Q&A: How Do You Validate an Idea for a Product or Membership Site?

From time to time, folks reach out to me with questions about how to build a successful membership site. Recently, I was asked, “How can you validate an idea for a membership site or product before you invest your time and money, ensuring it’s a solution that folks will actually buy?”

From time to time, folks reach out to me with questions about how to build a successful membership site. While I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, I’m more than happy to share some of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way while building WP101.com, my community for WordPress beginners. Here’s an example of one of those questions…

Q: How did you validate your idea for your membership site, WP101.com?

WP101 was birthed out of a real-world problem: as a web designer specializing in building WordPress-powered sites, I found myself providing personalized, one-on-one training in my clients’ offices, teaching them the basics of WordPress, so that they were able to manage their own site content once I “handed over the keys” to their site.
After providing this highly-customized training over and over again, I began to realize it was not only an ineffective use of my time, but also left my clients with a daunting challenge… “What if we forget what you’ve taught us today?” I realized it would be more helpful to record a series of video screencast tutorials and then make those available to my clients online so they could return as often as they needed.
As I discussed this idea with other WordPress developers and designers, they encouraged me to make this available as a membership site, so that they could refer their own clients to WP101 to learn the WordPress basics, freeing up their own time to return to what they did best.
So the process for validating the idea of WP101 was simple… I needed this solution to address my own pain point and that of my clients. If I needed it, surely others did, too. So I simple began asking around. Those conversations validated the need for WP101.
Solving your own problems, or “scratching your own itch,” can give you a real head start on delivering a solid product that will take off.

So let me offer what has become my standard advice for anyone thinking about launching a membership site or product:

Don’t waste time answering questions that aren’t being asked.

It can be heartbreaking to work on a membership site or product for weeks and months on end, only to finally launch… to the sound of crickets.
It doesn’t mean your idea is completely invalid; you may very well have solved this particular problem in a way that no one else has. But unless you’ve verified ahead of time that folks are willing to pay for your solution, you may find yourself wasting a tremendous amount of time.
To validate your idea, first ask yourself, is there a real-world need for this solution? Have you validated this need through conversations with the people whom you intend to serve?
One great way to validate your idea is to build a simple landing page that outlines the pain points you wish to address, and invites people to sign up for your email newsletter to “Be the first to know when we launch.”
Plugins like the Ultimate Coming Soon Plugin integrate with popular email services like MailChimp, Constant Contact, Aweber, and Campaign Monitor, enabling you to build a list of email addresses with whom you can begin having email conversations (automated or otherwise), asking further questions about their specific needs, and gauging their interest in your solution.
Some folks go even further, asking folks to secure their spot with a credit card, which further validates their willingness to actually pay for your solution. Of course, in order to begin taking credit card payments, you’ll need to provide more details about your solution on your landing page, specifically how you propose to eliminate the “pain point.”
You may be surprised by what you learn during this process, and it could help you to further refine your idea, ensuring it’s the absolute best solution possible.
For more reading, check out Idea Validation Strategies to Help You Build Your Business, or read how my friend, Brian Casel, validated the idea behind SweetProcess before they launched.
And hey, if you’ve got other creative ideas about how to validate an idea for a membership site or product, please feel free to share those in the comments below. I look forward to the continued dialog!