Remember the day you learned how to create a paper airplane? You became excited as you thought about how far your paper airplane would travel. You tried everything, you folded it in different ways, perhaps you even added designs and weights just to see what would happen. However, each time you released that paper airplane from your fingers, it immediately fell to the ground. You became frustrated and eventually, you gave up. Author Pat Flynn witnessed the same situation when his three-year-old son gave up on paper airplanes after just a few attempts, but why did this happen? Well, when we try something new and are met with failure, the typical reaction is to go back to something familiar that makes us feel comfortable. To get his son excited again about paper airplanes, Flynn grabbed two more pieces of paper and took the time to show his son how to fold a proper paper airplane. He asked his son questions like, “What do you see on my plane that you think makes it fly?” Immediately, his son recognized that a successful plane has two wings. So together, they folded their paper step-by-step until they had representations of dart-shaped airplanes. Finally, it was time to test them. His son pulled his arm back, made a few small adjustments, and then launched his arm forward. The plane went airborne, gliding across the room until it crash-landed into the couch. It was a short flight, but it flew! Flynn smiled and realized the success of the paper airplane came from slowing down and taking the time to give the paper the necessary folds it needed to fly.
So if you’re ready to launch your business, Flynn is here to help you engineer its wings to help it fly. Before launching any business, you probably have countless questions. “Does my idea have merit?” “Will it succeed in the market?” “Will it be a waste of time and resources?” “Is it a good idea for me and the life I want to live?” In other words, will it fly? To help you answer this question, just keep reading.
Chapter 1: The Airport Test
Getting started with your business venture is a confusing time for many aspiring entrepreneurs. What should I name the business? What should the logo look like? Which social media outlets should we utilize? However, before you get into the technical details of your idea, you must understand how your potential idea fits you. Think about who you are and what you want. What are your goals and ambitions? What’s important to you? This is vital and must be defined now before you proceed in any business venture.
For instance, a few years ago, Flynn received an email from a fan and longtime listener of his podcast. The subject line of the email simply stated, “I make $20,000 per month and I’m not happy.” The composer of the email detailed how his “pipedream” was to build a successful online business; however, now that his dream had become a reality, he was unhappy and unfulfilled. He recognized that there was more to life than just making money and that he really didn’t give his dream much thought.
Becoming an entrepreneur has many ups and downs, it’s a continuous cycle of trials, challenges, errors, and failures. However, when you choose the life of an entrepreneur, you choose to live life on your own terms and shape your career into whatever you want it to be. You have freedom. However, unhappy entrepreneurs certainly exist, which is why this first step is so critical to your success and overall happiness. When you’re investing so much time, energy, andmoney into your idea, you need to ensure that when you finally launch your business and get off the ground, you are flying towards your final destination, not further away from it.
The first step is to grab a sheet of paper and divide it into four quadrants. Each quadrant of your paper is going to represent a category of your life that you feel is most important to you. You can choose anything you wish, but it might be divided into something like this: Family, Professional, Finances, Health. You may have similar ones, or you may have travel, athletics, or music as major categories. Next, assign each quadrant a category and write the topic at the top of the quadrant. Now it’s time to visualize your life in the future, but not too far into the future. Within each of these categories, write down as many examples of things that you want to happen in that area in the next five years.
Be realistic. In the family category you might write, “My spouse and I will be married for eleven years and we are still happy and madly in love with one another.” In the Finances category you may have, “Our mortgage is completely paid for and we have zero debt” or “We have saved enough money to send our child to college.” Whatever the next five years look like for you, write it down! Once completed, this piece of paper will become the definition of what you want to become and will serve as the foundation for the decisions you make from here on out. However, now that you’ve looked into the future, it’s time to dive into your past.
Chapter 2: The History Test
Don’t worry, this history test isn’t going to test you about the War of 1812 or make you write any essays analyzing the battles of the Civil War. Instead, this history test is about examining yourself and learning from your past in order to create a better future. American writer, Robert Penn Warren once said, “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity so that we can better face the future.” This is exactly what we’re about to do!
Similar to crafting a resume, you’re going to be tracing all the jobs, positions, and volunteer work that you’ve ever done, essentially creating a chronological roadmap of your past work experience. You’re going to discover your past patterns and find out where your strengths and weaknesses are. Like the previous test, you’ll need a piece of paper. Begin with your first job ever and write it down. If you haven’t had a job, being with a particular club or a sports team that you had experience with. Next, write down when you did that job or activity. Then the fun part! Write down three answers to the following question, “What did you enjoy about it?” Once you've done that, write down a favorite memory.
Now, that you’ve reminisced on the good, let’s focus on the bad. List three answers to the following question, “What did you not enjoy about it?” Finally, give your particular experience a grade based on how much you enjoyed it. Giving an A means you loved everything about it and it was perfect. An F, on the other hand, means you had a terrible experience. Next, you’ll repeat this experience with at least two other life experiences. They can be other jobs, organizations you’ve been a part of or anything else you’d like to examine further!
Through this exercise, Flynn realized a pattern about himself. In both marching band and architecture, he enjoyed his ability to improve and have total control over operations. Naturally,becoming an entrepreneur allowed Flynn to utilize his strengths and do what he loves. Finally, you’ll need to identify the unique skills that make you stand out among the rest, this is what Flynn refers to as your “unfair advantage.”
An unfair advantage is a skill or asset that you have that no one else has, or very few others might have in a specific niche. This is the superpower that gives you a competitive edge over others. For example, Lain Ehmann shares how she makes six-figures online in the scrapbooking niche. But how? Her unfair advantage was the people she knew in the scrapbooking niche. She had experience in freelance writing for scrapbooking magazines which put her in contact with some of the top people in the industry. To figure out yours, perhaps ask ten of your friends and colleagues to identify your own superpowers!
Chapter 3: Create Your Mind Map
Now that you know your priorities and what makes you unique, it’s time to throw around some ideas for what you want as your business. The problem with many entrepreneurs today is that they become so excited to start that they begin with the wrong things. They immediately print business cards, build websites, design logos, and even start social media accounts before they’ve fully fleshed everything out. This part of the business is fun, no doubt; however, it’s important that you start all the exciting stuff after you’ve grasped a full understanding of what your target idea is.
To get started, you should begin by creating a mind map. You probably have thoughts running rampant in your mind, you have so many ideas and light bulb moments that you aren’t even sure where to begin. Start by jotting all those thoughts down on paper. You need to structure your thoughts into a visual representation, either on paper or electronically. The first method is through Post-It notes. This method is great because you can easily move them around, group them together, or discard them. Plus, they come in many colors and sizes which can make organizing your thoughts much more fun. The best tip for ensuring you don’t lose any Post-Its due to deteriorating stickiness or curious children, snap a photo of your mind map once you’re done.
If you prefer to use a computer, there are many web-based mind-mapping tools that you can use instead of Post-It notes. Using a mapping tool like MindMeister allows you to create a few mind maps by dragging a dropping your thoughts across the screen, organizing them in a way that makes sense for you. Plus, you can easily save it for later and even connect to it anywhere with their mobile application. When completing these mind maps, the most important thing to remember is to stop thinking about it. If you want your mind to flow freely during this brainstorming session, your brain needs to be in “creative mode.” In other words, let your ideas and thoughts spill out of your brain and flow through your fingertips!
Next, you want to switch back into “editing mode” and begin organizing your mind map into different categories. You can do this by creating visual clusters of your thoughts that seem to align with one another. There is no right or wrong way to do this, just do what feels right to you. Once you’re done, you’ll need to translate your mind map into something that can be easily understood. Take a look at your categories and write 400 to 500 words that summarize each ofthem, tying them all together. This writing can come naturally, don’t worry about spelling or grammar and simply write.
Next, you will cut down that first draft into a three-to-five-sentence paragraph. Keep it to that, and remember to focus on what the person on the other end might need to know in order to fully understand what your target area is all about. Finally, take what you wrote in your paragraph and break it down into one single sentence. Here’s the sentence Flynn created for his FoodTruckr website: FoodTruckr is an online resource that provides quality content, a connected community, and support for everyone interested in starting and running a successful food truck business.
Chapter 4: Conversation and Observation
Now that you have an idea for your business, it’s time to collect some honest feedback. The best way to do this is to interview and speak to potential clients. For instance, Flynn had a great idea for a food truck website. So he went out into the field and talked to potential clients about this platform that would bring future food truck owners into contact with people who are already in the business. People loved the idea. However, each conversation almost always led to the question, “So do you own a food truck of your own?” Flynn didn’t.
He realized he was losing credibility. How could potential clients trust him if he wasn’t in the business himself? Additionally, another food truck owner asked Flynn a question that felt like a punch to the gut, he asked, “What’s stopping someone with experience inside this industry from doing exactly what you’re planning to do?” The answer was nothing. He had no response and this question forced him to think about what he had to offer. He asked himself, “What’s something I can add that even someone with experience inside this industry couldn’t do?” Flynn had to identify his unfair advantage in this space. As he thought about this, he realized his unfair advantage was the extensive knowledge he had about online marketing and social media, something many food truck owners still struggle with.
Next, you’ll need to learn how you’re going to “stand out from the crowd.” This may sound difficult, and it is, but Flynn has a strategy to make it easier. You can learn how to be different by first creating a market map. To do this, you’ll need to create a spreadsheet with pages for the 3-P’s within your market: Places, People, Products. On your “places” page, you’ll want to identify where your target audience resides online. Through your research, you’ll want to come up with a list of places where you could potentially advertise or submit articles to gain exposure and trust within the market.
Once you know where your target audience resides online, it’s time to learn who is in the space that is already serving them. Who does your target audience trust? Who do they not trust? Find out what’s working and what’s not and begin following the top players in the space. Learn how they engage with their audience and find out how to separate yourself from the rest. For instance, Flynn learned that many internet marketing companies would refer to their email subscribers as “hey friend” and then immediately try to sell their product or service. Flynn decided to go against the grain by referring to each email subscriber by name and by never selling directly through his email list.
Lastly, you’ll need to find the top products, services, and books that are being offered to your audience. What is your target audience willing to pay for? Look at what they are buying, determine what kinds of offers currently exist, and what offers are missing. One way to complete this research is by going to Amazon.com. Amazon is essentially its own search engine, you can type in your target keyword or niche into the search bar in Amazon and write down what products pop up. Maybe it’s a book, a gadget, or a physical product. Simply compile a list and take note of their ratings, number of reviews, and price points. Once completed, you’ll have a copious amount of information to help you in the next steps.
Chapter 5: The Customer P.L.A.N.
So now that you’ve discovered where your target audience resides, who the top influencers are, and even what products are being offered in the space, it’s time to create a customer P.L.A.N. This is broken down into four sections: Problems, Language, Anecdotes, and Needs. This tool will help you identify how your target idea fits into your target audience. You should begin by adding a page to your spreadsheet called P.L.A.N. and make four columns, one for each of the above categories.
The first category involves learning how to solve your target audience’s problems. Think about the true pains and problems plaguing the people you are trying to serve. The best way to research anything related to your target customer is to have real one-on-one conversations with them. Get in touch with your target customers and ask them questions, like “What’s something about [topic] that frustrates you?” or “What problems are costing you the most money right now?” You should follow up on their answers by digging deep and asking “how come?” or “why do you feel that way?” to gain a true understanding of their frustrations and problems.
You might be thinking about how to get in contact with these potential customers. You already have a spreadsheet that lists the places where people exist, which is where you should start. Get to know people on various forums or attend conventions to get in contact with your target audience. Of course, you can always turn to surveys as well. Sometimes one-on-one conversations are simply not possible, which is where surveys can come in handy! Surveys can be pretty powerful because you can potentially collect lots of data in a short period of time.
As you contact your potential customers, it’s important to understand the language they use to communicate. What words do they use to share their pain and struggles? How do they describe their aspirations and goals? Learn the language of your audience and you can make a connection with them more easily. Even better, they will learn to trust you more and will become more likely to respond positively to your advertising and business!
Chapter 6: Anecdotes and Needs
The next step in the customer P.L.A.N is to create anecdotes that will help you connect and communicate with real people. An anecdote is a short, interesting story that can become a powerful tool within your business. When you create content and promote products, framing it within a story can have a massive impact on how well others relate and respond.
To find these anecdotes, we can listen to our customers during one-on-one conversations, see if you can get them to tell you a story that relates to their pains and problems. You can start this off by saying something like, “Tell me a story about when you…” This simple setup will allow your potential customers to open up and allow you to truly feel what they feel. Of course, we can’t always gather stories through one-on-one conversations so the internet is a great tool for finding such stories.
When searching forums, you can see participants of such forums participate with one another and feel comfortable opening up to one another, sharing their stories. Flynn used this tool when researching stories about fly fishing. Throughout his research, he found a first-time fly fisher named Nick who traveled two hours to enjoy a day of fly fishing. When he stopped at a local bait shop, he asked for fishing spot recommendations. Someone who was at the shop at the same time told him where he was heading out and invited Nick to follow him there.
Once at the fishing spot, the man noticed Nick struggling to learn how to cast. He took five minutes to give Nick a quick lesson on casting and soon, Nick was successfully fishing in no time. The story showed Flynn what new fishermen might struggle with and could inspire him to come up with ideas to help solve the pains and problems of that target audience. Finally, it’s time to determine the customer’s needs. A need is what you believe your customers require to solve a problem and the product or service that will help solve it.
For instance, Flynn discovered during his research on fly fishing that many beginner fishermen struggle to quickly re-tie flies after they lose them or when they want to switch to a new one. As he continued his research, he learned the real pain is that many fly fishers hate losing the opportunity to catch the fish that’s right in front of them. Flynn identified two needs: better fly tying skills and quick, easy access to flies. He recognized that a great business would be a product that fulfilled these needs.
Chapter 7: Validate Your Ideas
So you’ve put in countless hours of market research and you’ve created a customer P.L.A.N. You’ve been working hard and it’s time to take the next step. You’ll want to begin testing the waters and validating your idea. There are many ways to begin testing your product or service for your target audience. Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Work Week, revealed a strategy called “Testing the Muse.”
In this strategy, you can begin with advertising platforms like Google AdWords to gauge interest by placing ads for products to determine whether or not there is a demand. As people see the ads, they can click through to the sales page and click the buy now button to make a purchase. Of course, there would be no product so an “out of stock” message would pop up. However, because every click is tracked, businesses are able to see if people actually want to buy their products or not.
Another way to try and validate your concept is also through advertising, this time instead of ads on Google, Facebook, or Twitter, you will serve ads on websites where you know your target audience already exists. Perhaps the ad is a banner advertisement, a mention in an email broadcast, a blog post, or even a social media mention. Place yourself in front of anaudience that already exists on a website that isn’t yours. So where can you find these websites and website owners? Through the Places and People listed on your Market Map!
Speaking of your Market Map, remember those forums you found? These are platforms where your target audience already exists and they provide a great opportunity to get in front of that audience by simply joining the forum and writing a post of your own. However, don’t just simply enter and begin selling your product. You’ll need to do a slow build by building a rapport with the people there and showing them that you can provide value to the group.
Of course, not all validation methods have to be on online platforms. While validating online is certainly helpful for reaching large audiences, getting in front of a live audience can also help you gauge interest in a particular topic. There are many ways to go about this, including signing up for a speaking gig at an upcoming conference that you know your target audience attends. Flynn, for example, would attend speaking engagements for free to get the experience before he started charging people for his time on stage. Each engagement was an opportunity to get people interested in what he had to offer. At the end of the day, no matter how you validate your idea, take the time to listen to your audience and gauge their feedback.
Chapter 8: Financial Validation
Now that you’ve gained access to an audience, the next phase is to hyper-target. This means getting people in that larger target market to self-identify as someone who wants or needs your particular solution. The idea is to get your audience to “raise their hand.” Essentially, you want them to say "yes" to whatever you are selling.
In order to do this, you’ll need to interact with potential customers. You can do this through comments on forums, blog posts, or social media posts or by having potential customers subscribe to an email list. Next, once you’ve discovered who your prospects are, you need to interact with them directly. The first step of selling begins with relationships, so you need to build and earn trust with your audience over time. There are many methods you can choose to directly interact with your prospects, one-on-one being the most effective. These methods include a video call, a phone call, a private message, or a direct email. These methods are the most time consuming, so you’ll need to learn where to strike a balance based on what works for you.
Once you learn more about your target audience and build some trust, it’s time for the final validation and asking for payment as a pre-order for the final product. While this may feel uncomfortable, if you’re honest with your prospects then you have nothing to worry about. Think of it as a platform like Kickstarter, where people pay for products to help fund the company's manufacture of the product. You can do this through a link on a website or through an email that asks customers to purchase your product in advance. Since email isn’t as reliable as phone calls or webinars, you’ll want to send a follow-up email after 24 hours if you have not yet heard from your prospects. The idea is to get your prospects to commit to a pre-order and submit payment.
Lastly, you might be wondering how many people you need to commit to a pre-order before green-lighting your project. According to research, the goal is to have 10% of thoseprospects take action with you ahead of the build. That means you should try and get at least one person out of every ten to pre-order and pay. For example, if you talk to 50 prospects, you should try and get at least five of them to sign up. Of course, if you don’t receive the ten percent that you’re looking for, don’t get discouraged. Any loss in entrepreneurship can be learned from and used for good later on. Simply ask for feedback, make changes, and try again.
Chapter 9: Final Summary
No matter how great your idea is, bringing it to life is both scary and confusing. You doubt yourself as you wonder if people will even like your idea and you hope it's not a waste of your time and resources. Through Pat Flynn’s strategies, you can ensure that you are conducting proper market research and determining if there is a need for your product or service. Through your research, you’ll find your target audience, where they hang out, and what they need. You’ll be able to create a product or service that directly helps solve their problems. Finally, you’ll need to test the market by interacting with your potential customers and building relationships. Remember, people will only buy from people who they trust. So be genuine and honest and you’ll soon learn if your idea has the wings it needs to take off and fly.