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As makers, it’s easy to move fast. You have an idea that solves a problem you’ve personally experienced or know that others experience. You have a way to solve it. And you’re ready to build the solution.

Even though all you might want to do is build, taking some time to research your idea can pay off tremendously.

As soon as you know what you want to build, you should get more information from customers in an unbiased way to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. One of the worst things is when you do a ton of work and spend so much energy on something, only to have it ignored by customers.

Researching before you build helps you:

  • Validate the idea to make sure you’re solving a real problem.
  • Learn more about your customer and how to solve their problem.
  • Understand if anyone else is solving the problem already, and how you can do it better.
  • Make sure you build something people will want to use.

Here are some quick ways you can do research before you build.

Competitor analysis

Learning about other products that solve the same problem you want to solve will teach you a ton about your customers.

Start by making a list of all the competitors you can think of. This includes companies that are direct competitors and solve the exact same problem you want to solve as well as non-software methods you know people are using to solve the problem, like spreadsheets.

After you’ve written your list, do some googling and search Product Hunt to see if you can find any other competitors.

Next, dig in to the competitors. Read reviews about them on Product Hunt or the App Stores, as well as on review sites like G2 Crowd, TrustRadius and Capterra. What do customers say about the competitors? What are things that customers like, and what would they like done better? You can use these insights to improve upon how you build your solution.

Look at the websites of the competitors to see what you can learn about customers. Review the homepage, pricing page, features pages, demos and testimonials. Based on what you see on the websites, who are the target customers? What features is the product offering customers to solve their problem?

Competitor analysis can teach you a lot about how other products in the market perceive the existing customer, and you can do all of it without needing to conduct a single survey or interview.

User testing

Another method that will help you learn more about your customers without having to recruit customers to fill out surveys or do interviews is user testing. User testing helps you have clarity before you spend a ton of time building. It lets you learn and iterate your product before you put it in customers hands so you can have more chances for it to be successful. This type of research also allows you to specify which types of customers you want as testers.

With user testing, you can easily learn what people think about a website or prototype. You can do this using designs you’ve mocked up, a flow that you’ve already built, or learn about competitors by running tests on their homepage, onboarding or product.

If you want to start running user tests, here are a few software options:

There are two ways to do user tests. The easiest thing to do is to let testers navigate your screens, prototypes or products as they please and share how they feel about them.

For example, if you decide to let user testers explore in an open-ended test, you can ask them to move through a website and give their thoughts and impressions of what they see as they go. You’ll get valuable feedback about the users’ experiences as they go through the screens. But, without asking specific questions, you might miss things you want to learn about.

You can also put in a bit more effort (which in my experience always pays off) and have them answer specific questions about the flows they are looking at. This method will help you understand much more about their likes, dislikes, if the copy is clear, and if the product meets users needs. Here’s an example of this type of test:

  1. Testers get asked to look at a homepage design and give a verbal response to a question like “Is there anything confusing about this homepage? Be specific.”
  2. They are then asked to perform a task, like “Please complete the signup process.”
  3. After completing the task, they are asked if they were able to complete it successfully and if they weren’t, to explain why they weren’t able to.

If you choose to run structured user tests, here are a few other questions I’ve found helpful to ask during user tests:

  • In your own words, what do you think this website can do for you? Be specific.
  • Who do you think this site is for?
  • Is there anything confusing about this page? Be specific.
  • Is there anything missing on this page?

Once you’ve completed a user test, it’s important to review each recording in detail to learn what the customers said. Once you’ve listened to all the recordings (I suggest doing 5 per test) you can then learn from the patterns and decide what changes to make to your product based on what you learned.

At FYI, we’ve been doing this type of research since before we launched the product. It helped us learn about the painful problem we’re solving, and learn exactly how we should be solving it.

Now, we’re looking to learn all about Makers and help solve their problems too. Sign up for early access to the Maker Report and follow along to watch how we do customer research to make sure we’re solving painful problems the right way.

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