Entrepreneurship is an art. It’s also a science. The reason there are so few successful entrepreneurs is because there’s no single factor for success — it takes a great idea, a network of resources and a ton of hard work and time to create a lasting, profitable business.
That being said, the scientific element of entrepreneurship is the one that can make or break the logical foundation of your company. You need to know who your customers are, what they want and how to give it to them if you want to have a shot at success.
The best way to figure that out is to use the same structured method that scientists use to explore the vast mysteries of the universe. Here’s how to use the scientific method to achieve success as an entrepreneur.
1. Ask a question. Before you start looking for answers, you need to know what your question is. For scientists, this is usually a question in response to some observable phenomenon or natural curiosity. For business owners, it’s an exploration of possibilities for product development and marketing.
If you’re trying to build a product, ask what exactly your customers need. The core aspect of your business should be solving a problem for your customers. Even if you already have an idea, you need to know exactly what problem you’re solving. Write this down. If you can’t form it in words, you might not have a problem/solution idea strong enough to fuel a successful business.
If you’re trying to market your product, ask why your customers would be interested in buying your product or engaging with your brand. You’ll have multiple questions to ask here:
- What will make someone interested in engaging with you?
- What elements of your brand are most important to display?
- What media are used by your target audience?
2. Research your subject. Once you know the most important questions for your brand, you need to find as much information as you can on the subject. For scientists, this usually means gathering past research from other scientists and using it as a foundation to build on. For entrepreneurs, there are two main sources for research: potential customers and competitors.
Take your research seriously. Find a selection of people from within your target audience, and find out what makes them tick. Hold a focus-group meeting, or use existing market research to build a full perspective of your main users.
Your competitors will provide even more valuable information for you. Figure out what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and most importantly, how you can differentiate yourself from them. You need a unique value proposition that distinguishes you from all the other companies in your space, but you also need to know what marketing and branding conventions have worked for similar companies in the past.
3. Create a hypothesis. Scientists create a hypothesis to summarize what they expect to find when experimenting, or how they think a particular system functions. For most business owners, this hypothesis is, on a broad scale, the business plan. But on a much smaller and regular level, business owners form micro-hypotheses on a daily basis.
Hypotheses are important because they formalize the assumptions you hold. If you never take the time to acknowledge that your assumptions are, in fact, assumptions, you could potentially continue along an inefficient or incorrect path and never realize your expectations are based on your own preconceived notions.
On the other hand, if you take the time to constantly test, challenge and refine your assumptions, you’ll end up with an accurate and functional model for your business.
4. Experiment to test your hypothesis. This is one of the most important steps. It’s not enough to merely establish an idea, you have to put that idea to the test, both in business and in science.
After you’ve developed a hypothesis about your business, such as “women ages 18 to 35 will prefer this product to have X feature,” you need to test that notion. You could begin with a simple survey, or depending on feasibility, develop the idea and present it to a group of beta testers.
In the world of marketing, you could run multiple campaigns simultaneously to find the best message and medium for your audience. For example, you could hypothesize that a content-marketing program will net you the highest return on investment, but invest in pay-per-click advertising and social-media marketing as complementary strategies to examine which is truly the best.
5. Review your data and form a conclusion. Your experiments won’t mean anything unless you have a way to concretely and objectively measure their results. It can be difficult to measure qualitative data, such as customer opinions on new features of your products, but if you can find a way to quantify your findings, you’ll be able to form a solid conclusion about your hypothesis.
For marketing strategies, the bottom line is always ROI. You need to be able to calculate exactly how much money you spent on a specific campaign, and exactly how much new business that campaign generated.
In the Definitive Guide to Google Analytics for SEO Professionals, I detail how Google Analytics is a perfect tool for measuring campaign effectiveness — but it’s still only one tool in your toolbox. You’ll need to measure everything you can and review that data objectively to form a definitive conclusion that answers your original question.
6. Publish your results and invite others to expand. Theories aren’t created overnight. When a finding is first published, it’s immediately met with public scrutiny, with peers reviewing the material and finding ways to improve upon it or disprove it entirely. As an entrepreneur, you won’t necessarily want to publish all the fruits of your labor for your competition to study, but at the same time it’s important to get feedback on what you’ve found.
For example, if you’ve just developed a new mobile app, roll it out to your core customers. Invite them to try it out and let you know what they think. Take their feedback as the “peer-review” phase of scientific progress, and use their criticism to make your product better. You will never have a perfect product or service, but you can get closer to perfection by constantly revising and refining your business.
The scientific method is valuable because it’s designed for a specific purpose: to gain objective knowledge and refine that knowledge by continually testing it in real environments. To get started with sufficient momentum, you’re going to need a solid idea. To support your execution of that idea, you’re going to need a great team. Beyond those fundamental pillars of success, the scientific method is the greatest tool you have to create and maintain a lasting business model.
Science is always changing, incorporating new information into existing models, or adding new models to a greater body of knowledge. Similarly, it’s up to you as an entrepreneur to constantly challenge your assumptions, build on what you already know, and make adjustments to stay relevant in your environment.