Updated: Feb 20
I’m a huge proponent of getting out in the real world and testing your ideas. Too many entrepreneurs get caught up in the emotional addiction of thinking about their ideas. Then they start building the perfect product they’ve envisioned in their head.
However, most startups fail due to lack of product-market fit. Testing an idea, talking to people about it, and seeing if they have the willingness to pay – all that puts their mental dreams of grandeur at risk.
For those entrepreneurs brave enough to actually test their idea - the general strategy is to do the $0 test before the $50 test before the $500 test and so on. You have to give yourself a chance to succeed or fail with ever-increasing amounts of money. The $0 test typically involves customer calls (something I overlooked at my failed startup, Vira).
But after you’ve passed the $0 test and received good feedback, then it is time to test the idea with real potential customers – this is where farmers’ markets can help. The farmers’ market test is probably somewhere around $500 if you include booth rental and marketing materials. You can find a list of farmers' markets in your area using this website: https://www.usdalocalfoodportal.com/
A farmers’ market can be perfect if you are selling something that fits into the a 10’X10’ booth. An app, a service, a physical product – all of those can be marketed in the size of a booth.
Unlike bugging friends and family for their time, at a farmers’ market you get to practice your marketing and messaging. You can tweak and optimize your booth advertising and messaging to increase the percentage of shoppers that stop by. That will help you to understand what is attracting customers.
When I started DVD Your Memories and had a booth at a farmers’ market, I focused on telling people that I only used 100 year archival DVDs. While this was an advantage over my competitors, it was not very effective at generating interest. Over the months I changed up my signage, finally marketing based on not losing precious memories. My sign said something like “Save Your Memories Before they Fade Away.” This was about 400% more effective than my first sign about the archival DVDs. I learned what initially attracted potential customers.
When people came over and chatted with me, I made mental notes of their questions and concerns. Their concerns were the most valuable to me. Over time I tweaked my service and marketing to address the most common concerns. For example, some people had old home movie film, but had no idea how much they had or what type it was, which meant neither of us could estimate their pricing - a huge barrier to making the sale. The only way for them to get pricing was to bring the film in so I could measure and estimate it for them.
So I developed a move film guide that was printed on an 8.5x11” sheet of paper. This guide allowed potential customers to simply place their film canisters on the paper - matching it up to the guide. It told them exactly what type of film they had and how many feet. They could now estimate their pricing at home.
Of course there were many other concerns, so I wrote those down as well and answered them in the FAQ section of my website.
There are countless examples of how I tested my service idea, made improvements, and saw the results. Every interaction with a potential customer was an opportunity to improve my company.
I learned how to sell, I learned how to market, and I learned how to improve my product. I learned things that I never would have known just talking to family and friends.
Pro Tip: As my company matured, I found that farmers’ markets were also the perfect training ground for new employees to develop their customer service skills. On a typical day in the office, they might just see one or two customers. But in one 4-hour shift at a busy Saturday farmers’ market, they might talk to 100 potential customers. First, they would watch me interact, then they would get their chance and I would coach them afterwards. It brought them up to speed very quickly.