01/30/2015 10:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Roadmap to Leaving Your Corporate Job & Starting a Creative Business: 6 months after launch (Part 6)

Refinement to Product & Business Model


I see so many designers launching their product on pure faith and often without any real feedback from their potential customers beyond their friends and family. The tendency is to think that the product will sell itself and somehow the business will reach continuous growth. After working with many product designers and makers, I have narrowed down the three most common pitfalls of product based businesses:
  1. Very small or non-existent product differentiation
  2. Inability to incorporate real customer feedback to improve the product
  3. Lack of a solid plan to find customers and increase sales over time

In order to be successful long-term, your product must not only be unique in terms of what it offers and the experience it creates for the customers, you also must innovate constantly to stay ahead of the competition (See Part 3 of this series). One way to achieve this is by creating a flexible and lean process which allows to produce in small batches so that you can quickly test and tweak your product for your customers. You may even let your potential customers help you weigh in directly by voting on materials, color choices, and designs in order to assess your market potential. This will also get them involved and invested in your brand. At Madesmith, we use this exact strategy by working with designers on small batch collaborations. This allows to test the market and quickly learn for the next collaboration.

As soon as a product is launched, as the business owner, your priority should be getting your product in the hands of as many people as possible and gather feedback. In order to raise awareness and find the right market, consider a variety of online and offline venues such as trade shows, markets, blog outreach, complementary partnerships with other designers, offering workshops in your expertise, and advertising. But, the most important thing to remember is that no amount of PR and advertising will sell a product that customers are not that keen on buying. Therefore, first and foremost you need to create a product that people need and want to have.

Once you start selling your product, perhaps you want to create a survey (e.g. using Survey Monkey or other digital survey tools) or talk to customers in person at trade shows and markets to find out what they think about your product. In an ideal situation, you should try to do a combination of both these methods with a frequency that makes sense for your business. Most importantly, make sure that your customers can easily reach you via email, website, and social media. I have seen many websites that make it hard to find the maker's contact email or sometimes only have a form on contact page. Contact forms can be uninviting, impersonal and may discourage people from reaching out to you. If you choose to have a contact form on your website, make sure to also list your email address. Of course, receiving feedback (especially a negative one) is not always easy, but the best approach is to remove your personal feelings from this process as much as possible in favor of growing your business and focus on how you can use it to help you move forward. Once you have enough feedback, you need to sift through it and prioritize it according to market needs. I don't advise taking every piece of feedback into account, rather make a judgement call on the ideas that the most amount of your customers will see the biggest benefit from and how it will help sell the product. This may include factors such as materials, construction, size etc. Use these to improve your product and in some cases you may even be required to go back to the drawing board to start all over again. This is absolutely normal in product management and as a product designer you should always be open to learning and evolving. Repeat the whole process again including gathering feedback on the new version of your product until you have something that you are happy with and most of your customers want to buy.

Throughout this process, you should also be measuring your market and determining who your actual customers are, which is often very different from who we think we aspire to sell to. This information will help you polish your marketing and distribution plan as well. It may require you to seek out new retail outlets, new trade shows and blog partnerships etc. based on your real time learnings about your customers. Data gathering on your product, process and market is a continuous process and as a business this should be included in regular operations to allow you to grow your profits and customer base.