The simplest market test in the world (and you can do it any day)

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california construction news cover
Californiaconstructionnews.com started with a client inquiry. It is now a viable regional site.

How do you decide to enhance/change your offerings, or introduce a new product, service or market area (geographic or social)? A botched job or failure could be costly — in distracting resources, perhaps alienating current clients, and (in some cases) causing serious systems break-down in your overall business. Are there ways to mitigate the risks, ideally to the point that they are insignificant?

There is one approach that won’t hit a home run every time you apply it (and certainly could result in your missing some wonderful off-the-radar ideas), but is almost certain to succeed and, in the rare cases when it doesn’t work, will result in minimal losses. In fact, it is my number one market evaluation idea for any new product or service.

It is this question, answered affirmatively:

“Are any of our existing clients asking for it?”

As an example of how this idea is implemented, about a year ago a client who has done business with us in some of our other US market areas asked: “Do you know of any sites/services like yours operating in California?” I quickly answered: “I’m not sure, but we are certainly looking into that market ourselves.”

Within five minutes I registered the domain californiaconstructionnews.com. Within a month, we had set up the site, completed prototype testing, and built-in our editorial/service offerings to bring it live.

The site hasn’t been outrageously profitable; but we are working with long tail marketing — we don’t need huge revenues for any site/location to be viable, and appreciate there is a need for patience along the way; it takes time for Google to properly index new sites/domains. However, there’s almost no downside because of low fixed and operating costs for each site.

While theoretically it is easy to set up many different sites because of low capital costs, we are avoiding an automated process of “spinning” content through robot-like techniques in part because this spammy content development process doesn’t really work long-term. So we still make human decisions about where to grow the business — and this means listening first to current clients.

I certainly will agree with anyone who says listening to your client requests should not be the only reason expand or develop a new market — because some great ideas (the greatest ones) may need to come from other places. And there are obviously arguments against carelessly listening to your clients and incurring major expenses/costs in running a business for which you are not comfortable.

ottawa renovates cover spring 2017
Ottawa Renovates: Born from a client request

But that leads me to the second example, the birth of Ottawa Renovates magazine. This product defied all my rules at the time, when we introduced it 10 years ago.  At that time, we were publishing primarily printed publications on newsprint and I had never done a conventional magazine. Worse, this was a business-to-consumer rather than business-to-business publication.

The client insisted. So I called in some people I knew with relevant consumer publishing experience, and we launched Ottawa Renovates. It has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in net revenue. Best of all, it gave me experience in magazines, so when the time came to switch to a digital publishing model, we were ready with the appropriate format.

So, yes, the simplest market test in the world is seeing if your clients are asking you to move. In most cases, I think you should respond affirmatively.

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