You’re currently reading Chapter 3 of The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your E-mail List.
In the last chapter of this guide, we talked about how to find your Profitable Online Business Idea (and why having an incredible idea is the key to growing your e-mail list today).
But how do you validate your business ideas to know that they’re ideas worth pursuing (and how can you build your e-mail list to 100+ e-mail subscribers before even setting up a website)?
That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this chapter. You’ll learn about:
- Moments of Traction: The quickest way to validate your online business idea and get your first 100 e-mail subscribers
- Why you shouldn’t pursue business ideas that feel like an “uphill battle”
- List-Building Experiments: How to create your Moments of Traction and quickly validate your online business idea
- How to know when you’ve successfully validated your online business idea
- The easy & hard ways to validate your online business idea (and which one to choose)
- Exact business idea validation scripts and examples
- How to collect your first 100 e-mail subscribers (even if you don’t have a website yet)
- What to do if you don’t see any traction with your idea
This is a long chapter – but working through it will save you weeks or months pursuing an idea that won’t take off – so going through it will be well worth it for you :).
Business Idea Validation Masterclass
If you want to dive deep into the process of business idea validation, you can watch my Business Idea Validation Masterclass where I’ll show you the “mad scientist method” for validating your business ideas and show you how I would validate different business ideas myself (it’s a great supplement to this blog post):
Moments of Traction: The Quickest Way to Validate Your Online Business Idea And Get Your First 100 E-mail Subscribers
You can very easily predict how an online business will go based on how well it does in the first 3 months (with rare exceptions).
I see a lot of entrepreneurs fighting and living an uphill battle where they pursue business ideas for months or years, but their business never really takes off. Their email list is practically inexistent. They never find their first paying clients. They put in the work, but the results just aren’t there.
The culprit, in most cases, is either that:
- They haven’t found a profitable online business idea
- They haven’t taken the time to validate it properly
On the flip side, almost every established entrepreneur I ever talked to about how they started their online business had a big moment very early on that helped them validate their online business idea, told them “there was something there”, and gave them the momentum to go all out on their business idea.
I call these moments Moments of Traction.
What are Moments of Traction and How Can They Help You Validate Your Online Business Idea?
These Moments of Traction could be anything from asking people to hire you, to growing your e-mail list to hundreds of email subscribers practically overnight.
Here are some examples of Moments of Traction from entrepreneurs I interviewed for this guide:
- “Working With You is a No-Brainer”
- Christina Rebuffet: “I was getting a lot of positive feedback from the videos I was doing. First time someone contacted me for lessons online, my pricing was a lot more expensive than in the English learning centre, and someone paid almost instantly because they saw my videos and liked them.”
- “Can I hire You?”
- Matt Rosenblum: “I went to a meet up through meetup.com and talked to the host of the meet up. He then hired me on the spot.”
- “Do More of This!”
- Danny Margulies: “I published a blog post online, and a lot of people messaged me telling me to write more posts like this”
- Inbox Full of Emails
- Gabriela Pereira: “I asked a question on my blog that very few people read, “if there was a DIY approach to getting a MFA (writing degree), would you do it?” , and woke up to an inbox full of comments”
- Sam Gavis-Hughson: “I Went into a few online groups, hackathon hackers interview prep group, posted on reddit, etc. – overnight, 50 people e-mailed me saying YES I want to learn about preparing for tech interviews.”
- “You’re reading my mind!”
- Karen Dudek-Brannan: “I wrote a blog post and shared it in a Facebook group in my industry, and got a lot of people emailing me and saying “wow you’re reading my mind”. This told me I’m pursuing the right idea.”
- A Flood of Comments
- Karen Dudek-Brannan: “I wrote a blog post and shared it in a FB group of 20k+ people. “Hey guys, I noticed a lot of people have this issue, I wrote a blog post on this topic, and hope it’s helpful”. I got 186 email subscribers in 2 days without an opt-in, and got a flood of comments. That was the green light for the niche and area within speech pathology.”
- “I’ve been looking for this for years”
- Geraldine Lepere: “When I started creating YouTube videos, people said things like “I’ve been looking for this for years”, and “I would have loved this a few years ago”, because I answered questions in a way they have never seen before.”
You get the idea. In a nutshell, your Moment of Traction will likely be
- Instant Pay Validation: Someone trying to hire you
- A Flood of Comments: A lot of people commenting or emailing you about your idea
- A Strong Emotional Response: “you should do more of this!
The more Moments of Traction you’ll have in the earlier stages of your online business, the faster your email list will grow.
WARNING: Don’t Pursue Business Ideas That Feel Like “Fighting an Uphill Battle”
If you’ve spent more than a few months working on your online business, haven’t seen any real Moments of Traction and your business feels like “fighting an uphill battle”, I’d be very worried.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again.
Aspiring entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas, and hope that “it will all work out if you keep plugging away”. But unfortunately, what usually happens is more of the same – more “plugging away”, but no traction.
It’s exactly what happened to me when I spent 6 months getting to 42 email subscribers. Had I pursued that business idea, I would have likely never build an online business.
If that’s the case, you might want to go back to the drawing board to find another business idea that DOES take off (when you DO find a Profitable Online Business Idea that DOES create traction, working on it will feel like night and day).
I know hearing this might be uncomfortable, but if I look at the cold, hard data, there’s just nobody saying “I spent a year working on this business idea and then it magically took off overnight”. It just never happens.
Now of course you might not be missing out on the Moments of Traction because your idea isn’t good – it might just be that you never tested it in real world, and couldn’t even encounter a Moment of Traction.
If that’s the case, you’ll know A LOT more about how good your business idea actually is over the next week, as you work through the steps in this guide.
And if things go well, you’ll validate your online business idea and sit on 100+ email subscribers in no time.
List-Building Experiments: How to Create Your Moments of Traction and Validate Your Online Business Idea
So how do you go and create your Moments of Traction to validate your online business idea and get your first 100 e-mail subscribers?
Through List-Building Experiments.
Here, I’d like to share a word of caution. There will be a slight disconnect between the overall strategy that I’ll share for building your e-mail list in this guide, and what the entrepreneurs I interviewed actually did to start building their email lists.
Let me explain.
In this guide, I don’t recommend you to create content, a lead magnet, or even a website before you have hundreds of email subscribers. I believe that’s the leanest approach to building your email list that requires the least time and resources.
But in reality, you CAN do all of those things to create your first Moments of Traction, and many entrepreneurs that I interviewed didn’t really have any business knowledge when they started their online business, and just did things they thought would make sense at the time.
For example, when I asked Luke McIntosh how he started out, he said “I thought to myself, let me just put a few videos out there and see what happens”. There was no strategy involved – only fun experiments.
In this section, I’ll share a few different ways to create your first Moments of Traction (that entrepreneurs I interviewed actually used). Some of these will require more time, others less. Some of these will require you to set up a website and read through the future sections of this guide, others won’t.
It’s up to you to choose an approach that YOU are the most excited about. I believe that doing things that you are excited about in your business will get you WAY better results than doing something you don’t want to do and you “should do” just because someone else told you to do it.
But let me warn you: there is a danger in skipping ahead in this guide.
If you move on to creating your website, your Lead Magnet and Remarkable Content, it’s very easy to put in weeks or months of work before you actually put your idea into the world. This means you could spend weeks or months working on an idea that will never take off (or, your idea could take off).
So regardless of which route you take, try to make sure that you run your first List Building Experiment and validate your online business idea within 1-2 weeks, so you can quickly build traction with ideas that work, and ditch the ideas that don’t. That’s the best way to avoid getting stuck in the List-Building Rat Race.
Another thing I will mention is that many entrepreneurs I interviewed didn’t actually start their business by focusing on growing their email list, which is why their Moments of Traction might be different (like getting their first few paying customers instead of hundreds of email subscribers).
Because this IS a guide on how to build your email list, I do suggest that you always think about how your Moments of Traction can help you build an email list, and capture the email addresses from people who are excited about your Profitable Online Business Idea, even if that means capturing them manually.
Ok, now that we set the context, let’s go back to List-Building Experiments.
What are List-Building Experiments?
List-Building Experiments are experiments you can run to validate your Profitable Online Business Idea and quickly build traction with your idea.
Ideally, you’ll want to run a few of these experiments over the course of 1-2 weeks.
I can’t tell you how many of these to run as there’s no exact number, but in the more ways you put your idea out there, the higher the chances are of finding your Moment of Traction (or seeing that the idea isn’t promising enough to pursue).
To make things more concrete, here’s an example of a List-Building Experiment from one of my clients, Michelle Rebosio:
“I asked people in a group about International Development if they would be interested in reading The Ultimate Guide to Finding a Job in International Development, and 500 people commented on the post saying they would read it”.
Here’s another example from Ryan Hildebrandt:
“I went into 20 Facebook and LinkedIn groups and asked people if they would be interested in learning how to speak at TEDx events, to see what the response would be like.”
Ok, you get the idea.
How to Know if You’ve Successfully Validated Your Online Business Idea: The 3 Levels of Traction
Once you run your List-Building Experiments, each of them will hit one of the 3 Levels of Traction:
- No Traction: You’ll hear crickets, and practically nobody will attention to your idea
- Some Traction: You’ll get some enthusiastic responses, but not hundreds
- Massive Traction: You’ll get hundreds of responses to your idea
If we return to Michelle’s example of making a Facebook post about writing a Lead Magnet about finding a job in International Development, here’s what that could look like:
- 0-20 comments/likes: No Traction
- 30-50 comments/likes: Some Traction
- 100+ comments/likes: Massive Traction
NOTE: These “levels” are a bit subjective, and if you’re ever in doubt, you should always use the LOWER level to measure the success of your List-Building Experiment.
This means that if you’re not sure if you’re seeing No Traction or Some Traction, you should err on the side of being cautious and count it as No Traction. So for example, If Michelle only got 10 comments from a group of 20,000 people, that would still count as No Traction.
There will also be some “gray area” situations, like getting 70 comments/likes. Is that Some Traction or Massive Traction? If there are a lot of enthusiastic comments, it’s Massive Traction. If it’s mostly likes and only a few short comments, it’s Some Traction.
Use your gut feeling, but don’t lie to yourself.
How Much Traction do You Need to Validate Your Online Business Idea?
The goal of running these List-Building Experiments is to get to 100 e-mail subscribers over the course of 1-2 weeks.
You could do this through one Moment of Massive Traction, like Karen Dudek-Brannan, who got 186 email subscribers through sharing one blog post in a Facebook group.
Or, it could be through multiple Moments of Some Traction, like Danny Margulies, who didn’t really have a Massive Moment of Traction, and instead saw multiple small wins that helped him build more and more momentum.
I’d be worried if after 1-2 weeks you’re at only 10 email subscribers (and all of those are your friends and family members).
But if you’re at 80 or 100 email subscribers and new subscribers keep trickling in, it means that there’s enough traction for you to move to the Momentum Stage.
The Easy and Hard Way to Validate Your Online Business Idea
Ok, so let’s look at the 2 main types of List-Building Experiments you can run to validate your Profitable Online Business Idea and get to your first 100 email subscribers.
The Quick And Easy Way can help you get you your first 100 e-mail subscribers in a few hours or days, while The Hard And Long Way can take longer, but can also bring more e-mail subscribers your way.
The Quick And Easy Way to Validate Your Online Business Idea
The simplest and quickest List-Building Experiment you can run is The Quick And Easy Way. You can literally run this experiment within a few minutes and see exactly where you stand with your Profitable Online Business Idea, and start building your email list.
You’ve already seen this one in action with examples from Michelle and Ryan that I shared earlier in this chapter.
All you need to do is ask your potential audience if they would like to learn about the topic you’d like to talk about.
Here are some examples
- “Would you like to learn how to speak at a TEDx event?” (Ryan Hildebrandt)
- “Would you like to learn how to find a job in International Development?” (Michelle Rebosio)
- “Would you like to learn how to land jobs at top tech companies?” (Sam Gavis-Hughson)
You could ask this question
- On your Facebook Wall
- In Facebook Groups
- In LInkedIn Groups
- On Reddit
- In Online Forums
To get enough data and make sure you actually build your email list, you should try to ask this question in 10-20 different places (the more the merrier).
You could ask your question through:
- A short post: You could create a post with no context at all, and simply ask the question.
- A long post: You could create a post that sets the context around your question
Here is an example of a long post that Rusty Gray could ask to test his idea of teaching animators how to get jobs as professional animators (I made this example up):
“Hey guys, this is Rusty.
I’ve worked in the animation industry for the past 20 years, and animated at companies like Disney, and worked on films like Toy Story 2.
I’m thinking of starting a blog about how to find a job as a professional animator.
I noticed that a lot of you had questions in this group how to find the right job, how much experience you should have, and specific animation techniques.
Would you be interested in reading a blog like that?”
I don’t have data on which approach is better, and have seen both approaches work – so pick the one you’re more comfortable with.
The Hard And Long Way to Validate Your Online Business Idea
The second type of an experiment is The Hard And Long Way.
This experiment will be more time consuming than The Quick And Easy Way and might require you to set up a website and knowledge on how to create Remarkable Content or a Lead Magnet (which we do cover in this guide), which can be a dangerous and time-consuming rabbit hole when you are trying to get to 100 email subscribers as quickly as possible.
The last thing you want to happen is to spend a month developing a website (rather than just going out into the world and testing your idea).
On the flip side, writing some extremely valuable content might feel better to you than just asking a question in a community you’ve just joined, so if this type of an experiment excites you, you should definitely go for it.
The idea behind this strategy is simple:
Your piece of content could be a blog post, a YouTube video, a post in a Facebook group, an e-book, or something else.
This is exactly what Karen Dudek-Brannan did to go from 0-186 email subscribers with one blog post. She found a topic that her audience kept complaining about, wrote a blog post about it, and shared it in a Facebook Group about speech pathology.
You can run this experiment in one of the following ways:
- Contribute To The Community: You can go directly into a community (like Reddit, a Facebook group, a LinkedIn group, an online forum…) and write a post there, without setting up a website
- Create & Share: You can set up a simple website / YouTube channel, create content on your blog / YouTube, and share your content in online communities
- Partner: You can do a partnership with another entrepreneur to get your first few email subscribers (a podcast interview, a joined webinar, a guest post…)
- Build it And They Will Come: You can tap into an existing audience of a platform like YouTube, churn out a decent amount of content, and hope some of it takes off
Either of these approaches can work to generate traction.
The benefit of contributing to the community is that it might be easier to collect email subscribers, though it will take considerably more work to actually set up your website or YouTube channel. It might also be harder to share your content in communities that have strict guidelines around sharing your content.
The benefit of creating & sharing your content is that it’s less likely you’ll break any rules in online communities, and sharing your content will seem less “self-promotional”. The downside is that it might be a bit trickier to collect email addresses that way.
The benefit of doing a partnership is that you’ll be tapping into an existing audience. Especially if you’re already connected to other entrepreneurs in your niche, this can be a great way to start building your email list. The downside is that you will need some way of capturing your email subscribers, and that if you don’t have the connections built yet, making these connections and getting partnership opportunities might take a prohibitively long time.
The benefit of the “Building it And They Will Come” is that you can just focus on creating great content and not worry about anything else, and you can tap into an existing audience from a platform like YouTube. The downside is that it might take weeks of months until you start seeing traction (Luke McIntosh who built an audience of 25,000+ e-mail subscribers through YouTube said it took him 6-7 weeks of publishing weekly videos to see traction through YouTube).
As I mentioned earlier, this is an approach that a lot of the entrepreneurs I interviewed took.
Here are some examples:
- After Gabriela Pereira asked her handful of blog readers if they were interested in learning about a “DIY writing degree”, she wrote a blog post every day for a month about that topic, and went from 12 to 400 blog followers.
- Peter Nguyen, a stylist for men, wrote a guest post on a friend’s website and attracted 1,000+ e-mail subscribers from it
- Rusty Gray wrote a guest post and got 400+ e-mail subscribers from it
- Geraldine Lepere, Christina Rebuffet and Luke McIntosh all built their e-mail lists through YouTube videos
- Sam Gavis-Hughson published an e-book that helped him double his e-mail list overnight, attracting 500+ e-mail subscribers
- Olivia Angelescu created a resource (a list of websites that you can contribute to as a blogger and how to pitch them), asked if anyone wanted access to it in a Facebook group, and got 400+ e-mail subscribers
As you can see, these approaches are all different from each other, and there’s no one proven way you HAVE to follow to get to your first 100 e-mail subscribers.
Still, what is obvious from all the data I collected is that you should either:
- Ask people if they’re interested in learning what you have to teach
- Create amazing content and put it into the world
If you want to get to your first 100 e-mail subscribers and create the first Moment of Traction in your online business.
Should you Follow the Quick and Easy, or Long and Hard way to Validate Your Online Business Idea?
This is the part of the guide where the advice I’ll give you is different from what the majority of the entrepreneurs I interviewed did.
Instead of trying to reach the 100 e-mail subscribers the “Long and Hard Way” like they did, I recommend you to take the MUCH quicker and easier “Quick and Easy Way”. You’ll save yourself weeks, if not months of work, and get to 100+ e-mail subscribers a lot quicker.
You can easily go into 10-20 different online communities and ask people if they would want to learn more about a topic you’re amazing at in an afternoon. And the next day, you could already have 100+ e-mail subscribers.
In my eyes, that’s a much better approach than setting up a website, writing 5 blog post or an e-book, or shooting 10 YouTube videos.
If you come up with an amazing business idea, you won’t NEED content to generate the initial interest. You don’t need to create any content in order for people to raise their hands and say “yes, I’m interested. Tell me more!”.
How to collect your first 100 e-mail addresses
At this point, you might be wondering how you could even collect the 100 e-mail addresses if we didn’t talk about using any e-mail software yet.
The truth is that you don’t need an e-mail provider, landing page or a website when you’re trying to collect your first 100 e-mail subscribers. Your time and energy would be better spent actually running List-Building Experiments.
You just need to collect the 100 e-mail addresses that you can e-mail in the future.
You can save your first 100 e-mail addresses in one of the two ways
- The “Quick and Dirty” approach: Save your e-mail addresses on a piece of paper, a Google Document or an Excel Spreadsheet
- The “Still Simple Enough” approach: Get a Mailchimp account (a free e-mail provider for smaller e-mail lists), and manually enter the e-mail addresses into an email lis
And as far as how to actually collect the e-mail addresses, this is where some old-fashioned Manual Labour comes in.
- She created a resource for herself (a list of websites you can contribute to as a blogger and how to pitch them)
- She thought others would benefit from this resource as well, so she asked people if they wanted to get access to this resource in an online community she was already a part of and active in
- Overnight, she got over 520 empathic comments saying that they wanted to get the resource
- She sent each person a private message and asked them if she can send them the resource via email and add them to an email list
- This way, she collected over 400 e-mail subscribers
You could do the same thing to collect your first 100 e-mail addresses, whether you create a Lead Magnet or not.
Once you ask people if they’d be interested in learning more about the topic you want to teach, you can send the people who commented on or liked your post a private message and ask them if they’d like to be added to an email list where you’ll send them the articles you write.
For example, you could send them a message like this:
“Hey NAME, I noticed that you commented on my post in the [COMMUNITY] and that you’d love to learn more about how to become a professional animator.
I’m putting together a few articles related to this topic over the next few weeks, and if you’d like to, I can e-mail them to you once they’re ready through my email list.
If you’d like that, can you send me your e-mail address? I’ll send you the articles as soon as they’re ready.”
This is the general approach you can use to collect e-mail addresses without a website – and even if you don’t have an e-mail provider yet, you can just e-mail the articles to people manually through e-mail (make sure you bcc everyone if you send an e-mail to multiple people at once though).
Alternatively, if you already do have an e-mail provider, you could also set up a simple landing page like this from my friend Tim Hoffman (he created an email list for people who want to learn how to open a coffee shop):
You could then simply send the link to this landing page to the people who are interested in learning more about your business.
If you’re not sure what a landing page or a Lead Magnet is, don’t worry – we’ll cover these in the next chapters of this guide:
Finally, another approach that Michelle Rebosio used to get over 1,000 e-mail subscribers within a month of starting her website is to:
- Create a post in an online community asking people if they would like to learn about a specific subject (in Michelle’s case, she asked people if they’d like to read a guide about finding a job in International Development)
- Create the Lead Magnet, circle back to the post you’ve made earlier (that ideally got a massive response), and either leave a comment with the link to the Lead Magnet on the post, or individually message people with a link to the Lead Magnet so they can get access to it and sign up to your e-mail list
There’s no “wrong” way of going through these steps. Pick the approach that feels best for you, and go ahead and try it out!
What Should You do if You Don’t See Any Traction With Your Idea?
What if go and test your idea in 10-20 online communities, and get zero to no response? What if there’s no Massive Moment of Traction? What should you do then?
You have only two real options:
- OPTION #1: “Kill Your Baby”, let go of your existing business idea, come up with a new one and run the List-Building Experiments until you experience your first Moments of Traction
- OPTION #2: Keep working on your existing business idea and take the “Long and Hard Way” until you find your Moment of Traction
Based on everything I’ve seen working with 1,000+ online entrepreneurs and helping them set up their online businesses, option #2 ends in the exact same place 99% of the time: The List-Building Rat Race.
If you put your idea in front of hundreds of people and hear crickets, it’s unlikely that there’s something there. You can go ahead, set up a website and start creating content, hoping that “people will see that they need this”, but in reality, you’ll likely end up with 42 email subscribers and a lot of wasted time and energy after 6 months.
Or, you can let go of your existing idea, spent a few more weeks running List-Building Experiments, and within a few weeks you will likely find an idea that DOES create Moments of Traction, and speed well past 100 e-mail subscribers, feeling thankful that you didn’t spend more energy on an idea that felt like fighting an up-hill battle.
The choice is yours, and the fate of your online business is in your hands.
The same goes for trying the Long and Hard Way, and not seeing traction with your idea after you spent 1-2 weeks spreading the word about the content you wrote. If there’s no traction within the first few weeks, it’s unlikely that there will ever be.
Summary: How to Validate Your Online Business Idea
In this chapter, you learned about Moments of Traction that help you quickly validate your online business ideas.
Moments of Traction could be:
- Someone saying that “working with you is a no-brainer for them”
- Someone hiring you on the spot as you share your idea with them
- Someone enthusiastically telling you to write more articles around your idea
- Waking up to an inbox full of e-mails asking to learn from you
- Someone saying that you’re “reading their mind”
- Receiving a flood of comments on an article or a post you publish online
- Someone saying they’ve been “looking for this for years”
They will boil down to instant pay validation, receiving a flood of comments or a strong emotional response.
You learned that working on profitable online business ideas shouldn’t feel like an “uphill battle”, and that working on an idea that does take off will feel quite the opposite (you’ll know it when you see it).
You also learned about “list-building experiments” that you can run over the course 1-2 weeks to quickly validate your online business idea.
We talked about the “quick and easy” and “long and hard” ways to run these experiments:
- The “quick and easy way” is to go into 10-20 online communities and ask the members if they’d like to learn about the topic you’d like to teach
- The “long and hard way” is to go ahead and create a High-Converting Website, some Remarkable Content and/or an Epic Lead Magnet, and then spread the word about it
I recommended you to try the “quick and easy way”, as you can go through it in 1-2 days with zero downsides, and validate your online business idea a lot quicker than through the “long and hard way”.
You learned that you don’t need a website or an e-mail list to collect your first 100 e-mail addresses, and that you can simply collect them on a piece of paper or in an excel spreadsheet (to simplify your life).
Finally, we covered the 2 options you have when your business idea doesn’t take off after your validation process:
- OPTION #1: “Kill your baby”, let go of your idea and pick a new one
- OPTION #2: Keep trying to gain traction with your idea
I recommended OPTION #1 as examples of established entrepreneurs whose business idea miraculously took off overnight are few and far in-between, while there are far more examples of entrepreneurs whose ideas instantly saw traction.
In the next chapter of this guide, we’ll cover the 6 common questions you might have at this stage of starting your online business and getting to your first 100 e-mail subscribers:
- “Do I need a clear audience for my business idea?”
- “When is my idea “good enough”, when does it need more refinement, and when should I move on to a new idea?”
- “What if I can’t find a profitable business idea after months of searching for one?”
- “Should I choose an idea I’m more excited about, or that there’s more demand for?”
- “How much customer research do I need to do before I validate my idea?”
- “What if I don’t have anything unique to offer?”
Continue to Chapter 4: How to Get Un-Stuck With Finding Your Profitable Business Idea
Your Turn: What has your experience been with validating your Online Business Idea?
Are you ready to build an e-mail list of 1,000+ BUYERS?
Download the full 393-page PDF version of this EPIC list-building guide, to print it out or read it on the go!