a small set of features and developing a product that people will use to run their businesses every day.
But how do Lean Startup methods apply to non-tech small business owners? How would these ideas be used in consulting, fitness, or retail businesses?
In any business there are risks involved when you introduce a new concept to market, so to help mitigate these risks, you need to test your idea first. Most importantly, you need to prove that it’s valid and that people will actually take money out of their wallets to pay you for it.
Here are a couple of Lean Startup methods that can help small business owners:
Create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
The purpose of creating an MVP is to test whether or not an idea will work before building a finished product, writing a 30-page business plan, or opening a store. The goal is to learn the answers to these basic questions: Will people use it? Do they need it? And most importantly, will they buy it? Because as we all know, people vote with their wallets.
For example, if you wanted to open a bakery, you might create sample cakes and sell them at a local fair or farmer’s market to figure out which product sells the best and test out your pricing. Or if you’re thinking of writing a book, you might write one chapter of the book first to see if anyone signs up to be notified when the next chapter is released.
I once met a lady who owned a service-based business, and she was working on a training video to promote it. At a meeting, someone asked her if the video was out, and she replied, “No, it’s not ready yet.”
I realized that this probably wasn’t the first time she’d been asked this question. She wanted the video to be perfect and she wanted it to look professional before she released it. What she didn’t realize was that the time she spent trying to perfect the video could have been spent getting feedback from clients and learning how to improve it. It’s very rare to get something right the first time, which brings us to the next idea that small business owners can implement...
Experiment and Measure
One of the primary steps of the Lean Startup method is to run experiments. This can be applied in marketing or in running your daily business.
The first step is to come up with an assumption, and then run a few low-cost experiments to validate it. By measuring the outcome, you’ll know if you should run another experiment or whether the product or service is good enough.
Say you want to run a marketing campaign for your janitorial company. Instead of putting all of your money into one big campaign, run several smaller campaigns for a specific time period instead. Measure the results of these experimental marketing campaigns and tweak them as necessary. Rinse and repeat.
The same process would apply if you were a business coach who wanted to develop an instructional course. Before spending months developing the course, think about experimenting. Maybe you could use a web page to collect email addresses. Provide a basic description of the course, and then add something like, “Be among the first to take advantage of this opportunity! Sign up to be notified as soon as the course is available!” Even better, another approach would be to pre-sell a course before you’ve even started developing it.
All of these low-cost experiments will allow you to verify the main goal of any business idea, which is “Will it work?” and “Will anyone buy it?”
The Lean Startup methodology provides great tools not only for the startup world but for big enterprises and mom-and-pop businesses as well. These steps can be used to reduce risk and help you learn if your idea or product will work in the real world before spending too much effort, time, and money on it.
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