You know what I’m really good at? Coming up with shitty ideas.
I bet you’ve had a few yourself.
You’re out taking the dog for a walk when genius strikes. You’ve got the best idea anyone has ever had. You rush home, open up Evernote, and perform a full brain dump.
I’ve done this countless times. I’ve also spent money developing those ideas. Lot’s of money.
The biggest problem? Those ideas sucked, and no one wanted to buy/use what I built.
I could have avoided spending my money and time on those ideas if I had just taken a minute to validate my idea first.
What do I mean by validating? I mean finding out if anyone wants the product before you spend time and money building it.
For example, let’s say I think selling milkshakes at a track meet is a good idea. I buy all the gear, blenders, milk, chocolate, coolers, etc. I head out to the track meet only to find out no one even wants my milkshakes.
My milkshakes are literally bringing no boys to the yard.
I could curse and swear and call everyone insane, but whose fault is it? It’s mine. If I had asked first, I could have found out that people would much rather buy bananas at a track meet.
Regardless of how you do it, it’s all the same result. You need to talk to people. You need to find out if they need it, and if they do, exactly what it is they need. This is called validated learning.
Today, I’m going to show you how to build a landing page that looks like your product already exists, complete with pricing plans and features. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Many services around the web allow to build plug and play landing pages, but they’ll cost you. Sites like LeadPages or Unbounce do this quite well.
But if the point of all this is to validate the idea before we spend any money on it, why would we start by spending money?
Instead, we’re going to learn how to validate your idea, for free, using an HTML template I’ve built and integrating it with free accounts from Wufoo and MailChimp.
Before we get started, let’s take a look at what we’ll be building. Click here to see a live version of the landing page template.
Bonus: Download the PSD file if you want to customize the look of your landing page.
To make this landing page work, we’re going to be taking advantage of a couple of services that offer free plans.
Complete the follow steps before moving on:
All done? Awesome.
Before we get into the code, I want to explain why this isn’t a traditional “coming soon” page and the advantages of creating something a little better.
The concept of validation gave birth to a number of people creating “coming soon” landing pages. These pages gave the visitor a few lines about the product, and asked for their email in order to be notified when the product was live.
The problem with these pages is that although collecting emails does prove some interest in the idea, it doesn’t prove that those people are willing to pay for it or use it.
We don’t learn anything about those people, except for the fact that they liked the sentence or two you wrote. We don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, or even the reason why they need the product.
On top of everything, by the time you’re actually ready to go live, all those emails have gone cold, because you haven’t kept them updated. So you launch under the impression you’ve got 500 potential users, and you end up with 10.
I first read about this shift in “validation thinking” after reading Joel Gascolgne’s post on how he validated the idea for his (now very successful) web app Buffer.
Instead of just collecting as many email addresses as he could, he spent time creating a dialogue with those who did sign up.
Through many emails and Skype chats, he discovered what people actually wanted out of an app like his, instead of just building what his initial idea was.
In place of a “coming soon” page, he built a landing page that made it look like the product already existed, included pricing and plans. This way, the only sign ups he received were from people who were willing to actually pay for the service.
He still let them know before they signed up that they hadn’t launched yet, but only after they were making the commitment to pay (by clicking the sign up button).
The outcome of this process is that when you’re finished, you’ve got a base of people who you know are willing to pay for your product, and who you’ve been in constant communication with.
Makes way more sense than 500 cold fish emails and a great big guess at what the product should offer, right?
So, we’re basically recreating this tactic using the HTML code you downloaded above. Now let’s get started setting it up.
Our first step is going to be unpacking the ZIP file you downloaded and editing all the parts of the HTML in order to customize the landing page properly.
Follow along in the video below and if you have any questions, please leave me comment at the bottom of the article and I’ll answer as soon as I can.
This step involves writing a good Unique Value Proposition. For help, check out my post outlining some of the things to avoid when writing a UVP.
Not a fan of videos? Please leave a comment below and let me know. I’m considering writing out all the steps as well.
At this point, we’ve got the landing page looking like you’re own.
It’s got your unique value proposition, it’s got your own pricing plans (if any) and some descriptions of the great features and benefits of your product.
Now we’re going to make it work.
Before watching the video, log into your Wufoo account you created at the beginning of this tutorial.
In the video below, we’ll be creating the Wufoo form we’re going to be hooking up to the landing page.
By now, we’ve got a Wufoo form configured just the way we want it to.
The next step is to send the emails that the Wufoo collects automatically to an email list that is stored by MailChimp.
Before watching the video, log into your MailChimp account you created at the beginning of this tutorial.
In the video below, we’re going to be creating the email list and then telling Wufoo to automatically add those emails to this list.
Finally, we’re going to download the code from our Wufoo form and add it manually to the landing page HTML code.
This is a easy step and only involves copying and pasting a couple lines of code.
Now it’s time to take this bad boy for a spin and see if it works. Enter your own email and check for the following:
I’ll quickly go through this in the video below.
Depending on your level of knowledge, this might be all you need to get going on validating you idea. But, for those that aren’t sure what to do next, I’ve created a step by step tutorial for getting your site online.
To start, head on over to Dreamhost (opens in new tab), my choice for quality, low traffic hosting. Watch the video below for instructions on how to get your site hosted online.
By now you should have a fully functioning site for validating your idea.
You next step is to start driving traffic to the site. You can do this through a number of channels, such as Facebook ads or guest posting on other blogs.
I’ll be covering getting traffic to your landing page at a later time. If you want that article sooner than later, please leave me a comment below and I’ll up the priority of that post.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind while going through your validation exercise:
And please, leave your site in the comments for your validation experiment using the above code! I’d love to see them all.