Build it and they will come: an (untrue) story

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The barbecue conundrum

You’ve spent a week planning the perfect barbecue. The location is a prime spot on the beach, the weather at the 1PM kickoff will be sunny and warm, the food is purchased and ready for cooking, and the speaker setup will be absolutely killer. When the time arrives, you pack up your things and head to the spot.

When 1PM rolls around, none of your friends have arrived but you start cooking the food. The hamburgers are ready at 1:15PM, but there’s still no one in sight. At 1:30PM, you realize your mistake.

You never invited your friends. You didn’t tell anyone about the BBQ. You spent all that money, put in all that time, and nobody showed up because they didn’t even know it was happening.

Websites are like barbecues

The scenario above seems implausible, but it happens with websites all the time. Business owners and entrepreneurs with “the next big thing” burn through thousands of dollars developing their next great idea and forget about marketing, how they will attract and retain visitors, and how they’ll make money to sustain.

You can prepare the best BBQ ever, but if you don’t tell anyone about it, it’s worthless.

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False theories of golds and riches

Believing that “if you build it, they will come” is extremely toxic and costly when it comes to websites. Banking on the ‘viral nature’ of your idea and expecting users to do your marketing for you is a plan destined for failure. Expecting the customers to come up with use cases for your product is naive.

All of these false theories are extremely common when it comes to website and app development. It’s how many people burn through their life savings, never to see any gains or returns when the visitor count flatlines a day after launch.

The strongest and most sustainable businesses have a plan for everything. A plan for signing up the first visitor, how the first dollar will be accepted, what features will be in the first version, and so on.

Taking the realistic path

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Rather than running to the nearest web developer and burning through all of your cash right when a grand idea hits you, there’s a better approach.

Test the waters first

Your friends and family will tell you that your idea sounds great – but what about your actual target audience? Connect with people who would actually pay to use your service and ask how much they would pay. Ask what it would replace for them, what features they would need to adopt it, what it would take for them to use your service instead of a competitor, etc. If your product isn’t being received well, it might be a sign that there isn’t much traction available or you need to tweak it further. But if you do get positive feedback, you now have a small pool of beta users who can try out your service at launch!

Before developing your idea, think about building out a simple landing page to market the idea and capture email addresses of interested visitors. Tools like Unbounce┬ácan help you quickly get off the ground without getting too far into your wallet. Once you have a solid list of email addresses, you’re ready to move onto the next step.

Start small – build the MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

Your grand vision is bound to have a lot of fluff – features that are ‘nice to have’ but don’t actually need to be a part of the initial version. Strip down your idea to the Minimum Viable Product, but remember that it should still be compelling enough for people to use once and want to return to it again.

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Once you have your MVP, start getting customers onboard as early as possible. There will be bugs they’ll encounter. They’ll have feature requests. There will be complaints. Appreciate the customer that gives you feedback and even the customer that tells you what they think is worthless – their input is gold at this stage in your website’s life.

Consider the ROI for every additional feature

Just because a beta user requests that you add a feature doesn’t mean you should implement it right away. Truly consider the ROI of every single feature, if it matches the long-term vision you have for the service, and if it will have a positive impact on growth. At this point, it will be very tempting to drop everything for a customer’s request (especially if they say they’ll sign up for a paid plan if you add a feature), but your wallet still has to be held tightly and every penny spent wisely.

Keep fueling the fire, and listen to the data

Love your current customers and make sure they’re always returning to your service for more, but don’t forget – you can’t be a 5-customer company forever! Keep fueling the fire and build up your fanbase. You can succeed! Just remember – magic is not a plan.

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